The Gender of Fame: Remembering Santa Croce in Mme de Staël's
Corinne and Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage IV 
I. A Critical Approach to Fame
- Among Mme de Staël's wide circle of British friends (Pange, 1955),
none followed her literary career more assiduously than did Lord Byron
(Giddey, 1982). Beyond their personal encounters (Frank, 1969) and epistolary
exchange (King, 1987), numerous references to de Staël in Byron's
Letters and Journals, several essays about her in his Miscellaneous
Prose, and frequent Staëlian echoes in the Complete Poetical
Works collectively lend proof to the claim that she haunts Byron's
corpus like a ghost in the narrative machine (Wilkes, 1999). The paramount
yet often hidden presence of the French-speaking authoress in the works
of the British poet suggests further that a certain "anxiety of
influence" (Bloom, 1973) may have played a role in their personal
and literary relations, including relations that go beyond the grave
in the form of posthumous fame.
- In this essay, I examine a salient example of Byron's concern over
enduring renown by analysing matching descriptions of Santa Croce --
the Florentine church housing the tombs of Italy's greatest thinkers
-- in both Corinne ou l'Italie (1807) and Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage IV (1818). Byron's re-reading of de Staël's Santa
Croce passage adds an often-overlooked but interesting chapter to the
reception of Corinne in Great Britain, particularly in light
of the note he included about the passing of de Staël, who died
in Paris on July 14, 1817, while he was composing the fourth canto.
In paying homage to his French contemporary, Byron also considers the
nature of posthumous fame, curiously asserting that: "The dead
have no sex; they can surprise by no new miracles; they can confer no
privilege: Corinna has ceased to be a woman -- she is only an author"
(CPW II: 235, note 478).
- In order to examine what Byron might have meant by this perplexing
claim, it is helpful to consider three interconnected facets of Romantic-era
renown that have recently received considerable attention in scholarly
literature: the commercialisation of fame, the role of cultural transfer
in that commercialisation process, and the discourse of fame as a gendered
construct. Joanne Wilkes has noted in her book-length study on Byron
and de Staël that both represented a new type of public figure,
celebrities in an age where paths to fame had radically changed due
to developments in the media (1999: 2). These structural changes in
the ways and means to fame have been analysed in more detail by Leo
Braudy, who argues that eighteenth-century media growth and parallel
political transformations simultaneously democratised fame and put fame
on stage (1986: 401). In a similar vein, Frank Donoghue (1996) has analysed
the role of book reviewing in making and breaking literary careers,
while Jerome Christensen (1993) and Ghislaine McDayter (1999) have specifically
explored the impact of commercial society on Byron. By emphasizing the
theatrical nature of Romantic-era fame and the commodification of poetic
production, these studies mirror Jürgen Habermas's broader analysis
of the auto-disintegration of the bourgeois public sphere under conditions
of capitalism, through which "privateness oriented towards an audience"
helped transform subjects of reason into subjects of fiction (1989:
43-51). As Aileen Ward (1978) and Susan Wolfson (1995) have shown with
the example of Keats, the infamous quest for fame under these conditions
could be not only elusive but also devastating.
- By the end of the eighteenth century, this commodification process
of fame was also moving beyond national borders. Fuelled by revolutionary
political change and parallel media development in many parts of Europe,
particularly in France (Gengembre, 1988; Hesse, 1991; Böning, 1992),
the quest for literary renown had gone "global" by the Romantic
era. Felicity Nussbaum has recently argued that while the idea of a
"long" eighteenth century is now generally accepted, methods
of inquiry appropriate to a "widened" eighteenth century are
only beginning to emerge (2003: 1). Exploring the ways in which literary
fame travelled from one country to another through available media is
one such method and in this regard, Byron and de Staël both offer
illustrative cases of how media personae could take on independent lives
that often had little to do with the authors themselves. As Alex Blaeschke
(2003) has shown in his recent article on de Staël's press reception
in England, poetic celebrity across cultures brings a host of competing
factors into play, involving not simply literary reception, but a complex
process of cultural transfer (Espagne, 2004), often via third countries,
in which political, social, and aesthetic issues converge. In this transcultural
construction of renown, discourses about national identity, class distinction
and gender taken on a particularly important role.
- De Staël, of course, provides a classic illustration of the
importance of gender in the transcultural construction of Romantic-era
celebrity. Not simply in France, but in England, Germany and in a number
of other countries (Schöning and Seemann, 2003), she was one of
the first women writers to play the fame game under new media rules.
For public women, paths to fame were particularly difficult because
they transgressed traditional gender roles that aimed to contain women
within the private sphere (Shevelow, 1989). Breaking these rules often
led to a structural impasse that placed women in a double bind. Public
opinion tended to characterize de Staël as a "Mannweib"
(Böttiger, 27: 626), a term that literally meant "neither
man nor woman" (Lange, 1992). She was placed thus in a "neither/nor"
position, vilified for being both too much like a man and too little
like a woman. To quote Wolfson on this phenomenon: fame "plays
differently for men and women in the contexts of a dominant literary
culture that sustains an ideal fraternity (often troped with female
antagonists) and of a dominant social orthodoxy that treats a famous
female writer at best as an anomaly, at worst a scandal (1997: 3).
- Drawing from these recent debates about commodified, transcultural
and gendered fame, I argue that the Santa Croce passages in Corinne
and Childe Harold IV underscore an emerging crisis in the
discourse of renown that specifically concerns how poets are posthumously
remembered. Wilkes has previously argued that Byron works within accepted
definitions of femininity in his homage to de Staël (1999: 2),
praising her as a good mother for example, but ignoring her poetic accomplishments.
I wish to complicate this interpretation by proposing that Byron naively,
but unsuccessfully, attempts to go beyond gender. By claiming that "the
dead have no sex," Byron neither derides fame as a whore (Hofkosh,
1988) nor attempts to colonize the feminine (Richardson, 1988), but
expresses a utopian desire to transcend gender that would not only free
de Staël from her subject position, but also release him from his.
