Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 494 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JEANNE JULIE ELEONORE DE LESPINASSE (1732-1776), French author, was born at Lyons on the 9th of November 1732. A natural child of the comtesse d'Albon, she was brought up as the daughter of Claude Lespinasse of Lyons. On leaving her convent school she became governess in the house of her mother's legitimate daughter, Mme de Vichy, who had married the brother of the marquise du Deffand. Here Mme du Deffand made her acquaintance, and, recognizing her extraordinary gifts, persuaded her to come to Paris as her companion. The alliance lasted ten years (1954–1764) until Mme du Deffand became jealous of the younger woman's increasing influence, when a violent quarrel ensued. Mlle de Lespinasse set up a salon of her own which was joined by many of the most brilliant members of Mme du Deffand's circle. D'Alembert was one of the most assiduous of her friends and eventually came to live under the same roof. There was no scandal attached to this arrangement, which ensured d'Alembert's comfort and lent influence to Mlle de Lespinasse's salon. Although she had neither beauty nor rank, her ability as a hostess made her reunions the most popular in Paris. She owes her distinction, however, not to her social success, but to circumstances which remained a secret during her lifetime from her closest friends. Two volumes of Lettres published in 1809 displayed her as the victim of a passion of a rare intensity. In virtue of this ardent, intense quality Sainte Beuve and other of her critics place her letters in the limited category to which belong the Latin letters of HeloIse and those of the Portuguese Nun. Her first passion, a reasonable and serious one, was for the marquis de Mora, son of the Spanish ambassador in Paris. De Mora had come to Paris in 1765, and with some intervals remained there until 1772 when he was ordered to Spain for his health. On the way to Paris in 1974 to fulfil promises exchanged with Mlle de Lespinasse, he died at Bordeaux. But her letters to the comte de Guibert, the worthless object of her fatal infatuation, begin from 1773. From the struggle between her affection for de Mora and her blind passion for her new lover they go on to describe her partial disenchantment on Guibert's marriage and her final despair. Mlle de Lespinasse died on the 23rd of May 1776, her death being apparently hastened by the. agitation and misery to which she had been for the last three years of her life a prey. In addition to the Lettres she was the author of two chapters intended as a kind of sequel to Sterne's Sentimental Journey. Her Lettres . . were published by Mme de Guibert in 1809 and a spurious additional collection appeared in 182o. Among modern editions may be mentioned that of Eugene Asse (1876-1897). Lettres inedites de Mademoiselle de Lespinasse a Condorcet, a D'Alembert, a Guibert, au comte de Crillon, edited by M. Charles Henry (1887), contains copies of the docuthents available for her biography. Mrs Humphry Ward's novel, Lady Rose's Daughter, owes something to the character of Mlle de Lespinasse.

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