Women’s Literary Salons and Political Propaganda During the Napoleonic Era: The Cradle of Patriotic Nationalism

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In 1800 Napoleon Bonaparte sought to impose an absolute political authority as First Consul for life, and emperor in 1804. A network of women authors connected with Germaine de Staël in Paris, Coppet, Berlin, and Florence maintained salons and addressed political conflicts in their novels, correspondence and theory. Nationalist histories, also written by salon members, reinforced their unified political agenda by emphasizing the heroic acts that guaranteed national freedom. Semiotics became the primary means of political propaganda and persuasion in the absence of legislative debate and women’s suffrage.


“A bounty of very recent books in English about Mme de Staël, mostly biographical, although they do accurately paint the historical context, are available. See for instance Angelica Gooden (2008), Francine du Plessix Gray (2008), Renee Winegarten (2008) . . . Here, we have something new, and more ambitious: Sharon Worley writes about an era—the French Revolution and the Napoleonic empire— about a new social, intellectual and ideological configuration—the understanding of political systems, the role of women, of literature, of aesthetics, the idea of nation— in short about a universal brainstorming which shaped our modern age.” – Gérard Gengembre, Professor Emeritus at the Université de Caen

“. . . sheds significant light on the period between the Enlightenment and Romantic/Napoleonic era, and between feminine to feminist/political thought and actual and influential calls for patriotic action and moral reform through literature and art – particularly through images of Liberty and family and the establishing of fictive role models with which all levels of society could identify during the upheavals of the Napoleonic era.” – Prof. Shelley Cordulack, Millikin University

“. . . a formidable piece of scholarship. It is impressive especially in the breadth of its concerns, from political philosophy to the lively arts, from social history to literature, and from semantics and rhetoric to the anthropology of the salon. It is only such an approach that can truly grasp the scope of the French Revolution and the transformation of Europe that created modernity.” – Prof. Frederick Turner, University of Texas-Dallas

"This compelling book illuminates the world of the literary salon and the important roles played by the women who hosted these popular events. ... Dr. Worley's passion for her subject is evident, and her meticulously researched volume stresses the important intellectual and cultural roles played by several female writers." -- Dr. Diana Reid Haig, Napoleonic Historical Society Newsletter

"Such scholarly endeavors have always served as valuable resources for other scholars and inspired new research. Sharon Worley's work will undoubtedly continue this tradition that the French themselves have relegated to the past. ... One can still focus on a few and be enriched, entertained, and even inspired to do further research into this period." -- Prof. Faith E. Beasley, Dartmouth College

Table of Contents

Foreword by Gérard Gengembre, Ph.D.
1. The Salon as a Political Arena and the Development of Germaine de Staël’s Literary Theory
2. Gendered Reconstruction of Feminist Authority in the Prince’s Parlor: Historicism and Fiction in Stephanie Genlis’ Royalist Politics
Juliette Récamier and Prince Augustus of Prussia in Genlis’s Athénaïs
3. Hieroglyph and Symbol: Aesthetics and Morality in the Harmony of the Spheres
The Estate as Icon and Allegory of the State: Literature, Art Collections, Public Monuments, and National Identity
Classical Mythology and Christian Iconography as Moral Signifiers: The Estate and Art Collections
4. The Apollonian Muse in Germaine de Staël’s Corinne
5. Italian Cultural Patrimony and Memories of Revolution: The Anti-Napoleonic Florence Salon of Louise Stolberg and Germaine de Staël’s Corinne
6. Germaine de Staël and Napoleon: Resistance in Antithesis Napoleon and the Cult of Empire
7. Drama as Political Propaganda: De Staël’s De l’Allemagne and the Heroic Archetype Romanticism as a Definition of German Character
8. Ethical Aesthetics and National Identity in Dorothea Schlegel’s Florentin

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