Byron's endeavour to "de-gender" de Staël, which paradoxically
"re-genders her" by other means, underscores his own anxieties
about masculine celebrity under conditions of modernity that increasingly
marginalized poets from the public sphere, placing most in a powerless,
i.e. gendered position of social impotence and forgotten worth. If poets
had become "unacknowledged legislators" in Shelley's terms
(CW VII: 140), then it is not the individual per se, but socially
emasculated authors as such who are arguably gendered female, especially
when it comes to their posthumous poetic renown.
II. Remembering Santa Croce
- In considering the problematic nature of enduring fame, de Staël
and Byron were not the first to see symbolic value in the Franciscan
church and monastery known as Santa Croce in Florence. On the contrary,
recent scholars analysing the political role of remembrance in shaping
imagined communities place Santa Croce at the heart of Florentine, Italian
and Catholic identity (Ciappelli and Rubin, 2000). As a contested place
of tactical remembering, Santa Croce figured centrally in debates about
politics, money and power as early as the Renaissance (Tetel, Witt and
Goffen, 1989). In turn, these debates helped turn Santa Croce into an
architectural masterpiece (http://www.arca.net/db/chiese/scroce.htm).
The Gothic basilica, begun in the thirteenth century and remodelled
in the sixteenth, came to possess one of the largest and perfectly proportioned
interior spaces in Florence; the interior frescoes, which also took
several centuries to complete, collectively display one of the most
comprehensive illustrated bibles of Dante's age (Baldini and Nardini,
1985: 11). A long list of other architectural wonders -- a wooden crucifix
sculpted by Donatello (1410), a marble chapel designed by Brunelleschi
(1430), stained glass windows created by Ghiberti (1440) -- help explain
its past and ongoing fascination for pilgrims and tourists alike (Marchegiani-Jones
and Haeussler, 2001).
- For Romantic-era travellers, the major point of interest was the
series of tombs in the main nave that commemorated Florence's famous
poets and thinkers. At the turn of the nineteenth century, several dozen
tombs already existed, including sepulchres for Michelangelo (built
1564-74), Galileo (built 1737), and Machiavelli (built 1787). During
de Staël's 1805 trip to Florence, she witnessed initial preparations
for Alfieri's tomb (Corinne, 2000: 203, note 3), completed in
1810. Likewise, Byron reports in a letter to Hobhouse (April 22, 1817)
that "the tombs of Machiavel -- Michael Angelo -- & Alfieri
is & are all I care to see here" (BLJ V: 216-217).
For many turn-of-the-century travellers, the sight of these magnificent
tombs within a majestic interior offered a classic example of Burke's
sublime. Even travel-weary visitors such as Leigh Hunt, who yearns nostalgically
for English trees elsewhere in his Italian diary, found Santa Croce
church of Santa Croce would disappoint you as much inside as out,
if the presence of the remains of Great Men did not always cast a
mingled shadow of the awful and beautiful over one's thought. Any
large space also, devoted to the purposes of religion, though the
religion be false, disposes the mind to the loftiest of speculations.
The vaulted sky out of doors appears small, compared with the opening
into immensity represented by that very enclosure, -- that larger
dwelling than common, entered by a little door; and we take off our
hats, not so much out of earthly respect, as with the feeling that
there should be nothing between our heads and the air of the next
world. (Lord Byron II: 371)
- Interestingly, both de Staël and Byron deviate from this standard
narrative. In contrast to Hunt, who emphasizes the presence of great
men as well as the "awful and beautiful" aesthetic experience
that remembering those men provokes, de Staël and Byron each stress
absence and forgetting in their respective Santa Croce passages. They
thus dwell not on existing tombs, but on the tombs of the missing, particularly
that of Dante, who died exiled in Ravenna and only received a cenotaph
(kenotaphion = empty tomb) in 1829, long after de Staël and Byron
had visited Florence. This narrative parallel suggests not only a close
reading of Corinne on the part of Byron, whose Childe Harold
IV appeared eleven years after de Staël's novel (1807 and 1818
respectively), but also a reconfiguration of Santa Croce from a place
of remembrance to a place of forgetting. By reversing the site of memory
paradigm, which recent scholars such as Pierre Nora have explored under
the collective term "lieux de mémoire" (1984-1993),
both de Staël and Byron evoke their own concerns about the changing
role of poets under conditions of modernity and appear to prefigure
Walter Benjamin's studies on Baudelaire (1974), in which he asks the
question, how is it possible to be a poet in a society that no longer
- In Corinne, the Santa Croce passage appears towards the end
of the novel in book XVIII, "The Florentine Years" .Following
Corinne's secret journey to Scotland and her rescue by the comte d'Erfeuil,
she has returned to Italy and visits the city of her childhood, Florence,
where she will die at the end of the novel. As Simone Balayé
has noted, Florence is the fourth and last stop for Corinne (1994: 107).
