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  • 9/6/2003

François-René de Chateaubriand

(4 September, 1768-4 July, 1848)

French writer, Chateaubriand was a founder ofromanticism in French literature. Of noble birth, he grew up in his family’s isolated castle of Combourg. In 1791 he visited theUnited States, supposedly to search for theNorthwest Passage, although he apparently did not go beyond Niagara Falls. He returned to France but became an émigré and lived in England until 1800. There he published his first book,Essai historique, politique, et moral sur les révolutions (1797).The Genius of Christianity (1802, tr. 1856) made Chateaubriand the most important author of his time in France. Two tragic love stories included in this volume, “Atala” (1801) and “René” (1802), exemplify the melancholy, exotic description of nature and the evocative language that became a trademark of romantic fiction. His other works includeThe Martyrs (1809, tr. 1812, 1859), which celebrated the victory of Christianity over paganism, andLes Aventures du dernier Abencérage (1826), a narrative of romance set in Spain. In 1803, Napoleon appointed Chateaubriand secretary of the legation to Rome and then minister to Valaise, but in 1804, upon the execution of the duc d’ Enghien, he resigned and became a bitter anti-Bonapartist. Later he supported the Bourbons and became a peer (1815), ambassador toLondon (1822), and minister of foreign affairs (1823–24). In 1830 he abandoned political affairs and spent his final years with Mme Récamier composing hisMemoires d’outre-tombe [memoirs from beyond the tomb] (1849–50). Chateaubriand’s musical prose enriched the French language. Although his accounts of travel were plagiaristic and partly imaginary, they were rich and moving.

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