Napoleon is confronted by Madame de Staël
Soon after General Bonaparte’s return from Egypt, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand threw a reception in his honour. It was there that Napoleon had his famous exchange with Germaine de Staël.
Madame de Staël was the daughter of the stupendously rich banker and Louis XVI’s finance minister, Jacques Necker. She ran the leading and most celebrated Parisian salon. At the time of Talleyrand’s fête, she hero-worshipped General Bonaparte. Hortense de Beauharnais recalled in her memoirs that the celebrated intellectual followed Napoleon, boring him with incessant questions until he could no longer conceal his annoyance. Clearly expecting a compliment of some sort, she asked: ‘Whom do you consider the best kind of woman?’ To which Napoleon replied, ‘She who’s had the most children.’
For centuries historians criticised his comment as one that revealed much about his fundamental attitude to women. It was more than likely, however, that Napoleon’s words were nothing more than a throw-away remark designed to get rid of his annoying interrogator.