Written over the course of four decades, FranÃ§ois-RenÃ©Â de Chateaubriand’s epic autobiography has drawn theÂ admiration of Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, Barthes, andÂ Sebald. Here, in the first books of his massive Memoirs,Â spanning the years 1768 to 1800, Chateaubriand looksÂ back on the already bygone world of his youth. HeÂ recounts the history of his aristocratic family and the firstÂ rumblings of the French Revolution. He recalls playingÂ games on the beaches of Saint-Malo, wandering in theÂ woods near his father’s castle in Combourg, hunting withÂ King Louis XVI at Versailles, witnessing the first headsÂ carried on pikes through the streets of Paris, meetingÂ with George Washington in Philadelphia, and fallingÂ hopelessly in love with a young woman named CharlotteÂ in the small Suffolk town of Bungay. The volume endsÂ with Chateaubriand’s return to France after seven yearsÂ of exile in England.
In this new edition (the first unabridged EnglishÂ translation of any portion of the Memoirs to be publishedÂ in more than a century), Chateaubriand emerges as aÂ writer of great wit and clarity, a self deprecating egotistÂ whose meditations on the meaning of history, memory,Â and morality are leavened with a mixture of high whimsyÂ and memorable gloom.