Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Memoirs from Beyond the Grave: 1768-18001768–1800
by François-René de Chateaubriand, translated from the French by Alex Andriesse, introduction by Anka Muhlstein
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.
Alex Andriesse's English translation of Chateaubriand's Memoirs from Beyond the Grave is a new and complete dazzling rendering of the first twelve books of this monumental, legendary, and utterly engrossing masterpiece, taking the author from his lonely childhood in Brittany through the French Revolution and exile in America to the rise of Napoleon.
Here, 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 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.
What distinguishes [Memoirs from Beyond the Grave]...is less its historical overview of the turbulence that preceded Napoleon’s rise to power than Chateaubriand’s examination of his own character and feelings amid multiple setbacks. Indeed, it is the lyricism and intimacy of his language, convincingly translated here by Alex Andriesse, that made Chateaubriand a precursor of French Romanticism.
—Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review
Alex Andriesse's fine unabridged translation—which deftly wrangles Chateaubriand’s personal canon of Greek and Latin classics, Breton proverbs, Jewish scripture, Catholic hymns and medieval laid—is the first into English in more than a century. What…does Chateaubriand have to offer the contemporary reader? Beyond the sumptuous language and aphoristic compression, it is his ability to engage with, and even surmount, contradiction that proves most resonant. His elastic prose…leaps easily between burnished romanticism and more classical forms…It makes for immensely satisfying reading.
—Dustin Illingworth, TLS
Alex Andriesse has done a wonderful job suggesting the range of tone and feeling Chateaubriand offers, he shifts from the ecstatic to the dry, from the descriptive to the cryptic...The echoes of Chateaubriand in so much existentialist literature of the 20th century suggest that for all his difficulty finding congenial company among his contemporaries, in a longer perspective he becomes a figure we can all be intimate with.
—Tim Parks, London Review of Books
This memoir, ably translated by Andriesse with an introduction from historian Anka Muhlstein, reveals to English-speaking readers the famously aphoristic and flamboyant style that other French writers, including Baudelaire and Proust, admired and sought to emulate.
The best autobiography ever written...The old viscount could write one hell of a sentence. It’s an incredible book.
—Paul Auster, The Book of Illusions
Chateaubriand’s Memoirs...are his Arc de Triomphe, and may yet prove more lasting than their equivalent in stone.
To read Chateaubriand is to witness the subjective and yet comprehensive unfolding of a society’s change: of customs, prospects, ethics, conventions. He stands (as in the famous portrait by Girodet) on the farther shore.
The Memoirs from Beyond the Grave [...] encapsulate and bring to perfect mastery all the linguistic registers that their author had by turns attempted: epic, tragic, elegiac, lyric, oratorical, narrative, descriptive—like an evening rainbow over a Venetian lagoon.
A Romantic classic.
—BBC News, Paris