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  • Considérations sur les principaux événements de la Révolution française by Madame De Staël
  • Aurelian Craiutu
Madame de Staël, Considérations sur les principaux événements de la Révolution française, I. Sous la direction de Lucia Omacini, Stefania Tesser et Nelly Jaquenod. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017. 1147 pp., ill.

When Germaine de Staël died on 14 July 1817, she left unfinished her most important political work on the French Revolution. The Considérations was to become her political testament, and was published a year later by Auguste de Staël, Victor de Broglie, and Wilhelm Schlegel (Paris: Delaunay, 1818). In this eclectic work, divided into six parts, Mme de Staël offered a combination of personal impressions and political and philosophical reflections on the principal events and actors of the Revolution. Written over a long period, her work ended up being, in the words of Broglie, 'un ouvrage terminé sans être achevé' (Souvenirs 1785-1870 (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1887), II, 15). The version that came out in 1818 was not what Staël would have sent to press, had she been able to revise the entire manuscript; the stroke she suffered in February 1817 prevented her from doing so. Since the last two books were left unrevised, the editors had to make significant changes. They deleted or redacted specific passages, and completed the manuscript in the spirit of the author. A critical edition shedding light on the original manuscript and the differences between it and the printed text has long been overdue. We are grateful to Lucia Omacini, Stefania Tesser, and Nelly Jacquenod for providing this superb, richly annotated edition. Its critical apparatus showing various drafts allow us to follow the additions, deletions, substitutions, and shifts operated by Auguste de Staël and Victor de Broglie. Their claim of absolute fidelity to the original manuscript can easily be challenged. The published text drew a veil, as it were, over the original version. Not surprisingly, the greatest number of changes and additions can be found in Books 5 and 6, which deal with the legacy of the First Empire and the need for representative institutions in France. In Book 6, Staël praised England, which she considered as a possible political model for France after Napoleon. This might seem commonplace to us today, but it was likely to offend many French people, living in a country that still had English troops on its soil. The editors also significantly intervened in Book 1 to correct what they perceived to be a selective interpretation of the Revolution and its origins. For example, the original Chapter 11 of Book 1, entitled 'Y avait-il une constitution en France avant la Révolution?', differed in important [End Page 604] respects from the version that appeared in the printed edition. Here Staël argued that in France, liberty had ancient and strong roots, while despotism was modern. Not everyone agreed with this interpretation. It was the view of a moderate thinker whose ideas were too revolutionary for ultra-conservatives and too aristocratic for those on the left. This critical edition of Staël's Considérations confirms its status as a fundamental work that belongs in the pantheon of French liberalism. It has much to teach us about the difficult apprenticeship of liberty and the importance of political moderation, two fundamental principles at the heart of Staël's political philosophy.

Aurelian Craiutu
Indiana University Bloomington


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pp. 604-605
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