Chateaubriand, François René de
François René de Chateaubriand 1768-1848
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms François-Auguste de Chateaubriand; Vicomte de Chateaubriand; René de vicomte de Chateaubriand; François Auguste René Chateaubriand.) French novelist, essayist, memoirist, translator, playwright, critic and biographer.
The following entry presents criticism on Chateaubriand's works from 1928 through 2002. For additional information on Chateaubriand's life and career, see NCLC, Vol. 3.
Chateaubriand is considered a leading literary figure in the French Romanticism movement, and his prolific literary output greatly influenced subsequent generations of French authors. His works contain lush descriptions—particularly of nature—and address moral concerns via inwardly focused characters. These aspects help to articulate his dual foci on aesthetics and morality and have helped establish Chateaubriand's reputation as an early Romanticist.
Born on September 4, 1768 in Saint-Malo to a Breton family of aristocratic blood, Chateaubriand was the youngest of ten children. Much of Chateaubriand's childhood was spent at the family home at Combourg, where his primary companion was his older sister Lucile, to whom he was very attached. Chateaubriand's education was thorough, although marked by several changes in direction. Intent on a naval career, he attended the nearby College of Dol for four years and then the Jesuit college at Rennes for a more thorough preparation in mathematics. After a year at Rennes, he considered entering the priesthood and, to this end, briefly attended the College of Dinan. Changing his mind, he then secured a military commission, but left the army in 1786 (after his father's death) and returned to Combourg. In 1789, Chateaubriand visited his brother in Paris and witnessed the fall of the Bastille. Although he professed sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution, the ensuing violence appalled him. He sailed to America in 1791 to escape the volatile climate in France. While in America, Chateaubriand traveled the Hudson River from New York City to Albany and reported encounters with Native Americans. It was this trip to America which provided the inspiration and subject matter for many of his later works. In 1792, Chateaubriand returned to France and married a young heiress named Céleste Buisson de la Vigne. To defend the monarchy, he joined the army, was wounded and abandoned on the battlefield. He managed to survive and, in 1793, escaped to London, where he began working as a translator and tutor.
During this period, Chateaubriand wrote and published his first book, entitled Essai historique, politique et moral sur les révolutions anciennes et modernes considérées dan leurs rapports avec la Révolution Française (1797; An Historical, Political and Moral Essay on Revolutions, ancient and modern). He next published a romantic love story set in America titled Atala (1801), which proved extremely successful. After the deaths of his mother and sister, Chateaubriand experienced a renewed interest in Christianity, and the subsequent Le Génie du christianisme (1802; The Genius of Christianity) was written. It, too, was well received and Chateaubriand decided to take a government post in Rome. He later traveled to the Near East to gather information for Les martyrs (1809; The Martyrs) and Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem et de Jérusalem à Paris, en allant par la Grèce, et revenant par l'Egypte, la Barbarie, et l'Espagne (1811; Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt and Barbary, during the Years 1806 and 1807). Active politically, Chateaubriand held a variety of governmental posts and wrote political essays and pamphlets. In the 1830s, he began work on his Mémoires d'outre‐tombe (1848‐50; Memoirs of Chateaubriand, written by himself)—a project that overlapped his political career and continued until his death on July 4, 1848.
