Something a little different today–a new translation of François-René de Chateaubriand’s “Mémoires d’Outre-Tomb” (“Memoirs from Beyond the Grave”), translated by Alex Andriesse and published by New York Review of Books Classics. Chateaubriand was a French aristocrat and an enormous talent representative of France’s high Romantic style. Another of his earlier works, Les Martyrs, Ou Le Triomphe de la Religion Chrétienne, is a kind of extended poem on the early Christian martyrs. In this late work, he writes very critically about the French Revolution relatively late in his life. Here is a helpful review of the book and the new translation.
Written over the course of four decades, François-René de Chateaubriand’s epic autobiography has drawn the admiration of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, Barthes, and Sebald. Here, in the first books of his massive 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 seven years of exile in England.
In this new edition (the first unabridged English 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 egotist whose meditations on the meaning of history, memory, and morality are leavened with a mixture of high whimsy and memorable gloom.