"She would have made a wonderful man"

Every month the library team curates a new display for visitors and everyone who uses the library. This month Elspeth and were giving the task of putting a display together about Germaine de Stael. Though I’ve never heard of her before she was one of the most well-known and influential female writers during her the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

As I now know a lot more about Germaine I’ll first tell you how Lord Byron described her. He said that “She would have made a wonderful man”.

As a Swiss it’s especially sad that I have never heard of Mme de Stael before as she was of Swiss origin. She was born 22nd April 1766 and died 14th July 1817. Whilst her father was the Director of Finance for Louis XVI, her mother famously hosted the most popular salons of Paris. These were attended by Edward Gibbon, Melchior Grimm and Jean-Jacques Rousseau among many other prominent politicians and philosophers of French society. Her Mother insisted that her daughter be given an intellectual education and often brought Germaine to the salons as a child.
When she was presented to King Louis XVI and the Queen Marie Antoinette for the first time she literally fell on her face whilst she bowed her head.

Madame de Staël came to be one of the most highly influential women of her time. Her novels were best sellers and her literary criticism was the most highly regarded. She strongly encouraged any political dissident against the regime of Louis XVI when living in Paris. She was a firm backer of revolutionary thinking and activities until it became, in her view, too extreme and too willing to commit acts of violence. She did not believe in the total abolition of the monarchy, and certainly not the murdering of the Royal Family, but advocated for a relationship between monarchy and government much like Britain today. She spoke for Marie-Antoinette and tried to prevent the execution.

Madame de Staël’s relationship with Napoleon was antagonistic at best. She was exiled multiple times to an accumulative 10 years and Napoleon ordered her book “De l’Allemagne” to be burnt because he considered it to be political.


There is so much to tell you about Germaine de Stael (and I strongly encourage everyone to look her up!) but I need to tell you about the process of putting together the display. First of all we had to read … a lot. As her name meant nothing to either one of as we had to through fully research Germaine de Stael. When we had the main facts of her life and works we sat down and considered what we wanted the focus of our display to be. We decided to concentrate on her relationships with Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon. Aside from that we wanted to tell something about her works, especially the ones owned by Gladstone. Gladstone owns several of her books, so we decided to concentrate on the most important ones “De l’Allemagne” I already mentioned as well as “Corinne ou l’Italie”.


To make the display visually appealing as well as informative we decided that we were in need of some pictures (especially because Germaine’s books are very small and look really boring). We included pictures of Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon to show the both sides of the French Revolution and Mme de Stael in between.

After deciding which books and pictures we were going to display all that remained was to make accompanying plaques with the information we wanted to convey about Germaine in a way that would be concise, interesting and informative all at the same time. This turned out to be pretty difficult! When we were happy with what we had written we checked everything we’d done with Gary (the librarian) and put the display cabinet!

To be honest, I’m proud of the result especially because I’ve never done anything similar during my apprenticeship!