Chateaubriand's works examine classical literature, nature, politics and religion. An Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern juxtaposes ancient and modern history in order to examine the history of revolution. Written shortly after the French Revolution—which Chateaubriand regarded as mismanaged—it was an attempt to engender reflection among the French public. The Genius of Christianity offers a romantic view of religion, and focuses on its “moral and poetic beauties.” It was well-timed as, after the excesses of the Revolution, the French public were interested in a return to traditional morality. Napoleon was appreciative of this influence and so invited Chateaubriand to end his exile in England and return to the continent. With The Martyrs and Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt and Barbary, during the Years 1806 and 1807, Chateaubriand continued to emphasize the superiority of the Christian religion while offering compelling, descriptive passages on nature from the individualist's perspective. His two novels, Atala and René (1802), are set in America. Both present a melancholy individualist hero at the core of their descriptive prose, and depict protagonists whose natural desires are often at odds with Christian morality. Atala highlights the tension between nature and religion through descriptions of the landscape. René, an autobiographical novel, centers on the melancholy soul-searching of a youth who harbors an incestuous love for his sister. Although his travel prose—particularly on America—is considered very important from a literary perspective, there has been some debate on the veracity of the descriptions. As Dennis J. Spininger points out in one case, “Various discerned errors, departures from the scientifically verified fauna and flora of the region he describes, have been used as the basis for determining that Chateaubriand's voyage to America did not include a visit to the Louisiana area.” Due to these discrepancies, it is now believed that Chateaubriand did not travel to the Mississippi river, Florida, Alabama, or to Louisiana, as implied by his writing. It appears that certain landscape descriptions were cobbled together from other travellers' accounts. Richard Switzer points out a striking similarity in one case between Chateaubriand's descriptions in Travels in America and Italy and Robert Imlay's descriptions in his Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America (1793). In addition to Atala and René, Chateaubriand provided further writings on America with The Natchez and Travels in America and Italy. Chateaubriand's life and works are the foundation for his Memoirs of Chateaubriand which recounts his travels and exploits, as well as his aesthetic, political, and religious beliefs. With its treatment of Christianity, politics, and nature, as well as its descriptive prose and emphasis on the individual, Chateaubriand's work stands firmly in the French Romantic tradition.
Although not as well known today as in the nineteenth century, Chateaubriand enjoyed great critical and commercial success during his life and interest in his works has remained constant since his death. Critical response to Chateaubriand's writings has focused primarily on his place in literary tradition. Scholars generally comment on his contributions to the French neoclassical and Romantic movements. Other critical approaches have examined Chateaubriand's biographical and contemporary historical influences, considering Chateaubriand's own influence on writers, particularly those writing about America. Thematic responses tend to concentrate on the dual aspects of nature and Christian morality within his works. Here, critical responses focus primarily on Atala and, to a lesser extent, René and the Memoirs. Other critics emphasize Chateaubriand's interest in the individual. Stylistically, his rich, descriptive prose and his symbolic use of landscapes have been addressed, sometimes including a psychoanalytic examination of his work. Finally, a more recent strain of scholarship examines Chateaubriand's travel writing through a post-colonial perspective, considering his descriptive work as a cultural construction of Europe and the foreign Other.
Essai historique, politique et moral sur les révolutions anciennes et modernes considérées dans leurs rapports avec la Révolution Française [An Historical, Political and Moral Essay on Revolutions, ancient and modern] (essay) 1797
Atala, ou, les Amours de deux sauvages dans le désert [Atala: or, The amours of two Indians, in the wilds of America] (novel) 1801
*Le Génie du christianisme; ou Beautés de la religion chrétienne [The Genius of Christianity] (essay, and novel) 1802
René (novel) 1802
Défense du Génie du Christianisme (essay) 1803
Les martyrs, ou, Le triomphe de la religion chretienne [The Martyrs; or, The Triumph of the Christian Religion] (novel) 1809
Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem et de Jérusalem à Paris, en allant par la Grèce, et revenant par l'Egypte, la Barbarie, et l'Espagne [Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the Years 1806 and 1807]. 3 vols. (travel essay) 1811
De Buonaparte, des Bourbon, et de la nécessité de se raillier à nos princes légitimes, pour le bonheur de la France et celui de l'Europe [On Buonaparte and the Bourbons, and the necessity of rallying around our legitimate princes, for the safety of France and of Europe] (essay) 1814
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SOURCE: Malakis, Emile. “Chateaubriand's Contribution to Philhellenism.” Modern Philology 26 (August 1928): 91-105.
[In the following essay, Malakis examines Chateaubriand's interest in Greece and its language using a biographical approach. Malakis also considers the contributions of Chateaubriand's Itinerary to the Greek liberation movement.]