The heroine is thus still alive, but already belongs to the living dead,
betrayed not only by Oswald but also by the loss of genius and public
stature that she once possessed. It is during her melancholic wanderings
around Florence that she enters the church of Santa Croce, which "houses
perhaps the most splendid assembly of the dead in Europe" (1987:
365). In recounting Corinne's aesthetic experience among these great
men, de Staël's narrator nonetheless replaces Hunt's subliminal
feelings of awe and beauty with anti-subliminal feelings of persecution
here is Galileo, persecuted by men for discovering heaven's secrets;
farther on, Machiavelli, who revealed the art of crime as an observer
rather than a criminal, yet whose lessons are of greater use to oppressors
than to the oppressed; Aretino, who devoted his life to pleasantries,
and experienced nothing serious on earth except death; Boccaccio,
whose cheerful imagination withstood the combined scourges of plague
and civil war; a painting in honor of Dante, as if the Florentines
who let him die in the torment of exile could still boast of his glory.*
And finally the eye notices a number of other respectable names, famous
in their lifetime, but echoing more and more faintly across the generations,
until their sound completely dies away. (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 365-366)
- The narrator, who presumably articulates de Staël's own concerns,
voices two fears about poetic posthumous fame in this passage. The first
is the poet's lack of official acknowledgment symbolized by the missing
tomb of Dante. As a figure of exile, Dante loomed large in de Staël's
own life (Balayé, 1994 [Absence]; Pouzoulet, 1994). He also figures
prominently in Corinne, notably in the heroine's first improvisation
on the "Glory and Bliss of Italy:"
-- the Homer of modern times, sacred poet of our religious mysteries,
hero of thought -- plunged into the Styx to reach down to hell, and
his soul was deep like the unfathomable depths he described
It is as if banished from his country, Dante had transported into
the realm of the imagination the anguish eating away at him. The shades
constantly ask news of the world of the living, just as the poet himself
inquires about his homeland. And for him, hell wears the colors of
The magical words of our greatest poet are the prism of the universe,
reflecting, breaking up, recombining all of its marvels. Sounds imitate
colors, colors melt into harmonies; sonorous or strange, brief or
lingering, his rhyme is inspired by poetic divination, that supreme
beauty of art, that triumph of genius which discerns in nature all
secrets bearing on the human heart.
Dante hoped his poem would bring his exile to an end. He counted on
the mediating power of renown, but he died too soon to triumph in
his native land. (Bk II, Ch III: 27-28)
- Through the description of Dante's genius and exile, which prefigures
Corinne's situation at the end of the novel, it is possible to read
de Staël's own reflections about enduring renown and banishment.
Although neither her memoirs nor her letters suggest a memorable visit
to Santa Croce (Carnets: 109; Correspondance générale
V.2: 555-560), the author attaches a note to the Santa Croce passage
in Corinne (see asterisk in first long quote above), in which she considers
the Florentine's disingenuous treatment of Dante:
the death of Dante, the Florentines were ashamed that they had let
him die far from his birthplace, and sent a delegation to beg the
Pope to give them his ashes which were buried at Ravenna. The Pope
refused, judging rightly that the country that had given the exile
refuge had become his country and would not want to give up the glory
attached to possessing his tomb. (Explanatory Notes: 434)
Significantly, while de Staël claims that the Pope was right
to refuse the Florentine's demand to have his remains returned, she
does not openly criticize the fact that they exiled him in the first
place. The benevolence with which she treats the Florentines leads
one to believe that de Staël is thinking not only about Dante's
renown, but also about her own tenuous reputation in France. Banned
forty leagues from Paris by Napoleon in 1803, she was still forbidden
to approach the capital when she began to compose Corinne in
- In addition to the problem of fame under conditions of exile, the
narrator's second concern over posthumous renown is the public's disregard
of great thinkers, even in the presence of their tombs. Beyond the exile
of certain individuals, there is thus the more generalized problem of
collective forgetting. As the narrator makes clear in the latter part
of the passage, thinkers such as Galileo and Machiavelli may have fared
better than Dante because they received official recognition in the
form of a tomb, but the memory of their accomplishments fades from generation
to generation until their names are completely forgotten. Here, we are
at the core of one of the central messages in Corinne, which
is de Staël's critique of modernity. In effect, Corinne
provides an early prototype of the "lieux de mémoire"
paradigm developed by Nora (1984-1993), who has recently attempted to
rescue France's national collective memory, and more specifically its
contents, from disappearance. Borrowing from ancient Greek mnemonic
techniques, which taught orators to memorize their speeches by associating
each section of the speech with some part of a real or imagined building,
Nora defines such "lieux" as artificial memory aids, which
help the French not to forget their collective national past:
of history: the metaphor needs to be unpacked. Things tumble with
increasing rapidity into an irretrievable past. They vanish from sight,
or so it is generally believed. The equilibrium between the present
and the past is disrupted. What was left of experience, still lived
in the warmth of tradition, in the silence of custom, in the repetition
of the ancestral, has been swept away by a surge of deeply historical
sensibility. Our consciousness is shaped by a sense that everything
is over and done with, that something long since begun is now complete.
Memory is constantly on our lips because it no longer exists.
But th[e] rift [that has occurred in memory] has stirred memory
sufficiently to raise the question of its embodiment: there are sites,
lieux de mémoire, in which a residual sense of continuity
remains. (1996, I: 1)
- Similar to Nora, de Staël articulates her critique of modernity
in Corinne through an inventory of such memory sites. As Simone Balayé
has noted, spatial realms play a paramount role in the novel (1994,
Ville). Not unlike Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, from
whom Nora also draws many of his ideas, de Staël offers a vast
catalogue of resurrected places -- churches, palaces, tombs, obelisks,
ruins, statues -- that all commemorate Italy and Rome. For the eighteenth-century
Encyclopaedists whom de Staël admired (Luppé, 1969), Rome
was "le capitale du monde chrétien" and Italy the "berceau
des Arts & des Sciences" ("Italie," Encyclopédie
VIII: 934). This classic trope also finds its way into Corinne.
Unlike her Enlightenment predecessors, however, de Staël portrays
the Italy of her era as a fallen civilization, trampled not only by
foreign invasions but also, and more importantly, by the overpowering
process of modernity that has put personal interests before collective
live in an age when self-interest alone seems to determine all of
man's acts--and what empathy, what emotion, what enthusiasm can ever
grow out of self-interest! It is pleasanter to dream of those times
of dedication, sacrifice, and heroism that used to be, and that have
left honorable traces upon the earth. (Bk IV, Ch V: 73)
- Frequent references to ruins and other historical traces in Corinne,
the prevalence of place as it relates to Italy's collective national
memory, and the equally important role of forgetting suggest that de
Staël, prefiguring Nora, characterizes modernity by the rapid disappearance
of collective memory. A prime example occurs just before her heroine
enters Santa Croce, with Corinne standing in front of the baptistery
of San Giovanni and its famous bronze doors:
some time, she studied that immense work, where, on a very small scale
but very distinctly, the nations of the world are portrayed in bronze
with a host of different physiognomies, each expressing a thought
of the artist's, a conception of his mind. 'What patience,' exclaimed
Corinne, 'with respect for posterity! And yet how few people study
these doors carefully, for the crowd goes through, inattentive, ignorant,
or scornful. How difficult it is for man to escape oblivion, and how
powerful is death!' (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 364-365)
- François Rosset (2000: 140-141) has recently argued that this
passage helps illuminate de Staël's "poétique des nations,"
in which the needs of the nation and those of the individual merge.
