Written over the course of four decades, Francois-ReneÅL de Chateaubriand’s epic autobiography has drawn the admiration of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, Roland Barthes, Paul Auster, and W. G. Sebald. In this unabridged section of the Memoirs, spanning the years 1768 to 1800, Chateaubriand looks back on the already bygone world of his youth. He recounts the history of his aristocratic family and the first rumblings of the French Revolution. He recalls playing games on the beaches of Saint-Malo, wandering in the woods near his father’s castle in Combourg, hunting with King Louis XVI at Versailles, witnessing the first heads carried on pikes through the streets of Paris, meeting with George Washington in Philadelphia, and falling hopelessly in love with a young woman named Charlotte in the small Suffolk town of Bungay. The volume ends with Chateaubriand’s return to France after eight years of exile in England.
In this new edition (the first unabridged translation of any portion of the Memoirs to be published in more than a century), Chateaubriand emerges as a writer of great wit and clarity, a self-deprecating egoist whose meditations on the meaning of history, memory, and morality are leavened with a mixture of high whimsy and memorable gloom.
Statesman de Chateaubriand (1768 1848) was the undisputed father of French literary romanticism and one of the 19th century's great autobiographers. In these early memoirs, he recalls his youthful adventures coming of age as a young aristocrat in rustic Normandy and, during the French Revolution, traveling in Canada and the United States. He also recalls, after a disastrous return to France that saw him wounded after joining the antirevolutionary royalist forces, enduring eight years of forced exile in England. In the America-set passages, he describes the country's untamed wilderness with relish yet wonders if the new nation can survive being composed of a people with no common past or interests. He also records the customs of native tribes, including the Iroquois and the Seminoles, with an anthropologist's eye, gathering information indispensable to his later novels. Writing decades after the actual events, Chateaubriand displays the sense of destiny, swirling ambition, and ego that marked his long, distinguished career. This memoir, ably translated by Andriesse with an introduction from historian Anka Muhlstein, reveals to English-speaking readers the famously aphoristic and flamboyant style that other French writers, including Baudelaire and Proust, admired and sought to emulate.