Few people have had a better viewpoint during a period of violence than Anne Louise Germaine Necker during the French Revolution. The daughter of the financier and statesman, Jacques Necker, and the wife of the Swedish Ambassador Baron Eric Magnus Staël von Holstein, she observed her father’s efforts to save France from the financial crisis he saw coming to overturn his country. She also watched the early phases of the Revolution, the storming of the Bastille, and the cruelty practiced against French nobility in the name of liberty. Only because of her ambassadorial status did she escape with her life from the Reign of Terror.
Later she clashed with Napoleon. Exiled by him from France, she barely escaped from his army marching on Moscow. She witnessed his triumphs and his abdications. Writing about it all, she put into her account of these historical events the wit and charm that made her a leading conversationalist of her day.
Swarthy of complexion, with thick lips and a prominent nose, noteworthy for her bad taste in clothes, and—judged by her portrait by the artist Francois Gerard—dumpy and anything but pretty, Madame de Staël held a position at the center of the European stage, at the summit of the political and intellectual elite. She was visited by Schlegel, Schiller, Byron, and Wellington. She had children by four men, only one of them her husband, and affairs with another half dozen of the important men of her time.
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