What the narrator stresses above, however, is not the ideal merging
of collective and individual needs, but a falling out between the nation
and the individuals who comprise it. Modern individuals, expressed collectively
as "the crowd," have no more time to remember their collective
past and therefore no respect for their collective future. It is interesting
to note the terminology used here, for reappears in Benjamin's analysis
of Baudelaire (1974). Alone among this crowd is Corinne, who enters
Santa Croce shortly after these observations. For the heroine, the experience
of being among the tombs of the forgotten dead paradoxically brings
her back to life:
sight of this church, adorned with such noble memories, revived Corinne's
enthusiasm; she had been depressed by the look of living people, but
for a moment at least, the silent presence of the dead revived the
emulation of glory that once held her in its thrall. She walked through
the church with a firmer tread, and a few thoughts from the past crossed
her soul again. (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 366)
- Corinne's initial experience among the dead is a sublime, almost
Huntian moment, but it is nonetheless brief, for de Staël quickly
returns to her critique of modernity by having the heroine observe a
procession of monks in mourning. As Balayé has noted (Corinne,
2000: 497, note 1), this passage echoes an earlier funeral procession
witnessed by Corinne in Venice (book XVII) and prefigures the procession
Oswald will see while crossing the Alps on the way to Florence (book
XIX). Among the dead in Santa Croce, while watching this procession
and exchanging a few words with one of the monks, Corinne reflects upon
the devalued meaning of the words "our dead":
saw young priests come through the arches, singing in a low voice,
and walking slowly around the choir; she asked one of them the meaning
of the ceremony. We are praying four our dead, he answered.
'Yes, you are right to call them your dead,' thought Corinne,
'they are the only glorious property you have left
' (Bk XVIII,
Ch III: 366)
- These thoughts, which only thinly disguise the normative voice of
the author, consider how society as a collective ought to remember previous
generations. They lead Corinne to Oswald, whom she now blames for stifling
the gifts she once possessed: "Oh! why did Oswald stifle the gifts
I had received from heaven, and that were mine to use for kindling enthusiasm
in souls that harmonize with my own?" (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 366).
In a last attempt to recuperate what she has lost in life, which is
not only her genius, but also her public position in society, she appeals
to God, arguing that obscurity is acceptable for saints, but perhaps
not for artists who have a public role to fulfil:
Lord!' she exclaimed as she knelt, 'it is not out of vain pride that
I beg you to give back the talents you granted me. Certainly those
unknown saints who knew how to live and die for you are the best of
all; but there are different courses for mortals; and the genius who
celebrated the generous virtues, the genius who was devoted to everything
noble, human, and true could be received in heaven's outer courts
at least.' (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 366)
- In the remainder of the passage, the narrator accentuates Corinne's
precarious balance between her once public life and her imminent private
death. The heroine is drawn to the inscriptions of several tombs that
comfort her: "Alone at my sunrise, alone at my sunset. I am
alone here still
Do not pity me
If you only knew how many
sorrows this tomb has spared me!" (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 366-367).
These inscriptions, which Balayé notes are not actually found
in Santa Croce (Corinne, 2000: 471, note 1), help the heroine
accept the isolation in which she will die, thus crossing the final
border from public celebrity into private disregard. Corinne, once celebrated
publicly as a man might have been, will die forgotten as a woman. De
Staël ends the passage with a final reflection on modern society,
which has unlearned the valuable lesson of respecting and honouring
detachment from life those words inspire!' said Corinne through her
tears. Side by side with the city's uproar stands this church which
would teach men the secret of everything if they wished, but they
walk by without coming in, and the marvelous illusion of forgetfulness
keeps the world turning. (Bk XVIII, Ch III: 367)
It is through de
Staël's critique of modernity in the Santa Croce passage, which,
like the novel itself, reverses of a number of classic oppositions
-- remembering/forgetting, presence/absence, public/private, life/death,
and lastly male/female -- that Byron's own concerns about enduring
renown under modern conditions can be analysed.
III. Remembering Corinne
- Byron's relationship to fame, particularly after the publication of
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I and II (1812), which he notoriously
claims made him famous overnight (Moore II: 137), is extremely difficult
to pin down. According to Wolfson, "Byron's career
a range of positions of fame, from a youthful thirst for it and scorn
of the reviewers who withhold it, to sudden, spectacular fame, to a
sense that it is not everything or even anything, to a sensation of
its burdens, to a critique of the hype of fame (especially in costly
military glory), to a cynicism about even the worth of immortal guarantees"
(1997: 10). Fame represents thus a classic Byronic topos, not
only a site on which the poet can fix his anxiety, but also a potential
source for many of his poems. In the Santa Croce passage, which provides
a salient example of how Childe Harold IV can be read "as
an extended and sometimes critical response to the much read Corinne"
(Wilkes, 1999: 10), yet another facet of Byron's concern with fame comes
to the fore and that is the politics of enduring renown. The passage
itself appears halfway into the fourth canto (stanzas 54-59), at the
end of Childe Harold's pilgrimage if we consider the poem in its entirety:
Santa Croce's holy precincts lie
Ashes which make it holier, dust which is
Even in itself an immortality,
Though there were nothing save the past, and this,
The particle of those sublimities
Which have relaps'd to chaos: -- here repose
Angelo's, Alfieri's bones, and his,
The starry Galileo, with his woes;
Here Machiavelli's earth return'd to whence it rose.
These are four minds, which, like the elements,
Might furnish forth creation: -- Italy!
