French language or French manners? Belle de Zuylen and the love-hate relationship between the Netherlands and the French-speaking world

In: Belle de Zuylen / Isabelle de Charrière
Willem Frijhoff
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In order to understand the strong and complex personality of Isabelle de Charrière/Belle de Zuylen the historian needs a broad contextualisation. Her origin was Dutch, and she was strongly marked by the social structures and cultural choices of her Dutch elite milieu, yet her lifestyle was marked by Frenchness. This chapter intends to interrogate the meaning of the “French” universe that was hers. It refers simultaneously, though at different degrees, to the broad diffusion of the French language, to the historical role of the French nation in Europe, particularly with regard to the Dutch Republic, and to the influence of France and the cultural models of its elites on the culture of the European aristocracies. In fact, the reference to Frenchness played a rather ambiguous role, since it meant either a Francophone identification with the French nation and its culture, or a political, social, and cultural cosmopolitism that used by preference the French language as a lingua franca. Belle de Zuylen appears as a good example of both attitudes. Nevertheless it remains important to scrutinize the basic Dutch references which underpin these two different registers of her public life.

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