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Isabelle de Charrière (Belle de Zuylen)
Author: C. P. Courtney


Pagination: xvi + 810 pp., 53 ill., 1 (colour) pl., hb (relié)

Price: £80 / €89 / $102

  ISBN-13: 978-0-7294-0439-6

Description: Isabelle de Charrière, formerly best known for her friendship with James Boswell and Benjamin Constant, is now recognised as one of the most fascinating literary figures of her time, a brilliant letter-writer and gifted novelist.

Cecil Courney's biography chronicles her life in a lively, comprehensive and scholarly fashion and makes full use of the original sources, notably Belle's extensive correspondence with many of the leading figures of her time.

Part one covers the first thirty years of Belle de Zuylen's life from her birth in 1740 into the sheltered, leisurely and elegant milieu of an old-established Dutch aristocratic family. Her early intellectual development leads her to challenge accepted ideas and to explore in writing realms of experience undreamt of in the philosophy of the convention-ridden society in which she lives. Moving through her correspondence with Constant d'Hermenches and Boswell and the story of her many suitors, the account of this period ends in her late and unremarkable marriage (1771) to her brother's former tutor, Charles-Emmanuel de Charrière.

The second part is devoted to Belle's life after her marriage. She takes up residence at Le Pontet, the Charrière family home near Neuchâtel, travels in Switzerland and Holland, forms a mysterious romantic attachment to a young man who later abandons her and, after a period spent in Paris (1786–1787), resolves never to set foot again outside Le Pontet. It is here that Belle creates a haven for intellectual activity, whose members, including the young Benjamin Constant, are brought intensely to life in her inimitable correspondence and in this thoughtful and sympathetic portrait of one of the most engaging figures of the eighteenth century.