Between the years 1820 and 1830 an ardent enthusiasm was expressed in France for the emancipation of Greece.1 The feeling was widespread and varied. Society had its Philhellenism with banquets and concerts, expositions of paintings and plays for the benefit of the Palikares; there was a religious Philhellenism which supported the Christian Greeks against the Musulman Turks; a liberal Philhellenism that supported subjects in revolt against a despotical suzerain; a romantic Philhellenism, interested in the mysterious and things unfamiliar, which identified the Palikares with Carbonari; and, lastly, a literary Philhellenism inspired chiefly by classical memories.2 Chateaubriand, who participated in almost every movement during the Empire and Restoration, took an active part also in the Philhellenic movement, but the extent of his activity has not been studied in detail.
Chateaubriand's interest in Greek and Greece probably dates back to his school days at Dol when he translated the Æneadum genitrix, hominum...
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Lynes Jr., Carlos. “Chateaubriand, Revitalizer of the French Classics.” Romantic Review 31, no. 4 (December 1940): 355-63.
[In the following essay, Lynes Jr. analyzes Chateaubriand's contributions as a literary critic and proponent of classicism, focusing on The Genius of Christianity.]
The Génie du Christianisme, even supplemented by Chateaubriand's other writings, does not present a systematic and complete tableau of French literature in the seventeenth century. Nevertheless in his occasional rôle as a critic Chateaubriand gives us interesting and suggestive judgments on nearly all the seventeenth-century writers whom he finds time to mention. In these comments the critic is generally looking at literature from a certain angle and borrowing illustrations to prove a thesis, or else expressing personal preferences with little regard for theories and dogmas. A constant preoccupation is the desire to annihilate the whole eighteenth century of the philosophes and to link the “littérature nouvelle,” of which he considers himself the prophet, with the seventeenth century—but with a seventeenth century as Chateaubriand himself conceives it, having qualities strongly resembling his own. As a result of this preoccupation, of which certain aspects only can be touched upon here,1 there dates from the Génie du Christianisme a new and significant conception of the French...
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SOURCE: Porter, Charles A. “Chateaubriand's Classicism.” Yale French Studies 38 (1967): 156-70.
[In the following essay, Porter examines Chateaubriand's interest in a literary return to classicism, based on French and ancient traditions. Porter asserts that Chateaubriand believed that classicism, with rules and principles which could be discovered and followed, offers a timelessness for art. To this end, Chateaubriand offered his own works as models, including René and Atala.]
“The Génie du christianisme will remain my great work,” Chateaubriand wrote in the Mémoires d'outre-tombe, “because it produced or determined a revolution and began the new era of the literary century.” But the Martyrs, he continued, a work demonstrating “serious studies, a labor of style, great respect for language and good taste,” was something else again: it had kept a flavor of the places it was concerned with—the lands of antiquity; in it “the classical dominates the romantic.” The commonplaces of literary history must not blind us to this “classicism” of the “father of romanticism.” “Let us forget about the portrait of the inspired poet, his hair blowing in the wind,” Pierre Moreau wrote in Le Classicisme des romantiques: “we must picture him surrounded by books, pen in hand; it is in books that he looks for the image of even the landscape before his...
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SOURCE: Jaffe, Adrian H. “Chateaubriand's Use of Ossianic Language.” Comparative Literature Studies 5, no. 2 (June 1968): 157-66.
[In the following essay, Jaffe examines the influence of Ossianic poems, both in terms of language and their inclusion of the idealized noble savage, on Chateaubriand's work.]
The curious, and ironic, relationship between Chateaubriand and the poems of Ossian is interesting not only in itself but also as an excellent example of the important distinction, in comparative literature studies, between success and influence. It may have not been sufficiently recognized that while success may be accompanied by influence, it often is not, and that it is therefore important not to assume the presence of the one from the presence of the other. The distinction between the two is more than technical: it involves a distinction in kind and quality between two modes in which literature has within it the potentiality of impinging upon the reader.