Time, which hath wrong'd thee with ten thousand rents
Of thine imperial garment, shall deny,
And hath denied, to every other sky,
Spirits which soar from ruin: -- thy decay
Is still impregnate with divinity,
Which gilds it with revivifying ray;
Such as the great of yore, Canova is to-day. (CPW II: 142)
- As Wilkes has noted, Byron follows de Staël in these stanzas,
listing not only the same famous Italians, but also paternalistically
correcting her factual mistakes by removing Boccaccio from the list
of tombs (1999: 104). In addition, he echoes her observations on the
misfortunes of Italy. Though he begins the Santa Croce passage with
a Hunt-like emphasis on the sublime, he soon changes tone. In contrast
to Hunt, who only stresses the presence of great men, Byron, like de
Staël, describes less a masculine site of sublime remembrance,
than a feminine site of anti-subliminal neglect:
where repose the all Etruscan three --
Dante, and Petrarch, and, scarce less than they,
The Bard of Prose, creative spirit! he
Of the Hundred Tales of love -- where did they lay
Their bones, distingush'd from our common clay
In death as life? Are they resolv'd to dust,
And have their country's marbles nought to say?
Could not her quarries furnish forth one bust?
Did they not to her breast their filial earth entrust? (CPW
- Within this framework of neglect, which Byron describes more amply
than de Staël, there are also important qualitative differences
between the two writers. For Byron, the thrust of the stanzas is not
simply on forgotten poets, but on Florence's disingenuous treatment
of those poets. He thus brings de Staël's paratextual note about
Dante into the main part of the narrative and explicitly politicises
what she tactfully left implicit:
Florence! Dante sleeps afar,
Like Scipio, buried by the upbraiding shore;
Thy factions, in their worse than civil war,
Proscribed the bard whose name for evermore
Their children's children would in vain adore
With the remorse of ages; and the crown
Which Petrarch's laureate brow supremely wore
Upon a far and foreign soil had grown,
His life, his fame, his grave, though rifled -- not thine own. (CPW
- A similar verse on Boccaccio stresses the hypocritical behaviour
of the Florentines, who claim great poets as their own, but devalue
and disrespect them both in life and after death:
to his parent earth bequeathed
His dust, -- and lies in not her Great among,
With many a sweet and solemn requiem breath'd
O'er him who form'd the Tuscan's siren tongue?
That music in itself, whose sounds are song,
The poetry of speech? No; -- even his tomb
Uptorn, must bear the hyaena bigot's wrong,
No more amidst the meaner dead find room,
Nor claim a passing sigh, because it told for whom! (CPW
- Through these stanzas about Florence's wronged poets and the politics
of enduring renown, Byron adds another twist to de Staël's critique
of modernity by suggesting that dying in exile is the only kind of worthwhile
fame left for modern poets -- these unacknowledged legislators -- who
have experienced the narrow-minded bigotry of society. For Byron, it
is not simply the self-interest of modern individuals that is at fault,
as we saw with de Staël, but the hypocritical disingenuousness
of the modern state itself. Santa Croce, he concludes:
wants their mighty dust;
Yet for this want more noted, as of yore
The Caesar's pageant, shorn of Brutus' bust,
Did but of Rome's best Son remind her more:
Happier Ravenna! on thy hoary shore,
Fortress of falling empire! honoured sleeps
The immortal exile; -- Arqua, too, her store
Of tuneful relics proudly claims and keeps,
While Florence vainly begs her banish'd dead and weeps. (CPW
- In making explicit what de Staël left implicit, it is important
to mention that the historical context in which Byron wrote these stanzas
was radically different from that of his French predecessor. While Byron
composed Childe Harold IV after Napoleon had fallen, in the midst
of the Restoration that put monarchs back on the throne in many parts
of Europe, de Staël wrote and published Corinne at the height
of the French Emperor's power. This chronological discrepancy points
to a major difference in the nature of their respective exiles, as one
was involuntary and enforced by the state whereas the other, voluntary,
was imposed by social mores. Although Byron, like de Staël, identified
with political outcasts such as Dante, the role of the state in their
respective exiles has to be borne in mind, particularly in the context
of Byron's paratextual note about de Staël and the nature of posthumous
- In a letter to Murray dated August 12, 1817, Byron writes that he
has "been very sorry to hear of the death of M[adam]e. de Staël,"
who had passed away a month earlier on July 14, 1817 (BLJ V:
256). Apart from that letter, there appear to be no other published
sources indicating when Byron first heard the news. The French press
reported the event two days after de Staël's death (i.e. July 16);
the British press, glossing French papers, started its reports on July
19 (Gardiner, 2000). Byron, however, was in Italy and may not have had
access to recent papers in French or English. As private letters and
word of mouth competed with public newspapers and often spread news
faster than the press, it is possible that Byron heard of de Staël's
passing through private rather than public channels. The exact dates
of composition of the Santa Croce passage suggest that he immediately
incorporated that news into the poem.
- According to Jerome McGann's "Commentary," the Santa Croce
stanzas were not part of the original manuscript (MS. B), completed
on July 19, 1817 (CPW II: 314-315). Rather, Byron wrote them
into the manuscript in two successive stages. First, he added stanzas
54 and 55 to the fair copy of MS. B completed in August (Ms. H), thus
introducing the Santa Croce scenes into Canto IV. In further
additions undertaken between September 1817 and January 1818, he added
the stanzas dealing with Dante's exile (56-59) -- a topic to which he
returned in his 1819 poem, The Prophecy of Dante (CPW
IV: 213-240), and which deals substantially with fame. In the published
version of Childe Harold IV, the note about de Staël is attached
to the first line of the first Santa Croce stanza ("In Santa Croce's
holy precincts lie," line 478), which McGann claims Byron composed
in August 1817 (MS. H). This chronology suggests that de Staël's
death provided the impetus for the Santa Croce scenes. It is even possible
that Byron composed the stanzas around the note and not the other way
name [Santa Croce] will recall the memory, not only of those whose
tombs have raised the Santa Croce into the centre of pilgrimage, the
Mecca of Italy, but of her whose eloquence was poured over the illustrious
ashes, and whose voice is now as mute as those she sung. CORINNA is
no more; and with her should expire the fear, the flattery, and the
envy, which threw too dazzling or too dark a cloud round the march
of genius, and forbad the steady gaze of disinterested criticism.
