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Pride and Prejudice vs. Jane Eyre

Jane Austen News

Pride and Prejudice vs. Jane Eyre

1463668501091.0As two of the most popular novels of all time, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre have an incredible number of spin-off books written about them. Two of the books tipped to be summer bestsellers this year are Eligible – a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Steele – a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. But do they both work in the modern era?

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Lady Susan Gets the Ending She Deserves?

Jane Austin News

Lady Susan Gets the Ending She Deserves?

3000Now to a retelling of a different kind. Lady Susan, the epistolary novella Jane Austen wrote in her youth, will soon be coming to the cinemas in the form of Whit Stillman’s new film Love and Friendship, and John Mullan, author of the book What Matters in Jane Austen?, has been looking at whether the story lives up to Austen’s other work.

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John Mullan on Why We Need Plot

Jane Austen News

John Mullan on Why We Need Plot

Emma-Woodhouse-jane-austen-12817696-400-250John Mullan, author of the book What Matters in Jane Austen?, has written an article for The Guardian talking about how many of the modern novels and media which are currently being released lack a real sense of plot. In the course of his argument he picks out Emma as an example of a novel which uses plot incredibly effectively.

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Top Comedian Abandons Internet In Favour Of Austen

Jane Austen News

Top Comedian Abandons Internet In Favour Of Austen

160502_3029337_louis_c_k_explains_how_he_kept_horace_and_pYet more proof that Jane Austen is for everyone. Top U.S. comedian Louis C.K. recently shut himself off from the internet as “everything is weird and mean and upsetting.” Instead he sought refugee by pulling out a copy of Pride and Prejudice and beginning to read through that, rather than through the cruelty all over the internet.

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Curtis Sittenfeld on Austen and Feminism

Jane Austen News

Curtis Sittenfeld on Austen and Feminism

Continue reading Curtis Sittenfeld on Austen and Feminism

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Barnes and Noble’s Austen Must-Reads

Barnes and Noble’s Austen Must-Reads

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Laurence Sterne: Giving Voice to Tristram Shandy

Laurence Sterne: Giving Voice to Tristram Shandy

Laurence Sterne, a contemporary of Jane Austen’s own clerical father, George Austen (1731-1805) was a well known voice to the Austen family. Letters both to and from Jane allude to his writings, and Maria Bertram actually quotes from his Sentimental Journey in chapter 10 of Mansfield Park. Sterne’s most familiar work The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) shares themes with another famously comic novel, Henry Fielding’s 1749 The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, which Jane Austen was also familiar with. How these two (sometimes shocking) novels influenced her own writing is difficult to say.

Portrait of Laurence Sterne by Joshua Reynolds, 1760
Portrait of Laurence Sterne by Joshua Reynolds, 1760

Laurence Sterne (24 November 1713 – 18 March 1768) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and an Anglican clergyman. He is best known for his novels The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy; but he also published many sermons, wrote memoirs, and was involved in local politics. Sterne died in London after years of fighting consumption.

Sterne was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary. His father, Roger Sterne, was an ensign in a British regiment recently returned from Dunkirk, which was disbanded on the day of Sterne’s birth. Within six months the family had returned to Yorkshire, and in July 1715 they moved back to Ireland, having “decamped with Bag & Baggage for Dublin”, in Sterne’s words.

The first decade of Sterne’s life was spent moving from place to place as his father was reassigned throughout Ireland. During this period Sterne never lived in one place for more than a year. In addition to Clonmel and Dublin, his family also lived in, among other places, Wicklow Town, Annamoe (County Wicklow), Drogheda (County Louth), Castlepollard (County Westmeath), and Carrickfergus (County Antrim). In 1724, his father took Sterne to Roger’s wealthy brother, Richard, so that Sterne could attend Hipperholme Grammar School near Halifax; Sterne never saw his father again as Roger was ordered to Jamaica where he died of a fever in 1731. Sterne was admitted to a sizarship at Jesus College, Cambridge, in July 1733 at the age of 20. His great-grandfather Richard Sterne had been the Master of the college as well as the Archbishop of York. Sterne graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in January 1737; and returned in the summer of 1740 to be awarded his Master of Arts degree.

