Étienne Pivert de Senancour

Étienne-Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Ignace Pivert de Senancour (French pronunciation: ​[etjɛn pivɛʁ də sənɑ̃kuʁ]; Paris, 16 November 1770 – Saint-Cloud, 10 January 1846), was a French essayist and philosopher, remembered primarily for his epistolary novel Obermann.



Much of Senancour's childhood was spent in a state of ill-health. He began his education with a curé in the vicinity of Ermenonville before being sent to the Collège de la Marche. His father, Claude-Laurent Pivert, a Contrôleur des Rentes and Conseil du Roi, wanted him to enter the seminary of Saint-Sulpice to become a priest. To avoid a profession for which he had no vocation, Senancour, with the help of his mother, fled to Switzerland in 1789. On 11 September 1790, he married Marie-Françoise Daguet with whom he had two children: a daughter Eulalie (1791) who would later follow in her father's footsteps and become a writer, and a son, Florian-Julien (1793), who went on to pursue a career in the military. The marriage was not a happy one; his wife refused to accompany him to the Alpine solitude he desired, and they settled in Fribourg.

His absence from France at the outbreak of the Revolution was interpreted as hostility to the new government, and his name was included in the list of émigrés. He visited France from time to time by stealth, but he only succeeded in saving the remnants of a considerable fortune. In 1799 he published in Paris his Rêveries sur la nature primitive de l'homme, a book containing impassioned descriptive passages which mark him out as a precursor of the romantic movement. His parents and his wife died before the close of the century, and Senancour was in Paris in 1801 when he began Obermann, which was finished in Switzerland two years later, and printed in 1804. This singular book, which has never lost its popularity with a limited class of readers, was followed in the next year by a treatise De l'amour, in which he attacked the accepted social conventions. During this period, he worked at the magazine Mercure de France where he made the acquaintance of Louis-Sébastien Mercier and Charles Nodier.

Senancour might have spent his life writing in complete obscurity were it not for a charge leveled against him by a public prosecutor for slandering religion in the second edition of his Résumé de l’histoire des traditions morales et religieuses (1827) wherein he described Jesus as a "youthful sage." He was initially found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison and fined 300 francs, but the penalties were dropped on appeal. Attention to the case from the liberal press increased Senancour's standing, and many of his works were rediscovered and republished. The author revised and expanded Obermann for the 1833 edition.

Obermann, which is to a great extent inspired by Rousseau, was edited and praised successively by Sainte-Beuve and by George Sand, and had a considerable influence both in France and England. It is a series of letters supposed to be written by a solitary and melancholy person, whose headquarters are placed in a lonely valley of the Jura. The idiosyncrasy of the book in the large class of Wertherian-Byronic literature consists in the fact that the hero, instead of feeling the vanity of things, recognizes his own inability to be and do what he wishes. Danish literary critic Georg Brandes has pointed out that while Chateaubriand's novella René was appreciated by some of the ruling spirits of the century, Obermann was understood only by the highly gifted, sensitive temperaments, usually strangers to success.

Senancour was tinged to some extent with the older philosophe form of free-thinking, and had no sympathy with the Catholic reaction. Having no resources but his pen, Senancour was driven to hack-work during the period which elapsed between his return to France (1803) and his death at Saint-Cloud; but some of the charm of Obermann is to be found in the Libres Méditations d'un solitaire inconnu. Thiers and Villemain successively obtained for Senancour from Louis Philippe pensions which enabled him to pass his last days in comfort. Senancour also authored the comedic drama Valombré (1807), and late in life wrote a second novel in letters entitled Isabelle (1833). He composed his own epitaph, "Eternité, sois mon asile".

Senancour is immortalized for English readers in two poems by Matthew Arnold entitled "Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann" and "Obermann Once More."

Obermann has been translated into English three times: in its entirety by A. E. Waite (1903) and J. Anthony Barnes (1910), and in selections by Jessie Peabody Frothingham (1901).[1]

In music

Between 1848 and 1854, Franz Liszt composed Vallée d'Obermann, one of the pieces for piano of the suite Première année: Suisse, from the œuvre Années de pèlerinage, inspired by Senancour's most famous novel.