(CPW II: 235, note 478).
- As Wilkes argues, Byron "not only recalls Corinne, but ... also
suggests that [de] Staël herself is one of the great writers like
Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, misrepresented in her own era but sure
to be judged rightly by later generations" (1999: 104). Beyond
this homage to de Staël, which appears to be sincere, the news
of her death allows Byron to reconsider not only their rivalry, but
also his thoughts on posthumous renown. Thus, just as de Staël's
note about Dante raises the question of her tenuous reputation in France,
so Byron's note about de Staël raises the equally uncertain issue
of his own future legacy.
In the note, Byron first emphasizes the disjunction between private
and public on which Romantic-era renown depends, thus emphasizing the
theatrical commodification of modern fame: "We have [de Staël's]
picture embellished or distorted, as friendship or detraction has held
the pencil: the impartial portrait was hardly to be expected from a
cotemporary (sic)" (CPW II: 235). Under these commercial
conditions, continues Byron, it will take time before the chaff of exaggeration
has blown away, leaving a truer picture of de Staël's accomplishments:
"The immediate voice of her survivors will, it is probable, be
far from affording a just estimate of her singular capacity. The gallantry,
the love of wonder, and the hope of associated fame, which blunted the
edge of censure, must cease to exist" (CPW II: 235). It
is following these comments, in an aside that situates itself outside
the note in structural terms (Todorov, 1968) -- which makes it thus
twice removed from the original stanza -- that Byron inserts his curious
comment about the gender of posthumous fame:
-- The dead have no sex; they can surprise by no new miracles; they
can confer no privilege: Corinna has ceased to be a woman -- she is
only an author: and it may be foreseen that many will repay themselves
for former complaisance, by a severity to which the extravagance of
previous praises may perhaps give the colour of truth (CPW
- This double-sided remark is difficult to decipher. If one focuses
on the last lines related to de Staël, Byron's jealousy of his
contemporary appears to rise to the surface, for he suggests that she
will now be lowered from the pedestal of extravagance and get her just
deserts. These lines echo Byron's original letter to Murray, where he
expresses his sorrow on hearing about de Staël's death, "--not
only because she had been very kind to me at Coppet--but because now
I can never requite her" (BLJ V: 256). Given the double-meaning
of the word requite, which signifies either to make suitable return
for a benefit or service, or to retaliate or avenge, it could be inferred
that Byron's own "hope of associated fame" as well as his
own "fear, flattery and envy" are at stake. In Byron's use
of the word "requite," the ambiguity of the very term deconstructs
the intent. The note, too, however, is double-sided. For if the first,
more abstract lines of the above quote are stressed, then Byron appears
to "de-gender" de Staël, thereby releasing her from the
gross distortions of fame that she as a public woman had to suffer,
just as presumably, it would release him from his own gendered location
on the celebrity map. Any attempts to resolve the double-sided nature
of these remarks within the note itself are in vain, for the rest of
the note continues to belie formal resolution.
- On the one hand, Byron asserts that by becoming "only an author,"
de Staël's gender (and presumably his own) will cancel itself out,
as she will henceforth be judged for her accomplishments as an author,
not for her attempts to transgress gender as a public woman. Byron does
not say that de Staël will become a man, but simply that she will
become in death, sexless. In these lines, and in contradiction to his
discussion of Dante and Boccaccio, it would appear that death holds
the promise of being the great leveller, not only within the local context
of a nation, but also beyond the nation in the realm of the universal.
In his letter to Murray, he writes that: "in a general point of
view she will leave a great gap in society & literature" (BLJ
V: 256). In the note, he expands these thoughts to claim that de Staël:
will enter into that existence in which the great writers of all ages
and nations are, as it were, associated in a world of their own, and,
from that superior sphere, shed their eternal influence for the control
and consolation of mankind. (CPW II: 236)
- On the other hand, once Byron effectively de-genders de Staël
by placing her in the universal realm of acclaimed public authors --
which he associates with the passing of time ("the longer the vista
through which [acclaimed authors] are seen, the more accurately minute
will be the object, the more certain the justice, of the decision")
-- he proceeds to contradict his own homage, calling on his contemporaries
not to forget de Staël's capacities as a private individual, namely
as a hostess, mother and friend:
the individual will gradually disappear as the author is more distinctly
seen: some one, therefore, of all those whom the charms of involuntary
wit, and of easy hospitality, attracted within the friendly circles
of Coppet, should rescue from oblivion those virtues which, although
they are said to love the shade, are, in fact, more frequently chilled
than exited by the domestic cares of private life. Some one should
be found to portray the unaffected graces with which she adorned those
dearer relationships, the performance of whose duties is rather discovered
amongst the interior secrets, than seen in the outward management,
of family intercourse; and which, indeed, it requires the delicacy
of genuine affection to qualify for the eye of an indifferent spectator.
