ERMAINE by Wayne Andrews


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In every Minerva there's a Venus wanting out, but only a few Minerva-Venuses ever get out. Mme. de Stael was one of the few. As France's most flamboyant femme-savante, she ran through romances of one sort or another even a call girl might envy. She was also what Nietzsche dubbed George Sand, ""a writing-cow""; had a salon attended by the leading literary and political lights of the late 18th century, was the wife of an ambassador who was rarely around, and influenced Lamartine, Hugo and the whole Romantic Movement. The personality-profile we have here presents a woman as formidable as she was flighty, and though little more than a rehash of the many, many monographs-including J. Christopher Herold's recent and far more redoubtable work- (Mistress to an Age- 1958) it still holds up as a spirited, succinct, justly sympathetic tale, with lots of nimble dialogue, almost all of it lifted out of diaries and letters. And some of it is great fun indeed; the Madame thought she was the first to give ""the Germans an idea of what a good time is"", but after her visits Schiller wrote, ""I feel as though I were recovering from a severe illness"". Exiled by Revolutionary France, she was allowed to return in 1795, but was banished once again when Napoleon found her bothersome. She found him ""a clever chess player set to checkmate the human race"". Her fiercest flame was the novelist Constant, and what an on-again, off-again amour that was! Chateaubriand, Mme. Recamier, even Goethe- whom she characteristically regarded as somewhat slow- were charmed by her. She'll charm the reader too; author Andrews' intent being less erudition than entertainment, and at that he most merrily succeeds.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1963
Publisher: Atheneum