In one mode, literature can impress on a number of levels, as, for example, the ideological and the aesthetic; it can interest and excite; it can serve as impetus or key to philosophical reflection; it can mirror or offer new organizations of experience. It can have these effects upon the generality of readers, who may in turn, if they should happen to be critics, express their admiration, concurrence, or reservations. In this...
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SOURCE: Charlton, D. G. “The Ambiguity of Chateaubriand's René.” French Studies: A Quarterly Review 23, no. 1 (January 1969): 229-43.
[In the following essay, Charlton analyzes Chateaubriand's René as an example of French Romanticism that constructs the melancholic, solitary individualist. Charlton maintains that Chateaubriand presented an ambivalent view of both melancholy and Christianity.]
No figure is more often connected with French Romanticism than the melancholic solitary. Although recent studies have identified not one kind of héros romantique but several—the poet-prophet, the rebel, the dandy, even the ‘unheroic hero’, amongst others—yet the most typically Romantic character for most readers remains the passion-tossed individualist afflicted with le mal du siècle. And it has commonly been alleged or implied that the Romantic writers do indeed portray this figure as a true hero, as someone to admire, as a superior being whose mental anguish lifts him above the common stock. The Romantics do not merely have sympathy with him in that they themselves have experienced his feelings, suffered like him from frustrated idealism and despairing boredom; in their heart of hearts they admire him, clothing him in the seductive poetry of their high-flown images. Not all their commentators hold this view; a few take seriously their prefatory protestations of morality...
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SOURCE: Lowrie, Joyce O. “Motifs of Kingdom and Exile in Atala.” French Review: Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French 43, no. 5 (April 1970): 755-64.
[In the following essay, Lowrie asserts that the themes of exile and kingdom are unifying components in Atala and that the work presents the Romantic estranged hero as separated from Divine Unity. Lowrie then argues that Atala offers Nature as a refuge for the hero in a depiction which ultimately reifies the individual and exile itself over the divine.]
The portrayal of man as an expatriate who is in literal and symbolic exile from his true abode is a commonplace in nineteenth-century literature. More than any of the other so-called precursors of Romanticism, Chateaubriand contributed to the diffusion of the themes of kingdom and of exile by elevating them to an especially privileged position in his work. This article will examine Chateaubriand's treatment of these motifs in Atala.
Exile is the pre-condition for the search for a kingdom. As such, exile figures prominently in the basic givens of the plot in Atala. Chactas, having known exile from his own country by having participated in a foreign culture, that of France, has returned “dans le sein de la patrie.”1 Even there he is once again placed apart from his own compatriots by virtue of being blind. He tells his...
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SOURCE: Spininger, Dennis J. “The Paradise Setting of Chateaubriand's Atala.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 89, no. 3 (May 1974): 530-6.
[In the following essay, Spininger considers the symbolic values of the landscape descriptions in Atala. Spininger claims the tensions in the descriptions not only serve Chateaubriand's aesthetic purposes, but represent the doubleness of the New World as an exotic, Eden-like paradise which also is harsh and savage.]
The lush landscape description with which Chateaubriand begins his novel Atala has been approached from curiously myopic critical perspectives. Hostile critics have usually attempted to undermine its authenticity. Favorable critics have too often swooned without performing adequate analysis. The details of the description have been checked and rechecked from the points of view of geography, botany, and zoology. Various discerned errors, departures from the scientifically verified fauna and flora of the region he describes, have been used as the basis for determining that Chateaubriand's voyage to America did not include a visit to the Louisiana area. He has even been accused of plagiarizing from accounts of travel.1 His defenders, while admitting the errors of fact and certain borrowings, have done little more than proclaim the descriptions to be so picturesque as to compensate for their...
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Switzer, Richard. “Chateaubriand and the Welsh Indians.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 3, nos. 1-2 (fall-winter 1974-75): 6-17.
[In the following essay, Switzer details Chateaubriand's romantic reconstruction of the identity of the mound builders of the North American continent, as seen in the author's Voyage en Amérique.]
