Anne Louise Germaine de Staël

Genevan-French author (1766-1817)
(Redirected from Madame de Staël)

Anne Louise Germaine de Staël (April 22, 1766July 14, 1817), commonly known as Madame de Staël, was a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad, who determined literary tastes of Europe at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.


  • On cesse de s'aimer si quelqu'un ne nous aime.
    • We cease loving ourselves if no one loves us.
    • Sophie, or The Secret Sentiments (Sophie, ou les sentiments secrets, 1790), Act 2, sc. 8
  • L'amour est l'histoire de la vie des femmes; c'est un épisode dans celle des hommes.
    • Love is the whole history of a woman's life; it is an episode in a man's.
    • A Treatise on the Influence of the Passions (De l'influence des passions, 1796), Section 1, ch. 4
  • The evil arising from mental improvement can be corrected only by a still further progress in that very improvement. Either morality is a fable, or the more enlightened we are, the more attached to it we become.
    • The Influence of Literature upon Society (De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, 1800), Pt. 2, ch. 4
  • If we would succeed in works of the imagination, we must offer a mild morality in the midst of rigid manners; but where the manners are corrupt, we must consistently hold up to view an austere morality.
    • The Influence of Literature upon Society (1800), Pt. 2, ch. 5
  • One must, in one's life, make a choice between boredom and suffering.
    • Letter to Claude Hochet (Summer 1800), quoted in J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël (New York: Grove Press, 1958), p. 223
    • Herold comments: "Her decision was emphatically in favor of suffering, which after all was a pleasure compared to boredom." (p. 224)
    • The actual quotation is from a letter from Mme de Staël to Claude Hochet dated October 1, 1800 : «Il faut choisir dans la vie entre l’ennui et le tourment : je donne l’un et l’hiver l’autre» (Germaine de Staël, Correspondance générale. Tome IV. Première partie. Du directoire au Consulat. 1er décembre 1796-15 décembre 1800, texte établi et présenté par Béatrice W. Jasinski, Paris, Chez Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1976, xii/337 p., p. 326).
  • Un homme doit savoir braver l'opinion; une femme s'y soumettre.
    • A man must know how to fly in the face of opinion; a woman to submit to it.
    • Delphine (1802), epigraph
    • The epigraph is taken from the writings of de Staël's mother, Suzanne Necker.
  • It seems to me that life's circumstances, being ephemeral, teach us less about durable truths than the fictions based on those truths; and that the best lessons of delicacy and self-respect are to be found in novels where the feelings are so naturally portrayed that you fancy you are witnessing real life as you read.
    • Delphine (1802), Preface
  • In matters of the heart, nothing is true except the improbable.
    • Letter to Juliette Récamier (October 5, 1810), quoted in J. Christopher Herold, Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël (New York: Grove Press, 1958), p. 401
  • Superstition attaches to this life, and religion to the next; superstition is allied to fatality, and religion to virtue; it is from the vivacity of earthly desires that we become superstitious, and it is, on the contrary, by the sacrifice of these same desires that we are religious.
    • Ten Years' Exile (Dix années d'exil, written 1810–1813, posthumously published 1821), ch. 16
  • Life often seems like a long shipwreck, of which the débris are friendship, fame, and love.
    • Reflections on Suicide (Réflexions sur le suicide, 1813), Section 1
  • Madame de Staël thought it was pride in mankind to endeavour to penetrate the secret of the universe; and speaking of the higher metaphysics she said: "I prefer the Lord's Prayer to it all."
    • Sketch of the Life, Character, and Writings of Baroness de Staël-Holstein (1820) by Albertine-Adrienne Necker de Saussure, p. 349; often misquoted as, "I desire no other evidence of the truth of Christianity than the Lord's Prayer."
  • Sow good services: sweet remembrances will grow from them.
    • Quoted in A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness (1880) collected and translated by J. D. Finod, p. 138
  • Men do not change; they unmask themselves.
    • Quoted in Invasion of the Party Snatchers : How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP (2008) by Victor Gold

Corinne (1807)

Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end.
  • Frivolity, under whatever form it appears, deprives attention of its power, thought of its originality, and sentiment of its depth.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 3
  • Tout ce qui est naturel est varié.
    • All that is natural is varied.
    • Bk. 1, ch. 4
  • When once enthusiasm has been turned into ridicule, everything is undone except money and power.
    • Bk. 4, ch. 3
  • You do not reach the sublime by degrees; the distance between it and the merely beautiful is infinite.
    • Bk. 4, ch. 3
  • La vue d'un tel monument est comme une musique continuelle et fixée, qui vous attend pour vous faire du bien quand vous vous en approchez.
    • The sight of such a monument is like continual and stationary music, which one hears for one's good as one approaches it.
    • Bk. 4, ch. 3
    • The idea that "architecture is frozen music" — an aphorism of disputed origin sometimes misattributed to de Staël — is found in a number of German writers of the period.
  • When men do wrong, it is out of hardness; when women do wrong, it is out of weakness.
    • Bk. 6, ch. 3
  • Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end: we fancy that we have always possessed what we love, so difficult is it to imagine how we could have lived without it.
    • Bk. 8, ch. 2, as translated by Isabel Hill (1833)
    • Variant translation: It is certainly through love that eternity can be understood; it confuses all thoughts about time; it destroys the ideas of beginning and end; one thinks one has always been in love with the person one loves, so difficult is it to conceive that one could live without him.
      • As translated by Sylvia Raphael (1998)
  • Beauty is one in the universe, and, whatever form it assumes, it always arouses a religious feeling in the hearts of mankind.
    • Bk. 8, ch. 2
  • Danger is like wine, it goes to your head.
    • Bk. 12, ch. 2
  • Ought not every woman, like every man, to follow the bent of her own talents?
    • Bk. 14, ch. 1

De l’Allemagne [Germany] (1813)

  • There is perhaps too much freedom in Protestantism to satisfy a certain religious austerity, which may seize upon the man who is overwhelmed by great misfortunes; sometimes even in the habitual course of life, the reality of this world disappears all at once, and we feel ourselves in the middle of its interests as we should at a ball, where we did not hear the music; the dancing that we saw there would appear insane.
    • Pt. 3, ch. 3, often paraphrased as And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.[1]
  • L'esprit consiste à connaître la ressemblance des choses diverses et la différence des choses semblables.
    • Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.
    • Pt. 3, ch. 8
  • La voix de la conscience est si délicate, qu'il est facile d'étouffer; mais elle est si pure, qu'il est impossible de la méconnaître.
    • The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.
    • Pt. 3, ch. 13
  • La religion n'est rien si elle n'est pas tout, si l'existence n'en est pas remplie.
    • Religion is nothing, if it is not everything; if existence is not filled with it.
    • Pt. 4, ch. 1
  • L'admiration pour le beau se rapporte toujours à la Divinité.
    • The admiration of the beautiful always has relation to the Divinity.
    • Pt. 4, ch. 1
  • La recherche de la vérité est la plus noble des occupations, et sa publication un devoir.
    • The search for the truth is the noblest of occupations, and its publication a duty.
    • Pt. 4, ch. 2
  • Ces règles ne sont que des barrières pour empêcher les enfants de tomber.
    • The rules are only barriers to keep children from falling.
    • Pt. 4, ch. 9
  • Le sens de ce mot, chez les Grecs, en est la plus noble définition: l'enthousiasme signifie Dieu en nous .
    • The sense of this word among the Greeks affords the noblest definition of it; enthusiasm signifies God in us.
    • Pt. 4, ch. 10


  • The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.
    • Sometimes published as an anonymous saying, this was attributed to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in Is It Nothing To You? Social Purity, A Grave Moral Question (1884) by Henry Rowley, p. 88; to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in "Would You Be Re-elected", Munsey's Magazine (April 1909), p. 769; and to de Staël in Aspects of Western Civilization : Problems and Sources in History (2003), p. 294


  • The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.
    • Probably a paraphrase of this line from De l’Allemagne, Pt. 3. ch. 10. "Goethe has made a remark upon the perfectability of the human mind, which is full of sagacity: It is always advancing, but in a spiral line." Not known from Goethe's works.

Quotes about de Staël

  • Feminist literary critics have shown how in the 19th century women writers began to acknowledge women as their muses and their role models...Elizabeth Barrett Browning admired the work of George Sand and Mme. de Staël, while her work, in its turn, was an inspiration to Emily Dickinson. Margaret Fuller and Sarah Orne Jewett acknowledged their indebtedness to Mme. de Staël, the author of Corinne...The list could be indefinitely extended to show the almost desperate search of writing women for authoritative female predecessors.
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