- Delphine by Germaine de Staël
Germaine de Staël's Delphine (1802) is far from the 'livre intempestif' Aurélie Foglia describes in the opening line of her Introduction (p. 7). Its undertaking of subjects such as the social expectations placed upon men and women, the destructive effects of public opinion, the institutionalization of patriarchal power, and even the pressure to breastfeed, have as much resonance today as they did in the early nineteenth century. Set between 1790 and 1792, Delphine is an epistolary novel of interrelated stories that form a broad exploration of the shifting social relations of Revolutionary France; its primary concern is marriage and the tensions between its evolving definition and its traditional restrictions. The central plot focuses on Delphine, a young widow, who arranges a match for her distant cousin only to find herself falling in love with the suitor. Yet the polyphonic nature of the text allows Staël to give voice to many women and their diverse domestic experiences at a time when they had effectively been silenced. 'Une femme parle, et parle au nom des femmes', as Folgia asserts; 'il s'agit pour Staël de faire exister cette voix, de lui donner une force de conviction' (p. 22). Despite praising the dexterity with which Staël handles the form, Folgia notes that the epistolary novel had had its day even by 1802—and this reading experience may not always appeal to modern readers. Nevertheless, it is through letters that Staël embeds the democratic principle of giving voices an equal platform to be heard. Folgia's Introduction is concise and accessible, and it situates the novel well within its historical and literary contexts. Her notes are unobtrusive and expertly informed by the two previous critical editions of Delphine edited jointly by Simone Balayé and Lucia Omacini (Geneva: Droz, 1987; Paris: Honoré Champion, 2004), thereby allowing this knowledge to be shared with a wider audience. As is the convention with these earlier versions and others currently in print, the 'Avertissement pour la quatrième édition', the 'Deuxième Dénouement', 'Quelques Réflexions sur le but moral de Delphine', and Benjamin Constant's 'Compte rendu de Delphine' are all reproduced here. The addition of [End Page 438] a chronology mapping the plot's action and letters against the main events of the Revolution is a particular strength of Folgia's edition. Indeed, the chronology highlights how far Staël's characters are subject to, and their lives reliant upon, the turbulent political and legislative context. In this fourth edition of Delphine to be published so far this century, Folgia's approach is to frame the text above all as a Revolutionary one. The cover image, which is of the allegory of Ventôse, the sixth month of the Republican Calendar, cropped to depict a Marianne-like figure, suggests that women can lead a change in the wind.