Sterne was ordained as a deacon in March 1737 and as a priest in August 1738. Shortly thereafter Sterne was awarded the vicarship living of Sutton-on-the-Forest in Yorkshire. Sterne married Elizabeth Lumley in 1741. Both were ill with consumption. In 1743, he was presented to the neighbouring living of Stillington by Rev. Richard Levett, Prebendary of Stillington, who was patron of the living. Subsequently Sterne did duty both there and at Sutton. He was also a prebendary of York Minster. Sterne’s life at this time was closely tied with his uncle, Dr Jaques Sterne, the Archdeacon of Cleveland and Precentor of York Minster. Sterne’s uncle was an ardent Whig, and urged Sterne to begin a career of political journalism which resulted in some scandal for Sterne and, eventually, a terminal falling-out between the two men.

Prime Minister of Great Britain In office 4 April 1721 – 11 February 1742
Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of Great Britain, in office4 April 1721 – 11 February 1742.

Jaques Sterne was a powerful clergyman but a mean-tempered man and a rabid politician. In 1741–42 Sterne wrote political articles supporting the administration of Sir Robert Walpole for a newspaper founded by his uncle but soon withdrew from politics in disgust. His uncle became his arch-enemy, thwarting his advancement whenever possible.

Sterne lived in Sutton for twenty years, during which time he kept up an intimacy which had begun at Cambridge with John Hall-Stevenson, a witty and accomplished bon vivant, owner of Skelton Hall in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire.

In 1759, to support his dean in a church squabble, Sterne wrote A Political Romance (later called The History of a Good Warm Watch-Coat), a Swiftian satire of dignitaries of the spiritual courts. At the demands of embarrassed churchmen, the book was burned. Thus, Sterne lost his chances for clerical advancement but discovered his real talents; until the completion of this first work, “he hardly knew that he could write at all, much less with humour so as to make his reader laugh”.

Having discovered his talent, at the age of 46, he turned over his parishes to a curate, and dedicated himself to writing for the rest of his life. It was while living in the countryside, having failed in his attempts to supplement his income as a farmer and struggling with tuberculosis, that Sterne began work on his best known novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the first volumes of which were published in 1759. Sterne was at work on his celebrated comic novel during the year that his mother died, his wife was seriously ill, and his daughter was also taken ill with a fever.[6] He wrote as fast as he possibly could, composing the first 18 chapters between January and March 1759.

Tristram Shandy First edition spines by The Laurence Sterne Trust - This file was donated by the Laurence Sterne Trust as part of the Yorkshire Network GLAMwiki. The Trust runs Shandy Hall, Sterne's home in Coxwold, Yorkshire
Tristram Shandy First edition spines by The Laurence Sterne Trust – This file was donated by the Laurence Sterne Trust as part of the Yorkshire Network GLAMwiki. The Trust runs Shandy Hall, Sterne’s home in Coxwold, Yorkshire.

An initial, sharply satiric version was rejected by Robert Dodsley, the London printer, just when Sterne’s personal life was upset. His mother and uncle both died. His wife had a nervous breakdown and threatened suicide. Sterne continued his comic novel, but every sentence, he said, was “written under the greatest heaviness of heart.” In this mood, he softened the satire and recounted details of Tristram’s opinions, eccentric family and ill-fated childhood with a sympathetic humour, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sweetly melancholic—a comedy skirting tragedy.

Shandy Hall, Sterne's home in Coxwold, North Yorkshire
Shandy Hall, Sterne’s home in Coxwold, North Yorkshire

The publication of Tristram Shandy made Sterne famous in London and on the continent. He was delighted by the attention, and spent part of each year in London, being fêted as new volumes appeared. Indeed, Baron Fauconberg rewarded Sterne by appointing him as the perpetual curate of Coxwold, North Yorkshire.

Sterne continued to struggle with his illness, and departed England for France in 1762 in an effort to find a climate that would alleviate his suffering. Sterne was lucky to attach himself to a diplomatic party bound for Turin, as England and France were still adversaries in the Seven Years’ War. Sterne was gratified by his reception in France where reports of the genius of Tristram Shandy had made him a celebrity. Aspects of this trip to France were incorporated into Sterne’s second novel, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.

In 1766, at the height of the debate about slavery, the composer and former slave Ignatius Sancho wrote to Sterne encouraging him to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade.

“That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many—but if only one—Gracious God!—what a feast to a benevolent heart!”

