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Unacknowledged LegislatorsThe Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France$
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Roger Pearson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198754473

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198754473.001.0001

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Literature and Progress

Literature and Progress

‘De la littérature’ (1800)

Chapter:
(p.183) 7 Literature and Progress
Source:
Unacknowledged Legislators
Author(s):

Roger Pearson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198754473.003.0008

This chapter analyses De la littérature, Staël’s pioneering study of the relations between literature and society. For Staël in 1800 ‘literature’ still includes historical and philosophical writing, as well as works of the imagination, and she proposes a progressive agenda for the writer as lawgiver and proponent of enthusiasm. The chapter examines how she affirms the possibility of intellectual and moral progress and argues for an accompanying change in literary practice. New circumstances make new readers, and new readers require new writing. Suspicious of verse, which she considers too reliant on fantasy and the supernatural, Staël favours prose as the better medium for innovative rational thought and the fostering of enthusiasm. Through ‘alternative’ lawgiving such literature can create a community of readers ready to oppose the status quo. But already, in her discussion of melancholy, she begins to perceive poetry of the imagination as a powerful stimulus to spiritual aspiration.

Keywords:   Staël, De la littérature, literature, progress, enthusiasm, verse, prose, poetry, readership

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