It is clear that Chateaubriand, attempting to set up a coherent itinerary for his Voyage en Amérique, was being guided much more by his imagination and his readings than by his actual memories of the trip.1 For this reason, the selection of sites he chose to evoke takes on a particular importance from the literary point of view. Obviously, for example, it is much more poetic to claim to have traveled America from the northern reaches of Canada to the southern tip of Florida, rather than admitting only to a modest itinerary in the northeastern United States.
In the same way, Chateaubriand seemed to be fascinated by the Ohio Indian mounds, a fact not surprising, since these monuments were a much debated sujet d'actualité in Chateaubriand's time. The travelers came back with impressive tales of the region, and well into the nineteenth century the subject was frequently renewed, as by the geographer Malte-Brun, whose review published abundant materials and engravings on the subject.2
It is no wonder therefore...
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SOURCE: Doran, Eva. “Two Men and a Forest: Chateaubriand, Tocqueville, and the American Wilderness.” Essays in French Literature, no. 13 (November 1976): 44-61.
[In the following essay, Doran examines both Chateaubriand's and Tocqueville's depiction of American forests as more than descriptions, but as images of human experience. Doran contrasts Chateaubriand's more positive depictions of the wilderness—as an expansive space reflecting one's personal power and God's presence—with the depersonalized and isolated environments portrayed by Tocqueville.]
In his scholarly study, Tocqueville and Beaumont in America,1 George Pierson evaluates the materials pertaining to Tocqueville's American journey (notes, journals, letters) specifically from the point of view of their importance as commentaries on American life, and of their critical relevance to the development of Tocqueville's political and social thought. Yet in certain passages of Tocqueville's American journal one can detect also the expression of an intensely personal mood and an immediate, imaginative response to natural surroundings; these offer a marked contrast to the more typically Tocquevillean style of precise yet perceptive observation, and detached, though insightful, reflection. In fact, the contrast between the instinctive and the intellectual dispositions of his travelling companion—and life-long friend—is...
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SOURCE: Beeker, Jon. “Archetype and Myth in Chateaubriand's Atala.” Symposium 31, no. 2 (summer 1977): 93-106.
[In the following essay, Beeker analyzes Atala from a Jungian perspective. Using archetypal imagery, Beeker asserts the work acts as a monomyth, in that it portrays the ego's struggle for self-emancipation, and presents the characters of Atala and Chactas as two aspects of one psyche.]
Chateaubriand's intent in writing Atala is clearly stated in the epilogue to the work. Here we see that the author's goal was essentially that of presenting to the readers an example of the importance of the Christian religion:
Je vis dans ce récit le tableau du peuple chasseur et du peuple laboureur, la religion, première législatrice des hommes, les dangers de l'ignorance et de l'enthousiasme religieux, opposés aux lumières, à la charité et au véritable esprit de l'Évangile, les combats des passions et des vertus dans un coeur simple, enfin le triomphe du Christianisme sur le sentiment le plus fougueux et la crainte la plus terrible, l'amour et la mort.1
There is, however, another aspect of the work which may be at least equally important. It is the symbolic implication of the story. The great majority of studies dealing with Atala have treated in varying degrees its biographical, historical,...
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SOURCE: Chadbourne, Richard M. “Chateaubriand's Aviary: Birds in the Mémoires d'Outre-Tomb.” In Symbolism and Modern Literature: Studies in Honor of Wallace Fowlie, edited by Marcel Tetel and Austin Warren, pp. 65-80. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1978.
[In the following essay, Chadbourne traces the presence of birds in Memoirs, noting Chateaubriand's use of the thrush as a trigger for childhood memories. Chadbourne then considers Chateaubriand's use of birds in four ways: in literary and other references, as comparisons, in literal ways, and as symbolism.]
In the Génie du Christianisme birds are one of the “marvels of nature” which “prove the existence of God,” and the bird is “the true symbol of the Christian here below” (le véritable emblème du chrétien ici-bas) because “il préfère, comme le fidèle, la solitude au monde, le ciel à la terre, et sa voix bénit sans cesse les merveilles du Créateur” (Part I, Book v, Ch. 5). In Atala birds are an essential feature of the exotic American setting and contribute to an imagery designed to create “une atmosphère vaguement poétique et un peu sentimentale.”1 References to birds are few in René, but at the core of that story lies the comparison which the hero makes of himself to “un oiseau voyageur” and of man in general to a migratory bird waiting to unfold his wings...
