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Madame de Stael by Maria Fairweather


The influence of the salons of Paris on the thought and culture of the eighteenth century would be difficult to overstate. These meeting places for the vanguard of society were presided over by a succession of clever women, and the most brilliant of all of them was Madame de Stäel.

Born Germaine Necker in Paris on April 22, 1766, her father was a powerful banker and her mother a Swiss pastor's daughter who never got over her good fortune in marrying a rich man. In 1786 Germaine was married to a secretary in the Swedish embassy called de Stäel. Although she thought him "a perfect gentleman", she also found him dull and clumsy. She began to take lovers,the Vicomte de Narbonne, possibly Talleyrand and then Benjamin Constant, in whom she at last met her intellectual equal.

In 1806 her novel Delphine was published. It was an instant success and praised by Goethe and Byron, among others. Her salon thronged with glittering visitors, among them the tsar, Talleyrand, Madame Recalmier, Chateaubriand, Lafayette, and Wellington. Maria Fairweather gives an entrancing, illustrated account of this vanished world, so merciless to outsiders, but for those of the inner circle incomparably glamorous and exciting.

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