François René de Chateaubriand Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111205076-Chateaubriand.jpg François René de Chateaubriand (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

François-René de Chateaubriand (shah-toh-bree-ahn) was born in 1768 in the Breton section of France. After studying for the priesthood, Chateaubriand gave up the Church as a career and in 1786 received a commission in the army. In 1787 in Paris he was presented at court. In April, 1791, he joined an expedition to the United States in search of the Northwest Passage. Although the mission was unsuccessful, Chateaubriand developed an interest in primitivism in people and in nature; at this time he also developed a faculty for literary expression.

Back in France only a short time, he became an emigrant after the arrest of Louis XVI. After being wounded on a street in Brussels and abandoned on a beach on Guernsey Island, he made his way to London. Here he lived in poverty, writing. In his An Historical, Political, Moral Essay on Revolutions, published in England in 1797, he took a stand as a mediator between the extremes of royalist and revolutionary ideas and as a Rousseauistic freethinker in religion. He turned against the revolutionists, however, when he learned how his family had been ill-treated. Shortly after returning to Paris in 1800, he published Atala. The book contains many brilliant passages, especially descriptions of nature, but some critics have complained of its odd combination of prudery and sensuousness. His next work was The Genius of Christianity. This book, although it does not contain strong theological arguments, has been praised for its sensitive descriptions of Catholic liturgy and symbolism. The narrative “René” appeared as part of this work. Because of its portrayal of a dissatisfied soul, this book is believed to be largely autobiographical.

For the next thirty years Chateaubriand was in and out of favor with the French monarchs—Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. During this time he held numerous governmental positions. His complete works were published between 1826 and 1831. His death came after his retirement from public life. His autobiographical Memoirs was published posthumously. Literary historians regard Chateaubriand as a bridge between the Classicism of the eighteenth century and the Romanticism of the early nineteenth.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

François-August-René de Chateaubriand was born on the northern French coast, in Saint-Malo. In Memoirs, he tells of his games and daydreams on the beaches of his native city, dwelling on his melancholy sojourns at the manor at Combourg with a taciturn, frightening father, a superstitious, sickly mother, and an affectionate, excitable sister. From childhood, he was receptive to the poetry of the ocean and the wild heath surrounding the château.

After having completed his classical studies at the schools in Dol, Rennes, and Dinan, Chateaubriand pondered at length what he would do with his life. Although he did not think himself suited to any but a sedentary career, he eventually joined the army. A few months later, however, he took advantage of a leave to go to Paris, where he frequented the court and literary circles. Soon thereafter, he left for the New World.

Chateaubriand’s visit to America lasted from July 10 to December 10, 1791. He landed at Baltimore, went to Philadelphia, traveled up the Hudson River and through the virgin forest, became acquainted with the American Indians, saw Niagara Falls and perhaps Ohio. This long trip away from France left him with memories that he was later to exploit. During these travels, he began a journal that he completed later with the aid of other travelers’ accounts. Learning of the flight to Varennes and the detention of Louis XVI, Chateaubriand decided to return to France to offer his services to the threatened monarchy.

In 1792, Chateaubriand married Céleste Buisson de Lavigne, a friend of one of his sisters, in the hope of obtaining money with which to immigrate to Belgium. Unfortunately, her income ceased with her marriage. Although she was an intelligent and courageous woman, and despite considerable mutual admiration, Chateaubriand did not live much with his wife over the long years of their marriage.

Less than six months after the wedding, Chateaubriand was off to Belgium with forged papers to join the army of the European powers that were combating the Revolution. Wounded at the siege of Thionville, he took refuge in England in 1793. He led a miserable existence there, especially at the beginning, giving private lessons and doing translations for a living. At that time he was also working on an American Indian epic in prose, The...

(The entire section is 957 words.)