The Marquis de Custine was born in 1790 into an anti-revolutionary background, and brought up in exile by his mother and her lover, Chateaubriand (both his father and grandfather had been guillotined). As a young man he was banished from polite society as a result of a homosexual scandal, but remained a close friend of Stendhal and Balzac and was admired by Baudelaire for his dandyism. In 1835, when de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" became a bestseller, Balzac suggested that Custine should do for European perceptions of Russia what de Tocqueville had done for America. Custine went to Russia a monarchist and legitimist, but returned a constitutionalist. His "Lettres de Russie" (1839) invited comparison with de Tocqueville's "Anatomy of the Astute" .
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Astolphe de Custine (1790-1857) was born at the onset of the French Revolution and died under the Second Empire. His father was guillotined and he and his mother barely survived the Terror. A poet and novelist of slight repute, Custine gained recognition with the publication of the travel books Spain under Ferdinand VII and Letters from Russia, an enduring analysis of the roots and character of Russian despotism.
Anka Muhlstein was born in Paris in 1935. She settled in New York in 1974 where she began her career as a writer in French. She was awarded the Goncourt Prize in 1996 for her biography of Custine, and has twice received the History Prize of the French Academy.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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