1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Genlis, Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin, Comtesse de
|←Genius||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11
Genlis, Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin, Comtesse de
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GENLIS, STÉPHANIE-FLICITÉ DU CREST DE SAINT-AUBIN, Comtesse de (1746-1830), French writer and educator, was born of a noble but impoverished Burgundian family, at Champéry, near Autun, on the 25th of January 1746. When six years of age she was received as a canoness into the noble chapter of Alix; near Lyons, with the title of Madame la Comtesse de Lancy, taken from the town of Bourbon-Lancy. Her entire education, however, was conducted at home. In 1758, in Parls, her skill as a harpist and her vivacious wit speedily attracted admiration. In her sixteenth year she was married to Charles Brûlart de Genlis, a colonel of grenadiers, who afterwards became marquis de Sillery, but this was not allowed to interfere with her determination to remedy her incomplete education, and to satisfy a taste for acquiring and imparting knowledge. Some years later, through the influence of her aunt, Madame de Montesson, who had been clandestinely married to the duke of Orleans, she entered the Palais Royal as lady-in-waiting to the duchess of Chartres (1770) She acted with great energy and zeal as governess to the daughters of the family, and was in 1778 appointed by the duke of Chartres to the responsible office of gouverneur of his sons, a bold step which led to the resignation of all the tutors as well as to much social scandal, though there is no reason to suppose that the intellectual interests of her pupils suffered on that account. The better to carry out her ingenious theories of education, she wrote several works for their use, the best known of which are the Théatre d'Éducation (4 vols., 1779-1780), a collection of short comedies for young people, Les Annales de la vertu (2 vols., 1782) and Adèle et Theodore (3 vols., 1782). Sainte-Beuve tells how she anticipated many modern methods of teaching. History was taught with the help of magic lantern slides and her pupils learnt botany from a practical botanist during their walks. In Madame de Genlis showed herself favourable to the Revolution, but the fall of the Girondins in 1793 compelled her to take refuge in Switzerland along with her pupil Mademoiselle d'Orléans. In this year her husband, the marquis de Sillery, from whom she had been separated since 1782, was guillotined. An "adopted" daughter, Pamela, had been married to Lord Edward Fitzgerald (q.v.) in the preceding December.
In 1794 Madame de Genlis fixed her residence at Berlin, but, having been expelled by the orders of King Frederick William, she afterwards settled in Hamburg, where she supported herself for some years by writing and painting. After the revolution cf. 18th Brumaire (1799) she was permitted to return to France, and was received with favour by Napoleon, who gave her apartments at the arsenal, and afterwards assigned her a pension of 6000 francs. During this period she wrote largely, and produced, in addition to some historical novels, her best romance, Mademoiselle de Clermont (1802). Madame de Genlis had lost her influence over her old pupil Louis Philippe, who visited her but seldom, although he allowed her a small pension. Her government pension was discontinued by Louis XVIII., and she supported herself largely by her pen. Her later years were occupied largely with literary quarrels, notably with that which arose out of the publication of the Diners du Baron d'Holback (1822), a volume in which she set forth with a good deal of sarcastic cleverness the intolerance, the fanaticism, and the eccentricities of the "philosophes" of the 18th century. She survived until the 31st of December 1830, and saw her former pupil, Louis Philippe, seated on the throne of France.
The numerous works of Madame de Genlis (which considerably exceed eighty), comprising prose and poetical compositions on a vast variety of subjects and of various degrees of merit, owed much of their success to adventitious causes which have long ceased to operate. They are useful, however (especially the voluminous Mémoires inédits sur le XVIIIe siècle, 10 vols., 1825), as furnishing material for history. Most of her writings were translated into English almost as soon as they were published. A list of her writings with useful notes is given by Quérard in La France littéraire. Startling light was thrown on her relations with the duc de Chartres by the publication (1904) of her correspondence with him in L'Idylle d'un "gouverneur" by G. Maugras. See also Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. iii.; H. Austin Dobson, Four Frenchwomen (1890) L. Chabaud, Les Précurseurs du féminisme (190l); W. de Chabreul Gouverneur de princes, 1737-1830 (1900); and Lettres inédites à . . . Casimir Baecker, 1802-1830 (1902), edited by Henry Lapauze.