Marie d'Agoult, born Marie Catherine Sophie de Flavigny, Vicomtesse de Flavigny (December 31, 1805 – March 5, 1876), was a French author and historian. She was also known by her married name and title, Marie, Comtesse d'Agoult, and by her pen name, Daniel Stern.
In 1827, the young Marie married Colonel Charles Louis Constant d’Agoult, Comte d'Agoult, 20 years her senior, thereby becoming the Comtesse d'Agoult. They had two daughters, Louise (1828-1834), and Claire (1830-1912). They were divorced in 1835, as Marie carried on an affair with virtuoso pianist and composer Franz Liszt, who was five years younger than she and a rising concert star. She had three children with Liszt, but they did not marry.
Marie began her career as a writer in 1839. She was a friend of female novelist George Sand, with whom she shared many of the same views on morals, politics, and society. She also created a salon where the outstanding writers, thinkers, and musicians discussed the ideas that culminated in the revolution of 1848.
As "Daniel Stern," she established herself as a respected writer and critic. As a women's advocate she promoted complimentarity with men's education and occupations, holding that women could occupy the more internal world from where they could civilize society and the spiritual sphere, and leave men to the more public sphere of politics and religion. She also advocated socialistic reforms, but stopped short of both Utopian and radical socialism. As a journalist, she is considered one of the best and most objective sources of information on the period.
She died, aged 71, in Paris, and was buried in Division 54 of Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Marie was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, the daughter of Alexander Victor François de Flavigny (1770 – 1819), a footloose emigré French aristocrat, and his wife Maria-Elisabeth Bethmann (1772 – 1847), a German-Jewish banker's daughter whose family had converted to Catholicism. The young Marie spent her early years in Germany and completed her education in a French convent after the Bourbon Restoration. She entered into an early marriage with Charles Louis Constant d’Agoult, Comte d'Agoult (1790 – 1875) on May 16, 1827, thus becoming the Comtesse d'Agoult. They had two daughters, Louise (1828 – 1834), (whose early death devastated Marie), and Claire (1830 – 1912).
The young Comtesse d'Agoult was raised in an aristocratic culture during the period just prior to the French Revolution. This was a time when society began to shift its views concerning the rights of women. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had expressed the prevailing view when he wrote that women were different creatures from men and should be educated only for marriage and motherhood, whereas the husband was absolute ruler over his family. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, which stimulated many women, including Marie, to reconsider the life she was living.
Marie was not happy in her arranged marriage, but she found comfort in the religious teachings of the Abbé de Lammenais and in the company of a new generation of Romantic artists and musicians like Hugo, Vigny, Lamartine, Chopin, and Rossini. She began to study art, philosophy, and politics. Marie soon developed a critical mind and definite opinions about various topics. Through her self-education she became a respected thinker among her friends.
Marie met the Hungarian Franz Liszt in 1833 in Paris. He was an upcoming composer and musician, yet a man below her social standing. Their friendship developed based on books that they shared and discussed together beginning with the Bible, Shakespeare, Goethe, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Nerval and George Sand. Later works they discussed included Volupté, by Sainte-Beuve and Oberman, by Senancour.
Liszt believed that "The artist is the living expression of God, of nature, and of humanity." Through art, one could experience God, he said. Liszt was also an Utopian, who had read the Sainte-Simonian socialist thinkers, which he introduced to Marie. Having lived a sheltered life, she was unaware of the great physical misery experienced by the common people who lived outside of her aristocratic world. Liszt's egalitarian views fed Marie's romanticism, and they fell in love.
In the spring of 1833, Marie's family moved to Croissy and she could not see Liszt. Only their letters kept their relationship alive. She feared never seeing him again, and wrote, "I am alone, alone with one great thought, and that thought is you. I love you with all my heart." In the autumn of 1834 her family returned to Paris and they became lovers.
Marie struggled with keeping their affair secret. She was haunted by melancholy and even madness, with worry about the scandal their affair would cause to her family and society. Liszt, a free thinker, told her that up till now she had been keeping secret all the passions and ideas that were "pure" within herself and that it was a decision between herself and God as to eloping with him, staying with her husband, or even taking holy orders.
Their love relationship developed with greater intensity and in August, 1835 her husband granted her a divorce. Her family disowned her and she suffered from being separated from her children, as women had no custody rights after a divorce at this time. When Marie took the step of living openly with Liszt, she was shunned by her family and was the source of much gossip from the aristocratic circles she had been accustomed to.
They traveled Europe together as he composed and performed, and they had three children together. They also lived with female author George Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin for a while. They gathered thinkers, writers, artists, musicians and eventually revolutionaries in their salon wherever they lived, encouraging the free expression of ideas.
Their creativity, passion, and love of ideas kept them together even though they differed in many of their attitudes and opinions. However, Liszt's protracted absences and well-publicized philandering brought an end to their tumultuous affair in 1839, with the final split taking place in 1844.
Marie's studies and intellectual discussions with friends and acquaintances created an environment where her thoughts and ideas developed into powerful arguments. Her friend and admirer, Thèophile de Ferriere, encouraged her to write. She had been inspired by another female writer, George Sand, also known as Amandine Dupin, the Baronne Dudevant, who wrote Lélia, a story about a woman demanding the right to fulfillment in marriage.
It was during her frequent travels with Liszt that Marie made Sand's acquaintance. Sand was living with the pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Sand further encouraged Marie to write. She took the pen name "Daniel Stern." Sand eventually betrayed Marie by revealing her break with Liszt in the novel Lélia (1845), perhaps out of jealousy because Chopin had dedicated his second set of piano études to Marie. This betrayal hurt Marie greatly, but this pain caused her to begin to rely on her own judgment in furthering her writing.