In July 1766 Sterne received Sancho’s letter shortly after he had finished writing a conversation between his fictional characters Corporal Trim and his brother Tom in Tristram Shandy, wherein Tom described the oppression of a black servant in a sausage shop in Lisbon which he had visited. Sterne’s widely publicised response to Sancho’s letter became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature:

There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me—but why her brethren?—or your’s, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavor to make ’em so.|Laurence Sterne, 27 July 1766

by Louis Carrogis ('Louis de Carmontelle'),drawing,circa 1762
by Louis Carrogis (‘Louis de Carmontelle’),drawing,circa 1762

Sentimental Journey was published at the beginning of 1768. The novel was written during a period in which Sterne was increasingly ill and weak. Less than a month after Sentimental Journey was published, early in 1768, Sterne’s strength failed him, and he died in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street on 18 March, at the age of 54. He was buried in the churchyard of St George’s, Hanover Square.

It was widely rumoured that Sterne’s body was stolen shortly after it was interred and sold to anatomists at Cambridge University. Circumstantially, it was said that his body was recognised by Charles Collignon who knew him and discreetly reinterred back in St George’s, in an unknown plot. A year later a group of Freemasons erected a memorial stone with a rhyming epitaph near to his original burial place. A second stone was erected in 1893, correcting some factual errors on the memorial stone. When the churchyard of St. George’s was redeveloped in 1969, amongst 11,500 skulls disinterred, several were identified with drastic cuts from anatomising or a post-mortem examination. One was identified to be of a size that matched a bust of Sterne made by Nollekens.

Laurence Sterne by Joseph Nollekens, 1766, National Portrait Gallery, London
Laurence Sterne by Joseph Nollekens, 1766, National Portrait Gallery, London

The skull was held up to be his, albeit with “a certain area of doubt”. Along with nearby skeletal bones, these remains were transferred to Coxwold churchyard in 1969 by the Laurence Sterne Trust.

The story of the reinterment of Sterne’s skull in Coxwold is alluded to in Malcolm Bradbury’s novel To The Hermitage.

Legacy
Sterne’s early works were letters; he had two ordinary sermons published (in 1747 and 1750), and tried his hand at satire. He was involved in, and wrote about, local politics in 1742. His major publication prior to Tristram Shandy was the satire A Political Romance (1759), aimed at conflicts of interest within York Minster. A posthumously published piece on the art of preaching, A Fragment in the Manner of Rabelais, appears to have been written in 1759. Rabelais was by far Sterne’s favourite author, and in his correspondence he made clear that he considered himself as Rabelais’ successor in humour writing, distancing himself from Jonathan Swift:

I … deny I have gone as far as Swift: he keeps a due distance from Rabelais; I keep a due distance from him.

Sterne is best known for his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, for which he became famous not only in England, but throughout Europe. Translations of the work began to appear in all the major European languages almost upon its publication, and Sterne influenced European writers as diverse as Diderot and the German Romanticists. His work had also noticeable influence over Brazilian author Machado de Assis, who made exceptional (and outstandingly original) usage of the digressive technique in the masterful novel The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. Indeed, the novel, in which Sterne manipulates narrative time and voice, parodies accepted narrative form, and includes a healthy dose of “bawdy” humour, was largely dismissed in England as being too corrupt. Samuel Johnson’s verdict in 1776 was that “Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last.”

This is strikingly different from the views of European critics of the day, who praised Sterne and Tristram Shandy as innovative and superior. Voltaire called it “clearly superior to Rabelais”, and later Goethe praised Sterne as “the most beautiful spirit that ever lived.” Both during his life and for a long time after, efforts were made by many to reclaim Sterne as an arch-sentimentalist; parts of Tristram Shandy, such as the tale of Le Fever, were excerpted and published separately to wide acclaim from the moralists of the day. The success of the novel and its serialised nature also allowed many imitators to publish pamphlets concerning the Shandean characters and other Shandean-related material even while the novel was yet unfinished.

The novel itself is difficult to describe. The story starts with the narration, by Tristram, of his own conception. It proceeds by fits and starts, but mostly by what Sterne calls “progressive digressions” so that we do not reach Tristram’s birth before the third volume. The novel is rich in characters and humour, and the influences of Rabelais and Cervantes are present throughout. The novel ends after 9 volumes, published over a decade, but without anything that might be considered a traditional conclusion. Sterne inserts sermons, essays and legal documents into the pages of his novel; and he explores the limits of typography and print design by including marbled pages and, most famously, an entirely black page, within the narrative. Many of the innovations that Sterne introduced, adaptations in form that should be understood as an exploration of what constitutes the novel, were highly influential to Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and more contemporary writers such as Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Italo Calvino referred to Tristram Shandy as the “undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century”. The Russian Formalist writer Viktor Shklovsky regarded Tristram Shandy as the archetypal, quintessential novel, of which all other novels are mere subsets: “Tristram Shandy is the most typical novel of world literature.”

