One thing I've learned in the short time I've been blogging is that you can learn things almost anywhere -- for instance, on the packaging for Stila eyeshadow. Not only is the "java" shade favored by Reese Witherspoon, its box bears the quote "Genius has no sex!"
Yes, the sentence would be phrased better as "genius has no gender," which is not only alliterative but also doesn't function as a double-entendre joke about the inability of nerds to get some. Nonetheless, it's a commendable sentiment, and it allowed me to crack wise in the headline above. Plus, it got me interested in the woman who said it, one Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baroness de Stael-Holstein. (The short version is Germaine de Stael.) Turns out there's a lot to be interested in:
[She was a] French-Swiss writer, woman of letters, [and] early champion of women's rights who was considered among NapolÃ©on's major opponents and spent much of her life in exile. However, Mme de StaÃ«l did not only gain fame with her books or her salon for leading intellectuals, but with her numerous affairs. Her lovers included Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, who was bishop of Autun, Count Louis de Narbonne (1788-93), with whom she had two sons, Benjamin Constant, a writer and influential politician, and Count Adolphe-Louis Ribbing, who masterminded the assassination of Gustavus III, the king of Sweden-Finland.
Any of this sound familiar? There's even a link to Voltaire:
After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, she became involved with power struggles, and supported the moderate liberal policies of her father. Both revolutionary Jacobins and aristocratic Ã©migrÃ©s viewed her with suspicion. Perhaps this prompted her to state: "In monarchies, women have ridicule to fear; in republic, hatred." Mme de StaÃ«l believed in progress - like Voltaire in his own way - and claimed that liberty and religious tolerance were essential preconditions for bringing literature to new heights. She also warned about the too enthusiastic military spirit which started to spread. The view did not gain much response among Napoleon's supporters.
Mme. de Stael was no beauty (despite her showing up on my eyeshadow box, and despite the flattering portrait above), but she doesn't seem to have had any trouble attracting great men to her side. Heck, to Voltaire, she probably would have been a great man: yet another figure of that era, it seems, whose chief fault was being born a woman.