Books: Lingering Romance

CHATEAUBRIAND by George D. Painter

Knopf; 327 pages; $15

Byron may have inspired the image of the archromantic. But it was François-René de Chateaubriand—writer, politician and Olympian lover—who lived it. Born in 1768 to a minor Breton nobleman, he came of age with the French Revolution. By the time he was 24, the Chevalier Chateaubriand had already journeyed to America in search of noble savages and exotic flora.

Later, as a novelist, he helped fuel the age of French romanticism; as a polemicist he daringly attacked Napoleon; as a politician he served as Louis XVIII's foreign minister. En route, he out-Byroned Byron; few...

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