However, the leading critical opinions of Tristram Shandy tend to be markedly polarised in their evaluations of its significance. Since the 1950s, following the lead of DW Jefferson, there are those who argue that, whatever its legacy of influence may be, Tristram Shandy in its original context actually represents a resurgence of a much older, Renaissance tradition of “Learned Wit” – owing a debt to such influences as the Scriblerian approach.

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy is a less influential book, although it was better received by English critics of the day. The book has many stylistic parallels with Tristram Shandy, and indeed, the narrator is one of the minor characters from the earlier novel. Although the story is more straightforward, A Sentimental Journey can be understood to be part of the same artistic project to which Tristram Shandy belongs.

Two volumes of Sterne’s Sermons were published during his lifetime; more copies of his Sermons were sold in his lifetime than copies of Tristram Shandy, and for a while he was better known in some circles as a preacher than as a novelist. The sermons, though, are conventional in both style and substance. Several volumes of letters were published after his death, as was Journal to Eliza, a more sentimental than humorous love letter to a woman Sterne was courting during the final years of his life. Compared to many eighteenth-century authors, Sterne’s body of work is quite small.

For more information on Jane Austen’s familiarity with the works of Sterne, read Ken Robert’s Jane Austen and Laurence Sterne.

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François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand

briandFrançois-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand ( September 4, 1768 in Saint-Malo – July 4, 1848 in Paris) was a French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian, who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany, Chateaubriand was a royalist by political disposition; in an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he authored the Génie du christianisme in defense of the Catholic faith. His autobiography Mémoires d’outre-tombe (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'”, published posthumously in 1849–1850), is nowadays generally considered his most accomplished work.

Born in Saint-Malo, the last of 10 children, Chateaubriand grew up in his family’s castle in Combourg, Brittany. His father, René de Chateaubriand (1718–86), was a former sea captain turned ship owner and slave trader. His mother’s maiden name was Apolline de Bedée. Chateaubriand’s father was a morose, uncommunicative man, and the young Chateaubriand grew up in an atmosphere of gloomy solitude, only broken by long walks in the Breton countryside and an intense friendship with his sister Lucile.

Combourg by Targut - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
Combourg by Targut – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Chateaubriand was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan. For a time he could not make up his mind whether he wanted to be a naval officer or a priest, but at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military career and gained a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based at Navarre. Within two years, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He visited Paris in 1788 where he made the acquaintance of Jean-François de La Harpe, André Chénier, Louis-Marcelin de Fontanes and other leading writers of the time. When the French Revolution broke out, Chateaubriand was initially sympathetic, but as events in Paris became more violent he decided to journey to North America in 1791. He was given the idea to leave Europe by Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoigon de Malesherbes, who also encouraged him to do some botanical studies.

In Voyage en Amérique, published in 1826, Chateaubriand writes that he arrived in Philadelphia on July 10, 1791. He visited New York, Boston and Lexington, before leaving by boat on the Hudson River to reach Albany. He then followed the Mohawk trail up the Niagara Falls where he broke his arm and spent a month in recovery in the company of a Native American tribe. Chateaubriand then describes Native American tribes’ customs, as well as zoological, political and economic consideration. He then lets believe throughout few pages that a raid along the Ohio River, the Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida took him back to Philadelphia, where he embarked on the Molly in November to go back to France.

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This experience provided the setting for his exotic novels Les Natchez (written between 1793 and 1799 but published only in 1826), Atala (1801) and René (1802). His vivid, captivating descriptions of nature in the sparsely settled American Deep South were written in a style that was very innovative for the time and spearheaded what later became the Romantic movement in France. As soon as 1916, scholarship has cast doubt on Chateaubriand’s claims that he was granted an interview with George Washington and that he actually lived for a time with the Native Americans he wrote about. The veracity of entire sections of the itinerary Chateaubriand pretended to follow are questioned, notably his passage through the Mississippi valley, Louisiana and Florida.

Chateaubriand returned to France in 1792 and subsequently joined the army of Royalist émigrés in Coblenz under the leadership of Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. Under strong pressure from his family, he married a young aristocratic woman, also from Saint-Malo, whom he had never previously met, Céleste Buisson de la Vigne. In later life, Chateaubriand was notoriously unfaithful to her, having a series of love affairs. His military career came to an end when he was wounded at the siege of Thionville, a major clash between Royalist troops and the French Revolutionary Army. Half-dead, he was taken to Jersey and exile in England, leaving his wife behind.

