François-René de Chateaubriand  

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"Conscience ! is it possible that thou canst be but a phantom of the imagination, or the fear of the punishment of men? I ask my own heart, I put to myself this question: "If thou couldst by a mere wish kill a fellow-creature in China, and inherit his fortune in Europe, with the supernatural conviction that the fact would never be known, wouldst thou consent to form such a wish?" [1] --Mandarin button excerpt from The Genius of Christianity

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand (September 4, 1768 – July 4, 1848), was a French writer, politician, diplomat and historian who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany, Chateaubriand was a royalist by political disposition; in an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he authored the Génie du christianisme in defense of the Catholic faith. His works include the autobiography Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe ("Memoirs from Beyond the Grave", published posthumously in 1849–1850). In his early works, he used the name Auguste instead of René.

Influence

For his talent as much as his excesses, Chateaubriand may be considered the father of French Romanticism. His descriptions of Nature and his analysis of emotion made him the model for a generation of Romantic writers, not only in France but also abroad. For example, Lord Byron was deeply impressed by René. The young Victor Hugo scribbled in a notebook, "To be Chateaubriand or nothing." Even his enemies found it hard to avoid his influence. Stendhal, who despised him for political reasons, made use of his psychological analyses in his own book, De l'amour.

Chateaubriand was the first to define the vague des passions ("intimations of passion") which would become a commonplace of Romanticism: "One inhabits, with a full heart, an empty world" (Génie du Christianisme). His political thought and actions seem to offer numerous contradictions: he wanted to be the friend both of legitimist royalty and of freedom, alternately defending which of the two seemed most in danger: "I am a Bourbonist out of honour, a monarchist out of reason, and a republican out of taste and temperament". He was the first of a series of French men of letters (Lamartine, Victor Hugo, André Malraux) who tried to mix political and literary careers.

"We are convinced that the great writers have told their own story in their works", wrote Chateaubriand in Génie du christianisme,"one only truly describes one's own heart by attributing it to another, and the greater part of genius is composed of memories". This is certainly true of Chateaubriand himself. All his works have strong autobiographical elements, overt or disguised. Perhaps this is the reason why today Mémoires d'outre-tombe are regarded as his finest achievement.

A food enthusiast, he coined the name of a cut of tenderloin (the Chateaubriand steak).

Works




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