Some one should be found, not to celebrate, but to describe, the amiable
mistress of an open mansion, the centre of a society, ever varied,
and always pleased, the creator of which, divested of the ambition
and the arts of public rivalry, shone forth only to give fresh animation
to those around her. The mother tenderly affectionate and tenderly
beloved, the friend unboundedly generous, but still esteemed, the
charitable patroness of all distress, cannot be forgotten by those
whom she cherished, and protected, and fed. (CPW II: 236)
- Here, we have come full circle. Through a duplicitous homage that
claims to remember the author as a sexless public persona and then asks
contemporaries not to forget her as a woman, Byron effectively puts
de Staël back into her gendered place. In this regard, the poet
himself seems to takes on the characteristics of Lord Nelvil, who at
the beginning of Corinne is surprised to find a woman publicly
celebrated in Italy: "Nothing could have been more opposed to an
Englishman's customs and opinions than focusing the public eye on a
woman's fortunes" (Bk II, Ch I: 19). Byron's insistence on not
forgetting de Staël as a private woman also contrasts sharply with
other contemporary memories of the French author, those of Felicia Hemans,
for example (Sweet and Taylor, n.d.), who remembers de Staël as
a public author and was likewise drawn to the gendered contradictions
between private and public fame in Corinne, as Wolfson has shown
(1997: 110-120). Given the subject content of de Staël's novel,
in particular the chapter dealing with "Corinne at the Capitol"
(Book II), which celebrates the public role of women, it is interesting
to note that while Byron tries to go beyond gender in his homage to
de Staël, and even conflates her with Corinne, he ultimately stresses
her private accomplishments as a mother and hostess. Her public accomplishments,
he assures his readers, and in contrast to the great poets buried in
Santa Croce, will not be forgotten; however, her accomplishments as
a woman will. By calling on his contemporaries to rescue de Staël
from oblivion, not as an author, but as a woman, Byron appears to reveal
his own fear of being emasculated, eclipsed both by the limelight of
his recently deceased rival, and by the machine of fame as such.
IV. The Gender of Memory and Posthumous Fame
- In their respective Santa Croce passages, de Staël and Byron
both consider the nature of enduring fame under conditions of modernity.
Among the many parallels between the two narratives, which suggest a
close reading of Corinne on the part of Byron, the structural
similarity of the two passages deserves mention. In effect, each passage
articulates not less than three chronological moments: the traveller's
moment when each author visited Florence, the moment of fictive composition
when each author imaginatively incorporated lived experience into the
text, and the moment of historical composition when each author composed
factual commentaries explaining their respective narratives. These distinct
yet interconnected moments accentuate the fact that the Santa Croce
passages in Corinne and in Childe Harold IV form a textual
"mise en abyme" (Dällenbach, 1977), in which Genette's
notion of paratextuality takes on an important role: "the relationship
that the text per se maintains with its paratext: title, subtitle, intertitle;
prefaces, postfaces, forwards, forewords, etc.; marginal notes, footnotes,
endnotes; epigraphs, illustrations, inserts, press wrapper, dust cover,
and many other accessory indicators" (Genette, 1982: 9-10). In
Byron's case, the relation between text and paratext is even more complex
when one considers Hobhouse's extended notes to the canto, both in the
published version of Childe Harold IV, and in his own expanded
monograph of the notes (Historical Illustrations of the Fourth Canto
of Childe Harold: containing dissertations on the ruins of Rome; and
an essay on Italian literature, 1818), which was designed to accompany
and embellish Byron's work (Rutherfold, 1961). Highlighting the once
removed or second-degree nature of Santa Croce as a site of memory,
where duplicitous framing and belated rewriting come forcibly into play,
the space between text and paratext in both Corinne and Childe
Harold IV is where the fissured joints of an apparently seamless
narrative appear, as it is here, and in many other of their texts, that
both authors reveal anxieties about posthumous fame.
- The nature of these anxieties becomes particularly important when
one considers the authors as readers rather than as writers. In effect,
not just Byron's Santa Croce but also de Staël's belong to a larger
contextual fabric, as the etymology of the word "text" --
from the Latin texere, to weave -- implies. In this regard, one common
source for both of them may have been Ugo Foscolo, who found himself
exiled in Great Britain at the same time Byron was in Switzerland and
Italy (Franzero, 1977) and whose poetic rendition of Santa Croce, Sepolcri
(Sepulchers), was published just before Corinne. Accordingly,
de Staël's and Byron's Santa Croce articulate not only paratextuality,
but intertextuality as well, where, according to Kristeva's definition
of the term, "every text is a mosaic of citations, every text is
absorption and transformation of another text. Instead of the concept
of intersubjectivity, we thus have that of intertextuality, and
poetic language becomes, at the very least, double" (1969: 146).
- Kristeva's notion of intertextuality, which calls into question the
masculine notion of the autonomous text, aptly describes how de Staël's
and Byron's Santa Croce can be seen as as doubles. Here, writing presents
itself from the outset as a very uncanny phenomenon -- not the sudden
appearance of something strange, as Freud observed, but the return of
something familiar in a different form -- Santa Croce "re-membered"
through writing. This shift from Santa Croce as historical place to
Santa Croce as narrative place -- the small difference that is
almost nothing but not quite, to borrow from Samuel Weber (1973) --
helps explain the gender of memory, expressed through quotations, as
such. If each passage is a duplicitous echo, a gloss of another gloss,
then both underpin the structure of Santa Croce as text: not the place
itself, but the gendered quotations, continually broken off from their
original contexts. These narrative fragments in turn lead to the "architextual"
dimension of memory (Genette, 1982: 7), to the overarching narrative
aspect of remembrance as a set of gendered textual relations.
- From a narrative point of view, interesting parallels between de
Staël and Byron also intervene. For both dwell, not on the existing
tombs of great men in Santa Croce, but on the tombs of the missing,
in particular on the tomb of Dante. In this sense, they reconfigure
Santa Croce as a site of memory, whose main attribute is no longer remembrance
but forgetting. Both de Staël's and Byron's reversal of the site
of memory paradigm evoke their own personal concerns with the time and
place of posthumous fame. Each in their respective ways uses Santa Croce
and the tombs housed within it to bemoan the disingenuous treatment
of poets, not only in Dante's time, but more importantly in their own.
Prefiguring not only Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu,
but also Nora's Lieux de mémoire, de Staël and Byron
effectively turn Santa Croce into a "place of forgetting,"
or rather precisely because "place of forgetting" also "place
of memory." In effect, as Nora explains in a Proustian gesture:
"memory is not the opposite of forgetting, but envelops it"
(1984, I: viii). Thus, just as the loss of authentic memory in the here
and now of modernity is that which paradoxically allows Proust's "involuntary
memory" to function, so the loss of authentic collective memory
for de Staël and Byron is that which paradoxically allows Santa
Croce, as "place of memory," to exist. Borrowing again from
Nora, these modern places of commemoration are: "fundamentally
vestiges, the ultimate embodiments of a commemorative consciousness
that survives in a history which, having renounced memory cries out
for it" (1996, I: 6).