François-René de Chateaubriand by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, sometime after 1808.
François-René de Chateaubriand by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, sometime after 1808.

Chateaubriand spent most of his exile in extreme poverty in London, scraping a living offering French lessons and doing translation work, but a stay in Suffolk (Beccles) was more idyllic. Here Chateaubriand fell in love with a young English woman, Charlotte Ives, but the romance ended when he was forced to reveal he was already married. During his time in Britain, Chateaubriand also became familiar with English literature. This reading, particularly of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (which he later translated into French prose), had a deep influence on his own literary work.

His exile forced Chateaubriand to examine the causes of the French Revolution, which had cost the lives of many of his family and friends; these reflections inspired his first work, Essai sur les Révolutions (1797). An attempt in 18th Century style to explain the French Revolution, it predated his subsequent, romantic style of writing and was largely ignored. A major turning point in Chateaubriand’s life was his conversion back to the Catholic faith of his childhood around 1798.

Chateaubriand took advantage of the amnesty issued to émigrés to return to France in May, 1800 (under the French Consulate), Chateaubriand edited the Mercure de France. In 1802, he won fame with Génie du christianisme (“The Genius of Christianity”), an apology for the Catholic Christian faith which contributed to the post-revolutionary religious revival in France. It also won him the favour of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was eager to win over the Catholic Church at the time.

Appointed secretary of the legation to the Holy See by Napoleon, he accompanied Cardinal Fesch to Rome. But the two men soon quarrelled and Chateaubriand was nominated as minister to Valais (in Switzerland). He resigned his post in disgust after Napoleon ordered the execution in 1804 of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, duc d’Enghien. Chateaubriand was, after his resignation, completely dependent on his literary efforts. However, and quite unexpectedly, he received a large sum of money from the Russian Tsarina Elizabeth Alexeievna. She had seen him as a defender of Christianity and thus worthy of her royal support.

Chateaubriand lends his name to the famous beef dish supposedly created by his personal chef, possibly in 1811.
Chateaubriand lends his name to the famous beef dish supposedly created by his personal chef, possibly in 1811.

Chateaubriand used his new-found wealth in 1806 to visit Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine, Egypt and Spain. The notes he made on his travels later formed part of a prose epic, Les Martyrs, set during the Roman persecution of early Christianity. His notes also furnished a running account of the trip itself, published in 1811 as the Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem). The Spanish stage of the journey inspired a third novella, Les aventures du dernier Abencérage (The Adventures of the Last Abencerrage), which appeared in 1826.

On his return to France, he published a severe criticism of Napoleon, comparing him to Nero and predicting the emergence of a new Tacitus. Napoleon famously threatened to have Chateaubriand sabered on the steps of the Tulieries Palace for it, but settled for merely banishing him from the city. Chateaubriand retired to a modest estate he called La Vallée aux Loups (“Wolf Valley”), in Châtenay-Malabry, 11 km (6.8 mi) south of central Paris. Here he finished Les Martyrs, which appeared in 1809, and began the first drafts of his memoirs. He was elected to the Académie française in 1811, but, given his plan to infuse his acceptance speech with criticism of the Revolution, he could not occupy his seat until after the Bourbon Restoration. His literary friends during this period included Madame de Staël, Joseph Joubert and Pierre-Simon Ballanche.

After the fall of the French Empire, Chateaubriand rallied to the Bourbons. On 30 March 1814, he wrote a pamphlet against Napoleon, titled De Buonaparte et des Bourbons, of which thousands of copies were published. He then followed Louis XVIII into exile to Ghent during the Hundred Days (March–July 1815), and was nominated ambassador to Sweden.

After Napoleon’s defeat, Chateaubriand became peer of France and state minister (1815). In December 1815 he voted for Marshal Ney’s execution. However, his criticism of King Louis XVIII, after the Chambre introuvable was dissolved, got him disgraced. He lost his function of state minister, and joined the opposition, siding with the Ultra-royalist group supporting the future Charles X, and becoming one of the main writers of its mouthpiece, Le Conservateur.

800px-Charles-Ferdinand-Berry
Charles Ferdinand d’Artois, Duke of Berry (24 January 1778 – 14 February 1820) was the youngest son of the future King of France, Charles X. He was assassinated at the Paris Opera in 1820 by Louis Pierre Louvel, an anti-royal Bonapartist.