  • (1792) Les Premiers Ages. Incertitudes humaines
  • (1793) Sur les Générations actuelles, absurdités humaines
  • (1795) Aldomen ou le bonheur dans l’obscurité
  • (1799) Rêveries sur la nature primitive de l’homme
  • (1804) Oberman (changed to Obermann in subsequent editions)
  • (1806) De l’amour
  • (1807) Valombré
  • (1814) Lettre d’un habitant des Vosges sur MM. Buonaparte, de Chateaubriand, Grégoire, Barruel
  • (1815) De Napoléon
  • (1815) Quatorze juillet 1815
  • (1816) Observations critiques sur l’ouvrage intitulé "Génie du christianisme", suivies de réflexions sur les écrits de Monsieur de Bonald
  • (1819) Libres Méditations d'un solitaire inconnu
  • (1824) Résumé de l’histoire de la Chine
  • (1825) Résumé de l’histoire des traditions morales et religieuses
  • (1833) Petit vocabulaire de simple vérité
  • (1833) Isabelle


  1. ^ See the preface by Sainte-Beuve to his edition (1833, 2 vols.) of Obermann, and two articles Portraits contemporains (vol. 1); Un Précurseur: Senancour (1897) by Jules Levallois, who received much information from Senancour's daughter, Eulalie de Senancour, herself a journalist and novelist; a biographical and critical study Senancour, by J. Merlant (1907); and Senancour, dernier disciple de Rousseau by Zvi Lévy.
  • France, Peter (Ed.) (1995). The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-866125-8.
  • Gonthier, Albert (1999). Montreux et ses hôtes illustres. Saint-Gingolph: Editions Cabédita. ISBN 2-88295-267-8.
  • Schenk, H.G. (1966). The Mind of the European Romantics: an Essay in Cultural History. London: Constable.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Senancour, Étienne Pivert de" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 634.

External links

Eulalie de Senancour

Virginie Pivert de Senancour (Agathe-Eulalie-Ursule Pivert de) (1791–1876), the daughter of essayist Étienne Pivert de Senancour, was a French novelist and journalist. She served as her father's secretary and also wrote stories for children. Her work La Conquêtomanie is a satire against Napoleon. In Réplique à un mal avisé she responds to certain attacks levelled against her father by Eugène de Mirecourt. Nearly all the biographical information that exists about her father originates from her. One such biographical episode involves the novelist George Sand, who was influenced by Obermann. Eulalie writes that Sand, who tended to be tongue-tied with people she didn't know, sat facing the 63-year-old Senancour for 10 minutes without uttering a word before getting up and silently leaving the room.

List of French-language authors

Chronological list of French language authors (regardless of nationality), by date of birth. For an alphabetical list of writers of French nationality (broken down by genre), see French writers category.

List of French novelists

This is a list of novelists from France. Novelists in this list should be notable in some way, and ideally have Wikipedia articles on them.

See also French novelists Category Index.

Honoré d'Urfé (1568–1625)

Charles Sorel (c. 1602–1674)

Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701)

Madame de Lafayette (1634–1693), author of La Princesse de Clèves

Alain-René Le Sage (1668–1747)

Pierre de Marivaux (1688–1763)

Voltaire (1694–1778), philosophe, satirist, playwright, author of Candide

Françoise de Graffigny (1695–1758), author of Lettres d'une Péruvienne

Abbé Prévost (1697–1763), author of Manon Lescaut

Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1707–1777)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), philosophe, author of Julie, or the New Heloise

Denis Diderot (1713–1784), philosophe, author of Rameau's Nephew

Marie Jeanne Riccoboni (1714–1792)

Restif de la Bretonne (1734–1806)

Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), author of Paul et Virginie

Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), author of "Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man", Justine, The 120 Days of Sodom, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Juliette

Choderlos de Laclos (1741–1803), author of Les liaisons dangereuses

Anne Louise Germaine de Staël (1766–1817)

Benjamin Constant (1767–1830), author of Adolphe

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), author of Atala and René

Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770–1846)

Charles Nodier (1780–1844)

Stendhal (1783–1842), author of The Red and the Black, considered by some to be the first modern novel, and The Charterhouse of Parma

Charles Paul de Kock (1793–1871)

Antoinette Henriette Clémence Robert (1797–1872)

Charles Dezobry (1798–1871), historian and historical novelist

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), author of La Comédie Humaine, a series of novels presenting a full picture of France in the early 19th century

Alexandre Dumas, père (1802–1870), author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers

Victor Hugo (1802–1885), author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables

