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Early years and exile
Born in Saint-Malo, the last of ten children, Chateaubriand grew up in his family's castle in Combourg, Brittany. His father, Ren� de Chateaubriand (1718�86), was a former sea captain turned ship owner and slave trader. His mother's maiden name was Apolline de Bed�e. Chateaubriand's father was a morose, uncommunicative man and the young Chateaubriand grew up in an atmosphere of gloomy solitude, only broken by long walks in the Breton countryside and an intense friendship with his sister Lucile.
Chateaubriand was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan. For a time he could not make up his mind whether he wanted to be a naval officer or a priest, but at the age of seventeen, he decided on a military career and gained a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based at Navarre. Within two years, he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He visited Paris in 1788 where he made the acquaintance of Jean-Fran�ois de La Harpe, Andr� Ch�nier, Louis-Marcelin de Fontanes and other leading writers of the time. When the French Revolution broke out, Chateaubriand was initially sympathetic, but as events in Paris became more violent he decided to journey to North America in 1791.
This experience would provide the setting for his exotic novels Les Natchez (written between 1793 and 1799 but published only in 1826), Atala (1801) and Ren� (1802). His vivid, captivating descriptions of nature in the sparsely settled American Deep South were written in a style that was very innovative for the time and spearheaded what would later become the Romantic movement in France. Later scholarship has cast doubt on Chateaubriand's claim that he had been granted an interview with George Washington or whether he actually lived for a time with the Native Americans he wrote about.
November 5th, 2012
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