Chateaubriand sided again with the Court after the murder of the Duc de Berry (1820), writing for the occasion the Mémoires sur la vie et la mort du duc. He then served as ambassador to Prussia (1821) and the United Kingdom (1822), and even rose to the office of Minister of Foreign Affairs (28 December 1822 – 4 August 1824). A plenipotentiary to the Congress of Verona (1822), he decided in favor of the Quintuple Alliance’s intervention in Spain during the Trienio Liberal, despite opposition from the Duke of Wellington. Although the move was considered a success, Chateaubriand was soon relieved of his office by Prime Minister Jean-Baptiste de Villèle, the leader of the ultra-royalist group, on 5 June 1824.

Consequently, he moved towards the liberal opposition, both as a Peer and as a contributor to Journal des Débats (his articles there gave the signal of the paper’s similar switch, which, however, was more moderate than Le National, directed by Adolphe Thiers and Armand Carrel). Opposing Villèle, he became highly popular as a defender of press freedom and the cause of Greek independence. After Villèle’s downfall, Charles X appointed him ambassador to the Holy See in 1828, but he resigned upon the accession of the Prince de Polignac as premier (November 1829).

The title page for an 1849 edition of  Mémoires d'outre-tombe.
The title page for an 1849 edition of Mémoires d’outre-tombe.

In 1830, after the July Revolution, his refusal to swear allegiance to the new House of Orléans king Louis-Philippe put an end to his political career. He withdrew from political life to write his Mémoires d’outre-tombe (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave'”, published posthumously in 2 volumes in 1849–1850), which is considered his most accomplished work, and his Études historiques (4 vols., designed as an introduction to a projected History of France). He also became a harsh critic of the “bourgeois king” and the July Monarchy, and his planned volume on the arrest of the duchesse de Berry caused him to be unsuccessfully prosecuted.

Chateaubriand, along with other Catholic traditionalists such as Ballanche or, on the other side of the political board, the socialist and republican Pierre Leroux, was then one of the few to attempt to conciliate the three terms of Liberté, égalité and fraternité, beyond the antagonism between liberals and socialists concerning the interpretation to give to the seemingly contradictory terms.[7] Chateaubriand thus gave a Christian interpretation of the revolutionary motto, stating in the 1841 conclusion to his Mémoires d’outre-tombe:

Far from being at its term, the religion of the Liberator is now only just entering its third phase, the political period, liberty, equality, fraternity

In his final years, he lived as a recluse in an apartment 120 rue du Bac, Paris, only leaving his house to pay visits to Juliette Récamier in l’Abbaye-aux-Bois. His final work, Vie de Rancé, was written at the suggestion of his confessor and published in 1844. It is a biography of Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, a worldly seventeenth-century French aristocrat who withdrew from society to become the founder of the Trappist order of monks. The parallels with Chateaubriand’s own life are striking. Chateaubriand died in Paris during the Revolution of 1848 and was buried, as he had requested, on the tidal island Grand Bé near Saint-Malo, accessible only when the tide is out.

St-Malo_Tombe_Chateaubriand_2010
“St-Malo Tombe Chateaubriand 2010” by Photo: JLPC /  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – mm

For his talent as much as his excesses, Chateaubriand may be considered the father of French Romanticism. His descriptions of Nature and his analysis of emotion made him the model for a generation of Romantic writers, not only in France but also abroad. For example, Lord Byron was deeply impressed by René. The young Victor Hugo scribbled in a notebook, “To be Chateaubriand or nothing.” Even his enemies found it hard to avoid his influence. Stendhal, who despised him for political reasons, made use of his psychological analyses in his own book, De l’amour.

George Brandes, in 1901, compared the works of Chateaubriand to those of Rousseau and others:

The year 1800 was the first to produce a book bearing the imprint of the new era, a work small in size, but great in significance and mighty in the impression it made. Atala took the French public by storm in a way which no book had done since the days of Paul and Virginia. It was a romance of the plains and mysterious forests of North America, with a strong, strange aroma of the untilled soil from which it sprang; it glowed with rich foreign colouring, and with the fiercer glow of consuming passion.

“We are convinced that the great writers have told their own story in their works”, wrote Chateaubriand in Génie du christianisme, “one only truly describes one’s own heart by attributing it to another, and the greater part of genius is composed of memories.” This is certainly true of Chateaubriand himself. All his works have strong autobiographical elements, overt or disguised. Perhaps this is the reason why today Mémoires d’outre-tombe are regarded as his finest achievement.

Images and information from wikipedia.com