E491 Germaine de Stael Questions

Assigned: from "Essay on Fictions" and "On Women Writers" (594-604).

From "Essay on Fictions"

1. On 597-99, what fundamental defense of fiction does de Staël offer, and why does she think realist novels (i.e. "fictions in which everything is both invented and imitated") are better than drama or satires like Voltaire's Candide?

2. On 599-602, to what extent does de Staël share Samuel Johnson's anxiety about the moral effects of realistic fiction (review Johnson's Rambler #4, 462-66)? How does she propose to address such anxiety? And in the course of addressing it, what modification does she make to the notion that realistic fiction "copies" truth or life?

3. On 603, de Staël writes that "dramatic fictions" – unlike philosophical writing – offer "a sort of supplement to existence." And on 604, she declares that the best realistic fiction is capable of "suspending the action of the passions by substituting independent pleasures for them…." How do you understand these claims with regard to the broad critical issue of relating art to other areas of life?

Not Assigned:

"On Women Writers" from On Literature….

4. On 606-08, how might de Staël's remarks about "enlightenment" be taken as criticisms of the current political culture in Republican France? (The piece was written after the Revolution and before Napoleon declared himself Emperor.) How and why are the men of France not living up to their principles?

5. On 605 and elsewhere, to what extent does de Staël accept the ancient habit of essentializing male and female behavior (i.e. of saying that men and women just are a certain way, aside from any environmental factors)? To what use does she put such assumptions, in so far as she accepts them?

6. On 608-10, what special disadvantages does de Staël argue that women intellectuals must confront, and what reason does she believe underlies these problems?

7. If you have read Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, John Stuart Mill's On the Subjection of Women, or Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, what basic similarities do you find between de Staël's arguments and those set forth in one or more of these texts? What differences do you find?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0393974294.