Staël Germaine de – Ten years of exile


Staël Germaine de – Ten years in exile: “Do you think my children and I are made to plant cabbages at Coppet without doing anything with our minds or our souls? (Madame de Stael to Camille Jordan, November 1st, 1810, Diesbach 471). The anger of the famous baroness is matched only by her despair at the tragic circumstances surrounding the publication of De l’Allemagne. While working on the corrections of the third volume at Chaumont-sur-Loire, in September 1810, the work, considered suspect by the police of Napoleon, is suppressed and put to the pestle. Its author, already banned from living less than forty leagues from the capital, is expelled from France and banned from all territories under French rule, except Coppet and Geneva. This sentence falls like a chopper. Assigned to his residence on the shores of Lake Geneva, deprived of his brilliant salon and closely watched over by the Emperor’s henchmen, the illustrious chatelaine becomes a plague-stricken person overnight which is dangerous to frequent. His most faithful friends will make bitter experience of it. Coppet, which had been a haven for her under the Revolution, Coppet, which she had made the largest think tank of European thought, is now a prison where she languished, despite the presence of her children and that of John Rocca, his new and young lover.

Abated, but not vanquished, Napoleon’s irreducible adversary responded by plotting his flight to England. While waiting for the passports, which are slow to come, she begins Ten years of exile. These unfinished memoirs will not be published until 1821, six years after his death. They comprise two parts. The first, sketched at Coppet in 1811, covers the period 1800-1804. The author denounces the rising despotism of Bonaparte and the persecutions of which she was the victim. The second, written in Stockholm towards the end of 1812, is less controversial. Madame de Staël skips six years of her life to report “hot” his extraordinary escape from Coppet May 23, 1812. Accompanied by his daughter Albertine and two servants, the intrepid woman of letters is joined en route by his sons Auguste and Albert, their guardian, Auguste Schlegel, as well as Rocca. The Channel ports being closed to them, they are forced to make a huge detour that forces them to cross the whole of Europe at war and drag them, via Austria, Bohemia, Moravia and Poland, until Kiev, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Preceded by her literary fame, but followed by the Grand Army on the march, the author of Delphine and Corinne rushes from city to city, where she is each time welcomed as a celebrity. It is ironically in Russia, where serfdom survives, that it covers freedom. This is not the least paradox of this country which fascinates her by her immensity, her piety, her oriental customs and her fervent patriotism. In St. Petersburg, where she is presented to the imperial court, she forges personal ties with Czar Alexander I, who treats her as an equal and discusses the great European issues with her. Her story breaks off abruptly in September 1812, as she and her family prepare to join Sweden, from where they will reach London in June 1813.

In these memoirs where she closely mingles her personal destiny with that of the Nation and of all Europe, Madame de Staël (or her son Auguste, who made important cuts in the manuscript to preserve the reputation of his mother) do not obviously says not everything. She was, for instance, the secret birth of her fifth child, who delayed her escape by nine months; She is also silent about her clandestine marriage to John Rocca, as well as his presence at his side during the perilous journey. In the list of her grievances against Napoleon, she also downplayed the considerable influence she exerted in the opposition, just as she later dodged her role in the talks that led Sweden and Russia to join the Sixth Coalition. against France. Despite these shortcomings and omissions, this autobiography offers a fascinating insight into a turbulent life and era. Madame de Stael brilliantly demonstrated that the repeated exiles of which she was the object, far from reducing it to silence and oblivion, contributed greatly to increasing her notoriety and her sphere of influence on the international political scene. [Sources: Ghislain de Diesbach, Madame de Stael (Perrin 1983); Madame de Stael, Ten years of exile. Critical edition by Simone Balayé and Mariella Vianello Bonifaccio (Fayard 1996); Michel Winock, Madame de Staël (Fayard 2010).]

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