Synopses & Reviews
Examining the lives and works of three iconic personalities and#8212;Germaine de Staand#235;l, Stendhal, and Georges Cuvierand#8212;Kathleen Kete creates a groundbreaking cultural history of ambition in post-Revolutionary France. While in the old regime the traditionalist view of ambition prevailedand#8212;that is, ambition as morally wrong unless subsumed into a corporate wholeand#8212;the new regime was marked by a rising tide of competitive individualism. Greater opportunities for personal advancement, however, were shadowed by lingering doubts about the moral value of ambition.
Kete identifies three strategies used to overcome the ethical and#8220;burdenand#8221; of ambition: romantic genius (Staand#235;l), secular vocation (Stendhal), and post-mythic destiny (Cuvier). In each case, success would seem to be driven by forces outside oneand#8217;s control. She concludes by examining the still relevant (and still unresolved) conundrum of the relationship of individual desires to community needs, which she identifies as a defining characteristic of the modern world.
"A fascinating, elegant and thought-provoking book that makes a significant contribution to modern European cultural history.and#8221;and#8212;David A. Bell, Princeton University
and#8220;The analysis is smart, sure-footed, and highly readable, and the book is guaranteed to attract much attention from all historians and other Europeanists interested in Romantic culture, post-Revolutionary politics, and the discovery of the modern and#8216;self.and#8217;and#8221;and#8212;Jay M. Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"Genius, vocation, destiny: Kathleen Kete follows these grand themes through the facts and fiction of a host of fascinating lives, showing how French men and women at the turn of the nineteenth century negotiated their fears of a powerful forceand#8212;ambitionand#8212;unleashed by the tumults of Revolution.and#160;Her scholarship is thorough, her writing elegant, her insights fresh and timely.and#160;This is an admirable book."and#8212;Darrin M. McMahon, author of Happiness: A History
About the Author
Kathleen Kete, Borden W. Painter, Jr., '58/H'95 Professor of European History at Trinity College, is the author of The Beast in the Boudoir: Petkeeping in Nineteenth-Century Paris. She lives in West Hartford, CT.