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SOURCE: Gans, Eric. “René and the Romantic Model of Self-Centralization.” Studies in Romanticism 22, no. 3 (fall 1983): 421-35.
[In the following essay, Gans argues that Chateaubriand attemped to integrate classical, Hellenic aesthetics with Christian morality in René. Gans claims the character of René—as both a literary hero and a behavioral model—operates as the central and self-centered character whose behavior is not motivated by desire. In this way, the work positions aesthetic questions rather than moral ones at its center.]
Few men have been as aware as Chateaubriand that modern western culture is a combination of Hellenic esthetics and Hebraic (or “Judeo-Christian”) morality. His attempts at realizing new forms of this combination have had varying long-term success. His novel Les Martyrs, for example, is less than convincing as a tableau of the Christian sublimation of classical virtues. It is rather in the two novelettes, Atala and René, included as “illustrations” in the Génie du Christianisme (1802), but also published separately (Atala a year previously, in 1801; René in 1805), that art and religion, ethics and esthetics achieve their romantic fusion. And, despite—or perhaps because of—Atala's more overt religio-esthetic exemplarity, particularly in the latter. Not the condemnations of the hero's vague...
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SOURCE: Call, Michael J. “René in the Garden.” In Back to the Garden: Chateaubriand, Senacour and Constant, pp. 15-56. Saratoga, Calif.: ANMA Libri & Co., 1988.
[In the following excerpt, Call critiques Chateaubriand's depiction of the American wilderness via the myth of Eden, in René and Atala which represent America as a place for escape and isolation. Call further claims that Chateaubriand countered the expectations of paradisiacal settings as regenerative and portrayed René as a Cain figure.]
The opening lines of René present the image of a young European nobleman living in the wilds of the New World. Upon his arrival there, he has been obligated to take an Indian wife, but the narrative informs us, “il ne vivait point avec elle.”1 René, with his “penchant mélancolique,” spends entire days hidden away alone in the forest; he appears to be “sauvage parmi les sauvages.” He has sworn off any contact with other men, “renoncé au commerce des hommes,” the term commerce perhaps implying not only the daily association with others, but also the world of trade and business connected with the Old World by its very nature in colonial Louisiana. Along with the two old men, Chactas and Father Souel, the reader is puzzled at the reasons behind this strange behavior, the motivations for René's desire to bury himself “dans les déserts de...
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SOURCE: Redman, Jr., Harry. “Chateaubriand and his Memoirs' ‘Louisianaise.’” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 19, no. 1 (fall 1990): 22-35.
[In the following essay, Redman examines the relationship between Chateaubriand and the “Louisianaise” woman referred to as Célestine in Memoirs.Redman provides biographical information for this Célestine and considers her influence on and presence in Chateaubriand's writings.]
Chateaubriand may or may not have seen Louisiana when he visited North America in 1791. Whether he did or did not, Louisiana, or the idea of Louisiana, made a deep impression upon him. His Voyage en Amérique and his Mémoires d'outre-tombe describe in detail this exotic land, and two of his best stories, Atala and René along with his prose epic Les Natchez, are laid in north Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, that vast area that used to be included in Louisiana and “les Florides.” Whether a given episode took place in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana proper concerned Chateaubriand but little. Atala, published in 1801, narrates the brief, ill-starred relationship between an Indian lad, Chactas, and an Indian chief's daughter, Atala. One obstacle the two must contend with is that their native tribes are at odds with each other. To make matters worse, Atala believes a vow her mother once made precludes...
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SOURCE: O'Neil, Mary A. “Chateaubriand's Atala: A Study of the French Revolution.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 22, nos. 1-2 (fall-winter 1993-94): 1-14.