- As a resurrected "place of forgetting," the Santa Croce
passages in de Staël's Corinne and Byron's Childe Harold
IV also provide interesting insights into the role of remembering
and forgetting in shaping national identity. Here it is interesting
to note that both main characters are composite figures that do not
fit easily into one national agenda. De Staël's Corinne, with an
English father and an Italian mother, is a cosmopolitan figure par excellence,
defying the stereotypes of both nations. In a similar vein, Childe Harold
is a nationless figure, departing from "his father's hall"
in Canto I (CPW II: 10) and bidding again "Farewell"
at the end of Canto IV (CPW II: 186). The poem itself
begins with an epigraph, originally in French, to go beyond the nation:
The universe is a kind of book of which one has read only the first
page when one has seen only one's own country. I have leafed through
a large enough number, which I have found equally bad. This examination
was not at all fruitless for me. I hated my country. All the impertinences
of the different peoples among whom I have lived have reconciled me
to her. If I had not drawn any other benefit from my travels than
that, I would regret neither the expense nor the fatigue. (1996: 787-788;
original French, CPW II: 3)
- While this epigraph suggests that reconciliation with the nation
is possible, it is sarcastically only via travel to other lands that
this possibility arises. Similarly, in Byron's extended note about de
Staël, he suggests that there is something beyond the nation, a
post-national space, in which she, and all great poets, might be remembered,
even if they are disparaged and forgotten at home. It is an open question
(and another paper), in both de Staël's case and in Byron's, whether
their call to cosmopolitanism is simply a nostalgic return to eighteenth
century aristocratic versions of it, which united the European elite
on a class basis, or whether, in seeing the dangers of hermetic nationalism,
they are calling for a progressive corrective. Whatever the case, by
suggesting that de Staël will "enter into that existence in
which the great writers of all ages and nations are
in a world of their own," Byron in particular seems to prefigure
future theories about the necessary role of forgetting in building nations,
seen, for example, in Renan (1928) and Nietzsche (1964), who place forgetting
at the heart of the project to create national identity.
- These dialectics of remembering and forgetting bring us to a last
intriguing parallel between the two Santa Croce passages and that is
the way in which each author explores turn-of-the-century debates about
fame and gender. De Staël's transgressions of gender in her own
life and in Corinne have been extensively documented (Gutwirth, 1977;
Goldberger, 1987; Szmurlo, 1999), as have Byron's ludic experiments
with the mythical figura of the feminine (McGann, 2002). In the
Santa Croce passages, we see each author grappling not only with socially
constructed gender roles and the question of genius, but also with the
gender of fame itself, particularly of posthumous fame, which in the
age of forgetting, appears to be gendered female. In Corinne
and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage IV, both authors implicitly raise
the question that Walter Benjamin would later make explicit in his study
of Baudelaire, which was how to be a poet in an age that no longer needed
poets (1974). While it was Percy Shelley, who openly referred to poets
as "unacknowledged legislators" (CPW VII: 140), both
de Staël and Byron evoke the problem in their respective Santa
Croce passages, suggesting that poets have become emasculated victims
of modernity, lost in the crowd for de Staël, devalued by the state
for Byron. Impotent and powerless in life, they are in death also erased
from collective national memory. In claiming, "The dead have no
sex," Byron arguably offers a corrective to the ineffectual, gendered
position of poets in life.
- Ultimately, of course, Byron was wrong about seeing death as the
great leveller. Drawing from Elisabeth Bronfen's critical inquiry into
death (1992), femininity and the aesthetic, which argues that Western
aesthetics have traditionally been defined through women's lifeless
bodies, one can assert by looking at de Staël's reception history
that her "lifeless body" was not at all de-gendered, but continually
re-gendered with the passing of time. Starting with her obituaries in
1817, and these would have to include Byron's note, master narratives
were already in the making that cast the author as woman in negative
terms until well into the twentieth century. Not only did these narratives
prevent de Staël from achieving the neutral universal acknowledgement
that Byron naively claims she will in Childe Harold IV, the misogynous
nationalism implicit in most of these critiques increased exponentially
- Almost a century after her death, the classic American specialist
of French literature, Irving Babbit, claimed that "[de Staël]
was unbalanced and did not escape the Nemesis that pursues every form
of lack of balance, especially, perhaps, lack of emotional balance"
(1912: 9). As late as 1973, the Encyclopaedia Britannica described
de Staël as a "miscellaneous writer
, from her earliest
years a romp, a coquette and desirous of prominence and attention"
(Staël-Holstein, XXI: 273). Despite Byron's attempt to degender
de Staël, and the fact that she was, in fact, Swiss, her body was
long seen by the British as a treacherous "site" of French
and feminine excess (Gardiner, 2000). In this respect, British reception
of her work echoes David Simpson's argument that, "since at least
the Restoration of 1660,
the British national character had been
defined chiefly in terms of its difference from the French" (1993:
64). Through long-standing stereotypes about French and feminine overindulgence,
it is hardly surprising that de Staël did not cease to be a woman,
as Byron claims she will, but on the contrary, until her recuperation
by feminists, became more feminine and therefore more marginalized with
the passing of time.
Ann T. Gardiner, International University of Germany
I wish to thank Joanne Wilkes for our discussions during the 1997 NASSR
conference in Hamilton (Ontario), during which she presented a paper on
Byron for a panel I organized on de Staël and her intellectual circle
at Coppet (Wilkes, "Interred"). Although we have different interpretations
of Byron's Santa Croce homage to de Staël, I am indebted to Joanne
for showing me its relevance. [back]
 Translated quotes from Corinne are taken from Avriel
Goldberger's translation (1987). Other translations are my own unless
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