François René Chateaubriand

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chateaubriand, François René


(Vicomte de Chateaubriand). Born Sept. 4,1768, at Saint-Malo; died July 4,1848, in Paris. French writer and political figure.

Chateaubriand studied at Dôle and Rennes. He entered military service in 1786; at court he was close to a group of writers in the opposition. In 1792 he joined the royalist forces against the republic. He then emigrated to England, where he lived from 1793 to 1800. Called into the diplomatic service by Napoleon Bonaparte, Chateaubriand was sent to Rome in 1803; he resigned his post in 1804, when imperial rule was proclaimed in France. During the Restoration he served as ambassador to Berlin and then to London. He withdrew from political activity after 1830.

Chateaubriand’s literary heritage constitutes the foundation of “conservative” romanticism. Some early indications of the author’s disillusionment with the concept of “natuial man” can be found in his sketches Journey to America (published 1827). His Essay on Revolutions (1797) marks Chateaubriand’s further retreat from the materialist and atheist traditions of the Enlightenment; man’s yearning for the absolute fullness of being turns into the triumph of elemental destructive forces. To this fatal cycle of irrational human aspirations Chateaubriand juxtaposes the romantic ideal of creative individuality, which acquires harmony and spiritual equilibrium by communicating with nature.

In the short novel Atala, or the Love of Two Savages (1801), Chateaubriand argues against the “state of nature” of J.-J. Rousseau. In another work, The Genius of Christianity (1802), Chateaubriand proposes religious fervor as a foil to the egotistical acts of the individual. Apologizing for Christianity, the author argues that religious feeling, rather than cold rationalism, nourished the great writers of the past, inspiring every true work of art. The tale René, or the Results of Passion (1802) introduced the image of the romantic suffering hero in French literature. As represented by Chateaubriand, the traditional opposition between duty and destructive passion is erased by the acknowledged uselessness of any kind of action under bourgeois social conditions. The Martyrs (1809), a “Christian epic” conceived as a literary illustration of the basic theoretical propositions of The Genius of Christianity, sings the praises of the first Christians. The Adventures of the Last of the Abencérages and The Natchez (both published 1826) affirm the superiority of the Christian ethic and are filled with exotic images, myths, and miracles.

Chateaubriand’s artistic and philosophical quest was summarized in his Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (1848–50). He also wrote many articles on historical, literary, and political subjects. In Russia, Chateaubriand was held in high esteem by K. N. Batiushkov and A. S. Pushkin, and V. G. Belinskii began a critical reassessment of his work.


Oeuvres romanesques et voyages, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1969.
In Russian translation:
René. In Frantsuzskaia novella XIX v., vol. 1. Moscow-Lenigrad, 1959.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Ob iskusstve, vol. 1. Moscow, 1976. Pages 388–93.
Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1956.
Evropeiskii romantizm. Moscow, 1973.
Moreau, P. Chateaubriand. Paris, 1967.
Bicentenaire de Chateaubriand. Paris, 1971.
F. Aug. R. de Chateaubriand. Brussels, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.