[In the following essay, O'Neil presents Chateaubriand's Atala, The Genius of Christianity, and Memoirs, as organized around contemporary history, particularly the French Revolution. In so doing, Chateaubriand critiqued government, religion, and the excesses of the Revolution.]
The young Chateaubriand was a perceptive critic of his own work. In his preface to the first edition of Atala, he predicted that this book would confuse its audience:
Je ne sais si le public goûtera cette histoire qui sort de toutes les routes connues, et qui présente une nature tout à fait étrangère à l'Europe. Il n'y a point d'aventures dans Atala. C'est une sorte de poème, moitié descriptif, moitié dramatique: tout consiste dans la peinture de deux amants qui marchent et causent dans la solitude; tout gît dans le tableau des troubles de l'amour au milieu du calme des déserts et du calme de la religion.
Indeed, readers from M. J. Chénier in 18011 through the twentieth century have accused Chateaubriand of incoherence, as he moves from the story of his Indian lovers to a description of a Christian utopia in...
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SOURCE: Hamilton, James F. “The Gendering of Space in Chateaubriand's Combourg: Archetypal Architecture and the Patriarchal Object.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures 50, no. 2 (summer 1996): 101-13.
[In the following essay, Hamilton analyzes the use of spatial arrangements in Memoirs. In depicting Combourg, his childhood home, Chateaubriand offered an archetypal architecture which psychologically represented his hierarchical family structure and the dominance of his father.]
Cet étroit espace me parut propre à renfermer mes longues espérances; spatio brevi spem longam reseces.
Time seems to have precedence over space in our understanding of French Romanticism. Time distinguishes human nature in its awareness of freedom and mortality, which engenders the feelings of melancholy and anguish so dramatically brought into modern consciousness by Rousseau and the Romantics. This ontological truth, popularized by Rollo May's tribute to the nineteenth-century origins of existentialism, also prevails in critical studies on Chateaubriand's Mémoires d'outre-tombe (1849-50). For example, time defines being (Porter 118) and gives the work a temporal unity (Lehtonen 315). Even Combourg, an inherently spatial entity, is assimilated...
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SOURCE: Bailey, Caroline. “Beneath the Surface of Atala: ‘Le Crocodile au Fond du Bassin.’” French Studies: A Quarterly Review 51, no. 2 (April 1997): 138-54.
[In the following essay, Bailey concentrates on the image of the crocodile in Atala. Using a psychoanalytic perspective, Bailey claims Chateaubriand's work depicts tensions between nature and civilization and between sexuality and Christianity, especially in its representations of desire.]
Je n'ai point encore rencontré d'homme qui n'eût été trompé dans ses rêves de félicité, point de cœur qui n'entretînt une plaie cachée. Le cœur le plus serein en apparence, ressemble au puits naturel de la savane Alachua; la surface en paraît calme et pure, mais quand vous regardez au fond du bassin, vous apercevez un large crocodile, que le puits nourrit dans ses eaux.1
These words are addressed by Chactas, Chateaubriand's Indian narrator of the récit of Atala, to his young European interlocutor, René.2 Proffered as the old man's conclusions on the vanity of the aspiration to happiness in general, they have been specifically motivated by the picture he has just presented of his youthful self grieving over the tomb of his beloved Atala. Chateaubriand uses the same words however in his own name in his Lettre à M. de Fontanes of 1800,...
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SOURCE: Wang, Ban. “Writing Self, and the Other: Chateaubriand and His Atala.” French Forum 22, no. 2 (May 1997): 133-48.
[In the following essay, Wang claims Chateaubriand offered an Orientalist approach to foreign culture in Atala. Wang examines the work's aesthetics through the concept of chinoiserie—or the dual elements of grotesqueness and disorientation—to argue that Chateaubriand both exoticized and sexualized the New World.]