On her return to Paris after the separating from Liszt in 1841, she began to write art critiques for the liberal journal, La Presse. Marie also became a frequent contributor to the French liberal opposition press of the 1840s. After Marie's final break with Liszt, in 1844 she began a serious career as a journalist, under the guidance of Emile de Girardin, editor of the La Presse. She contributed to the Revue des deux Mondes (World Revue) writing articles on Bettina von Arnim and Heinrich Heine. However, her views were not accepted by the editor, and Marie, as Daniel Stern, moved to become a contributor to the Revue Indépendante (Independent Revue).
Her most important works were her political and historical essays: Lettres republicaines (Republican Letters) (1848), Esquisses morales et politiques (Sketches on Morals and Politics) (1849), Histoire de la Revolution de 1848 (History of the Revolution) (3 vols., 1850-1853), and Histoire des commencements de la Republique aux Pays-Bas (History of the beginning of the Republic of the Low Country Netherlands) (1872). Her Histoire de la Révolution de 1848, was her best-known work, and is still considered by many historians to be a balanced and accurate contemporary treatment of events in France. In 1857 she produced a national drama, Jeanne D'Arc, which was translated into Italian and presented with success at Turin.
Through her writings she introduced the French reading public to a number of foreign authors, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Georg Herwegh, and Bettina von Arnim. She regularly attended parliamentary debates and, as a result, wrote political commentary. She published her Nelida in 1846, a thinly-veiled fictional account of her affair with Liszt. Nelida caused a scandal but was very successful.
Marie however, realized that her talents were more in analysis and commentary and decided to give up fiction writing. Her journalism earned her respect, and her Essai sur la liberté, (Essay on Liberty, 1847) won her the praise of numerous critics. She was soon recognized as a leading proponent of women's rights, in the company of Mary Wollstonecraft and Madame de Stael.
Marie continued to write newspaper political reports and showed herself as a staunch supporter of the fledgling republic against conservative reaction. Her articles, published between May and December of 1848, were later collected as Lettres Républicaines en Esquisses morales et politiques (Republican letters on moral and political sketches, 1849). They included portrayals of leading members of the national assembly, editorials on the presidential campaign, and analyses of the various schools of socialist thought. Marie strongly criticized the presidential candidate Louis-Napoleon, "the obscure nephew of a great man."
She published her three volumes of Histoire during 1850 to 1853. Based on long hours of eye-witness reports especially at the national assembly, painstaking investigation, and personal involvement in the unfolding drama of 1848, Marie wrote primarily on Parisian political personalities, but also included first-hand descriptions of demonstrations and street battles that shaped government policy and public opinion. She gave incisive portraits of political leaders and clear analysis of the social factors which influenced the outcome of the revolution. Her "Histoire" had a deep impact on future writings of the events of 1848.
Despite the personal tragedy of losing two of her children to early deaths, Marie continued to write about politics after Louis-Napoleon's coup d'état, primarily for the Revue Germanique, a journal dedicated to promoting Franco-German relations.
She was critical of conservative leaders like Louis-Philippe and Louis Napoleon, accusing them of political incompetence and authoritarian rule. While championing democracy and the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, she remained politically moderate. She finally rejected the Utopian-socialism of the Saint-Simonians and Cabetists because she considered it ineffectual. She also rejected Louis Blanc and Pierre Proudhon's "sectarian" socialism as "irrational and anarchistic." Marie supported state-sponsored initiatives to reduce poverty and the idea of a universal political enfranchisement.
Her "feminism," like that of many nineteenth-century women writers, advocated improved education for women, but stopped short of advocating absolute equality with men. She agreed that men should occupy the public world of political and economic action, and women the private sphere, to exercise a civilizing influence on the moral and spiritual realms. She rejected the ideas of radical feminism and considered gentle persuasion and moral fortitude tools toward the gradual change of the condition of women. Currently, with the advent of feminist studies, she is remembered as being among the most notable French intellectuals of her day. And her "Histoire" set the standard for future historians.
Marie also created a Paris salon for thinkers, and musicians of her day. It became a multilingual center of European artists, writers, and revolutionaries. Through their discussions she wrote about the great events of her lifetime, eventually writing her authoritative account of France's 1848 revolution.
She was an ardent apostle of the ideas of 1848, and from this date her salon, which had been literary and artistic, took on a more political tone; revolutionists of various nationalities like liberal Republicans, Hippolyte Carnot, Jules Simon, Alphonse de Tocqueville, and the young Emile Olivier (who would later marry Blandine Liszt, one of Marie's daughters) were welcomed by her, and she had an especial friendship and sympathy for Daniele Manin.
During the Second Empire her salon once again became a center of liberal opposition and discussion.
In later life, her friends called her, "an Amazon of thought." She became one of nineteenth-century France's free and independent women long before feminism fully developed.
Marie d'Agoult's stands as a young woman who was driven to sacrifice everything for love in her scandalous affair with Franz Liszt. Thus causing her to be disowned by her family and separated from her children with Comte d'Agoult, and to be ostracized by the society of her time. Yet, through their relationship, and the liberal exchange and discussions in her salons, her intellect and confidence grew to help her become the prominent and influential thinker and writer. In the end, she realized that the romantic ideals of love would not sustain her but self-reliance and self-realization would.
Marie established herself as a respected writer and critic in a time when nineteenth century women were just beginning to awaken to the need for women's rights. Her "histoire" is still considered an excellent resource of information and insights to the events of the 1840s by most historians.
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