Prosper Mérimée (1803–1870), author of Carmen

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804–1869)

George Sand (1804–1876), pseudonym of Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baroness Dudevant

Eugène Sue (1804–1857)

Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808–1889)

Alfred de Musset (1810–1857)

Théophile Gautier (1811–1872)

Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880), author of Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education

Edmond de Goncourt (1822–1896)

Henri Murger (1822–1861), author of Scènes de la vie de bohème

Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824–1895), author of La Dame aux camélias

Edmond About (1828–1885)

Jules Verne (1828–1905), writer of techno-thrillers like Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, and founding father of science fiction

Jules de Goncourt (1830–1870)

Hector Malot (1830–1907)

Émile Gaboriau (1832–1873), pioneer of modern detective fiction

Eugène Le Roy (1836–1907)

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

Émile Zola (1840–1902), naturalist, author of Germinal and Nana

Anatole France (1844–1924)

Léon Bloy (1846–1917)

Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848–1907), author of À rebours and Là-bas

Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893)

Pierre Loti (1850–1923)

Élémir Bourges (1852–1925)

Paul Bourget (1852–1935)

René Bazin (1853–1932)

Adolphe Chenevière (1855–19??)

Maurice Barrès (1862–1923)

Henri de Régnier (1864–1936)

Jules Renard (1864–1910)

Romain Rolland (1866–1944), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1915

Gaston Leroux (1868–1927), author of The Phantom of the Opera and The Mystery of the Yellow Room which is recognized as the first locked room puzzle mystery novel

André Gide (1869–1951)

Henri Bordeaux (1870–1963)

Marcel Proust (1871–1922), author of In Search of Lost Time, sometimes seen as the greatest modernist novel

Colette (1873–1954), best known for Gigi and Chéri

Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), satirist, inventor of Pataphysics

Roger Martin du Gard (1881–1958), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1937

Louis Pergaud (1882–1915)

Georges Duhamel (1884–1966)

François Mauriac (1885–1970), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1952

Jules Romains (1885–1972)

Alain-Fournier (1886–1914)

Georges Bernanos (1888–1948)

Adrien Bertrand (1888–1917)

Henri Bosco (1888–1976)

Louis Ferdinand Céline (1894–1961), author of Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan or Mort à Crédit

Henri de Montherlant (1895–1972)

Jean Giono (1895–1970)

Julien Green (1900–1998)

Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900–1944)

Nathalie Sarraute (1900–1999)

André Malraux (1901–1976)

Irène Némirovsky (1903–1942), author of Suite française

Raymond Queneau (1903–1976)

Raymond Radiguet (1903–1942)

Marguerite Yourcenar (1903–1987)

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1964

Louise Aslanian (1906–1945), pseudonym "Las", author of "The Way of doubt".

Pauline Réage (1907–1998)

Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986)

Paul Berna (1908–1994)

Jean Genet (1910–1986)

Henri Troyat (1911–2007)

Pierre Boulle (1912–1994), author of The Bridge on the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes

Albert Camus (1913–1960), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957

Gilbert Cesbron (1913–1979)

Claude Simon (1913–2005), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1985

Romain Gary (1914–1980), winner of the Goncourt prize twice, 1956, and 1975 under the pseudonym of Emile Ajar

Marguerite Duras (1914–1996)

Maurice Druon (1918–2009)

Boris Vian (1920–1959)

Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–2008)

Michel Tournier (born 1924)

Philippe Daudy (1925–1994)

Michel Butor (born 1926)

Sébastien Japrisot (1931–2003)

Emmanuelle Arsan (born 1932)

Régine Deforges (born 1935)

Françoise Sagan (1935–2004)

Georges Perec (1936–1982)

J.M.G. Le Clézio (born 1940), Nobel Prize in Literature, 2008

Nancy Huston (born 1953)

Michel Houellebecq (born 1958), Impact award winner

Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt (born 1960)

Charles Dantzig (born 1961)

Pavel Hak (born 1962)

Beatrice Hammer (born 1963)


Pivert may refer to:

Marceau Pivert (1895, Montmachoux, Seine-et-Marne – 1958), a French schoolteacher, trade unionist, Socialist activist and politician

Étienne Pivert de Senancour (1770, Paris – 1846, Saint-Cloud), a French writer

Virginie Pivert de Senancour (1791–1876), the daughter of essayist Étienne Pivert de Senancour


Samoreau is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.

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