The notion of the grotesque often figures prominently in the way one culture thinks about its radical other. In his classic study of the grotesque the German literary theorist Wolfgang Kayser recalls an instance in eighteenth-century France. The meaning of the grotesque, he says, was extended to apply to some strange aspects of Chinese culture under the rubric of chinoiserie. The term designates “the fusion of spheres, the monstrous nature of ingredients, and the subversion of order and proportion which characterizes them.” Kayser cites a critic's bewildered remark on classical Chinese painting: “The Chinese go so far as to represent houses and landscapes hovering in the air or growing out of trees.” What a viewer accustomed to Chinese art and aesthetics would find wholly natural is regarded as grotesque.1
Indeed, the disorienting grotesque attributed to Chinese culture bewilders no less a philosopher than...
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SOURCE: Moscovici, Claudia. “Hybridity and Ethics in Chateaubriand's Atala.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 29, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 2001): 197-216.
[In the following essay, Moscovici argues that Atala challenges French Romanticism's dichotomy between nature and culture in its representations of Western and Native American cultures. Rather than positioning these cultures as ethical opposites—with the implicit superiority of Western culture—Chateaubriand's work offers a model of hybrid cultural identity.]
The figure of the noble savage constitutes one of the defining features of French Romanticism. As contemporary criticism points out, this figure is riddled with ambivalence. While savage cultures may epitomize an innocent state of nature by way of contrast to a dissolute Western civilization, they also represent a less developed social organization that makes Western societies appear superior by comparison. Rousseau's works perhaps best capture the philosophical ambivalence of early Romantic representations of savage cultures.1 On the one hand, Rousseau praises the supposed moral innocence of the noble savage. He regards this figure as the origin of Western civilization before it became corrupted by private property and the greed, artifice, and despotic governments that developed as a result of it. On the other hand, Rousseau maintains, the noble savage cannot be...
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SOURCE: Bouvier, Luke. “How Not to Speak of Incest: Atala and the Secrets of Speech.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 30, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 2002): 228-42.
[In the following essay, Bouvier looks at Atala in relationship to René to examine the motif of incest in the former. Using a Derridean approach, Bouvier focuses on the structures of silence and secrecy, addressing the paradoxical nature of incest’s dual presence and absence in Chateaubriand's work.]
How not to speak of incest in Atala? The subject would seem to be unavoidable, for Chateaubriand's exotic tale of the doomed love of Chactas and Atala has frequently been read precisely through its evident thematic parallels in this regard with René: as the story of an incestuous passion between brother and sister, along with its inevitable prohibition. This “incestuous” influence of René on the critical reception of Atala has of course not been unwarranted, since the two texts share more than a passing resemblance. Both were originally written as episodes of Chateaubriand's grand Indian epic, Les Natchez, but were soon incorporated instead into Le Génie du christianisme (1802) as exemplary illustrations of the aesthetics of Christianity. Already in 1801, though, Atala had been published separately in order to stir interest in the coming Génie, a role in...
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Gladwyn, Cynthia. “Madame Recamier: A Romantic French Salon.” In Affairs of the Mind: The Salon in Europe and America from the 18th to the 20th Century, edited by Peter Quennell, pp. 57-88. Washington, D.C.: New Republic Books, 1980.
Provides an examination of Chateaubriand's involvement with Juliette Recamier, both personally and professionally, and with her literary salon.
Moore, Fabienne. “Chateaubriand's Alter Egos: Napoleon, Madame de Staël and the ‘Indian Savage.’” European Romantic Review 9, no. 2 (spring 1998): 187-200.
Explores the ambivalent relationship between Chateaubriand and de Staël. Focuses on their reputations, their different aesthetics and religious beliefs, and their similar attitudes toward Napoleon.
Niess, Robert J. “Three French Travelers to the Middle East.” American Society Legion of Honor Magazine 45, no. 1 (1974): 9-28.
Relates the travels of Chateaubriand, Lamartine, and Flaubert to the Middle East. Speculates on travel motives and emphasizes the written works that emerged from these travels.
Redman, Jr., Harry. “An Unpublished Letter of Chateaubriand, Ambassador to Rome.” American Notes and Queries 17, no. 1 (September 1978): 4-8.
Provides background information and the complete text of a...
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