François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand
In 1801, renowned French artist Chateaubriand (4 September 1768 – 4 July 1848) published Atala, ou Les Amours de deux sauvages dans le désert and, in 1826, he published Les Natchez available as an e-book.
The sad love story of our deux sauvages, Atala, was a great success. It offered just the right element of exoticism and was written by a writer whose penmanship is both exemplary and legendary. He was Victor Hugo’s model: “Je veux être Chateaubriand ou rien” (I want to be Chateaubriand or nothing).
Chateaubriand is one of the fathers of French Romanticism. He created a character named René (1802) who suffers from what is known as le vague des passions or le mal du siècle, beautifully described in Wikipedia.
However, we need only click on le mal du siècle. I believe that le mal du siècle was aptly described by Charles Baudelaire (9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867). In “l’Albatros,” (Les Fleurs du mal; The Flowers of Evil), Baudelaire writes that while the albatross soars majestically in full flight, its long wings make it look clumsy on a ship’s deck.
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.
The River: the Meschacebé or the Mississippi
René is particularly fascinating because the love story takes place on the shores of the Mississippi or Meschacebé, which Chateaubriand describes in masterly prose, sight unseen. Moreover, Atala is rousseauistic (Jean-Jacques Rousseau [28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778)]) in that it glorifies nature and anything “sauvage,” untouched by the world. The real sauvages are in France. Consequently, Atala and Chactas are privileged human beings. They are bons sauvages. However, Atala’s mother has vowed that her daughter would remain a virgin. So Atala poison’s herself.
The French Revolution: Exile
In 1791, during the French Revolution, Chateaubriand took refuge in America. He returned to France in 1792, but had to leave France again. He fled to London where he earned a meagre living teaching French and doing translation work.(Wikipedia) He would later become quite wealthy.
He spent his final years in Paris, living as a recluse. The only person he visited was Madame de Récamier.