Amidst the men of power and influence in revolutionary and Napoleonic France, an emancipated lady rose. She was fair and elegant, but her sharp tongue was just as loved as feared. For this unique woman had a strong independent mind; bright and filled with ideas of her own. Unlike other women of her time, her ideas were widespread and well-known. But most of all she was a beacon of inspiration and politically influential. Her power goes as far as to even frighten off the great Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
These words describe Anne-Louise Germaine Necker (1766 - 1817), baroness of Staël-Holstein, or better known as Madame de Staël, an influential voice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. She was born in Switzerland, daughter of Jacques Necker, banker and minister of finance under Louis XVI, and salonniere and writer Suzanne Curchod, and married the Swedish Ambassador Eric-Magnus, baron of Staël-Holstein, who was positioned in Paris. In 1803, Mme de Staël was forced by Napoleon into exile because of her publications of Delphine (1802) and Corinne (1807). During her exile she visited, among other European countries, Germany, where she became familiar with the work of early German romantic philosophers.
Recently, the work of Germaine de Staël has gone through a revival. In the last decades extensive biographies have been written on her life, politics, literary influence, and correspondence. As a thinker, Germaine de Staël is influenced by a large range of traditions – of which the late French and Scottish Enlightenment, 18th century Sentimentalism, Whiggism, and Early German Romanticism are most important. These intellectual movements embrace different perspectives on the concept of man. Where les philosophes of the Enlightenment emphasize rationality, universal human goals, natural law and natural science, the Romanticists focus on imagination, religion, enthusiasm and passions. In the work of Mme de Staël, these traditions meet in a wonderful marriage. In my PhD research I focus on the philosophical implications of De Staël’s thinking on rationality and the passions.
This PhD research is conducted at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and supervised by prof.dr. J.A. van Ruler.