It's odd that the author decided to write this book since it seems that she does not like de Stael or her works very much--or her parents and much of those in that circle. (Although it seems like the author was constantly slut shaming de Stael--who cares if younger men were throwing themselves at her and she occasionally reciprocated?) Could syphilis account for her backward, oddly shaped younger child? Beyond have her bones checked out, for total prurient reasons it would also be interesting to know how many leading personages had STDs back in the day, besides Mrs. Beaton--reading statistics in that WW1 book about how 9% of all children born at turn of the century had congenital syphilis blew my mind (and that 30% of babies were born out of wedlock). Anyways, now I'll probably have to read a book about Benjamin Constant, but after all these books on the time, I really don't want to. All the askance looks aside, I did enjoy parts of this book (which hopped around on a number of subjects and the layout is pretty jarring) because of its subject matter--and I think the author does pinpoint, in de Stael's own words, her philosophy that was the focus of her life and was at the root of everything she did: ENTHUSIASM. There's a good line where during one of her many fights with Napoleon (and the author does bring up that de Stael can be seen as the inverse of Napoleon which is interesting), where she says they might be able to censor what she writes (and she got plenty of non-censored copies published in England so not really an issue) but never what she thinks, and therefore is impossible to stop.
The author sends more time on the details of de Stael's charmed life, than on her literary work, which is too bad - if you check out Google Books, you will find her books on the French Revolution and her years in exile are long, but readable.
As one reviewer wrote earlier, the reader gets the definite sense that Ms. Gray finds her subject annoying and doesn't like her much. Towards the end of the book, I had the definite sense that Ms. Gray ran out of patience with her subject, and her irritation is allowed to permeate the text and taint the portrait of Mme. de Stael.
I don't know if I think she's the first modern woman (I mean, being bipolar, audacious, brilliant, and a conversationalist makes you many things, but modern?
Normally, DailyLit books have been carefully typed, edited, and typeset for easy reading. My knowledge of French history during this part of history is double crap. I also learned a lot about history, and I know that this book is going to inform The Scarlett Pimpernel, whenever I get back to it.
Knowing next to nothing about Madame de Stael, I'm finding Francine du Plessix Gray's book highly readable and entertaining as well as superficially informative. She uses the same quotations in different places in the book with different attributions (this isn't necessarily wrong).
Men adored her, were challenged by her, and drawn to this woman of imposing intellect and strength.
Madame de Stael (née Necker) led a monumental life that she created from her genius. Categorizing Madame de Stael as "The First Modern Woman" is not defined fully.
Francine du Plessix Gray has done a nice job giving us a brief biography of Germaine de Staël (nee Necker).
This isn't an "academic" biography; it's clearly written for a popular audience and, as such, was quite enjoyable.
Widowed when her father died in battle, in 1940 du Plessix Gray's mother escaped France to New York with Francine. Du Plessix Gray had a long and varied career, in the 1950s as reporter for several French magazines; book editor for Art in America New York City; staff writer for The New Yorker; several professorships, including at Columbia University.