Tuesday 21 September 2021

Book Review: Corinne by Germaine de Staël (Classics)

Title: Corinne
Author: Germaine de Staël
Publisher: Oxford World Classics
Publication Date: 2009 (1807)
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classics
Source: Gift 

Corinne, or Italy, is both the story of a love affair between Oswald, Lord Nelvil, and a beautiful poetess, and an homage to the landscape, literature and art of Italy. Stael, the subject of recent feminist rediscovery, weaves discreet political allusion into her romance, and upon its publication Napoleon renewed her order of exile. Sylvia Raphel's new translation preserves the natural character of the French original, while the notes and introduction place this extraordinary work of European Romanticism in its historical and political context.


Corinne was an interesting book in that it could be read in many ways: as a tragic love story, a feminist treatise, or a travel guide to Italy and Italian art. Sections of the text were given over to the characters visiting famous sites in Italian towns, including art galleries, and long descriptions were provided of what they saw, which was fascinating for me, since it interests me, but it would probably be a little dull for readers without such interest. The story itself took a while to get going, but when it did I mostly enjoyed it, even though I could see how things were going to play out far ahead of reaching that point in the narrative. I don't want to say too much about the plot and risk spoilers, but I think it's far to comment that I would have enjoyed seeing things end differently for Corinne, but that it was obvious all along what would happen to her. Corinne initially comes across as a strong female character, though, and I liked her in the early stages of the book, before she became maudlin. If you enjoy late 18th/early 19th century books, then you are sure to find something worthwhile in Corinne. However, if you are new to this period of literature, this may not be the best work to start with. From me, it gets four stars.

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