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date: 21 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Chateaubriand’s seminal debate with de Staël at the dawn of the nineteenth century around perceptions of literary history and the orientations of modern literature was largely focused on what aspects of this Enlightenment legacy should be retained or rejected. A contemporary of Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant, Chateaubriand was marked, like them, by the experience of the French Revolution. This sets him apart from the Romantics of the ‘battle of Hernani’ (1830), for whom the Revolution was a pre-existing narrative. For Chateaubriand’s generation the Revolution was crucial, posing ontological, political, and metaphysical questions—how could that ‘river of blood’ be crossed, to borrow one of his recurrent metaphors? What should the new literature be like, and for what type of society in revolutionized France? Chateaubriand’s Romanticism was first of all an answer to these questions, an elegiac adieu to a past forever lost and an uneasy questioning of the future.

Keywords: Revolution, Enlightenment, Chateaubriand, migration, memoirsFrance

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