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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 749 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BARONNE DE MARGUERITE JEANNE CORDIER DELAUNAY STAAL (1684-1750), French author, was born in Paris on the 3oth of August 1684. Her father was a painter named Cordier. He seems to have deserted her mother, who then resumed her maiden name, Delaunay, which was also adopted by her daughter. She was educated at a convent at Evreux, of which Mme de la Rochefoucauld, sister of the author of the 3laximes, was superior. Here she became attached to Mme de Grieu, who, being appointed abbess of the convent of St Louis at Rouen, took her friend with her. Mlle Delaunay lived there until 1710 in the enjoyment of the utmost consideration. There she held a little court of her own, which included Brunel, the friend of Fontenelle, the sieur de la Rey and the abbe Vertot. She describes her own first passion for the marquis de Silly, the brother of a friend with whom she was visiting. Her affection was not returned, but she entered on a correspondence with him in which she plays the part of director. After the death of her patron, Mme de Grieu, poverty compelled her to enter the household of the duchesse du Maine at Sceaux in the capacity of femme de chambre. Her literary talent soon manifested itself in the literary court of the duchess, and secured for her, among other friendships, the somewhat undesirable admiration of the abbe Chaulieu. The duchess is said, but chiefly on the waiting -lady's own authority, to have been not a little jealous of her attendant. Enough, however, is known of the duchess's imperious and capricious temper to make it improbable that her service was agreeable. Mlle Delaunay, however, enjoyed a large share of her confidence and had a considerable share in drawing up the Memoire des princes legitimes which demanded the meeting of the states-general. She was implicated in the affair of the Cellamare conspiracy, and was sent in 1718 to the Bastille, where she remained for two years. Even here, however, she made conquests, though she was far from beautiful. Her own account of her love for her fellow prisoner, the chevalier de Menil, and of the passion of the chevalier de Maisonrouge, her gaoler, for her, is justly famous. She returned on her liberation to the service of the duchess, who showed no gratitude for the devotion, approaching the heroic, that Mlle Delaunay had shown in her cause. She received no promotion and still had to fulfil the wearisome duties of a waiting-maid. She refused, it is said, Andre Dacier, the widower of a wife more famous than himself, and in 1735, being then more than fifty, married the Baron de Staal. Her dissatisfaction with her position had be-come so evident that the duchess, afraid of losing her services, arranged the marriage to give Mlle Delaunay rank sufficient to allow of her promotion to be on an equality with the ladies of the court. On this footing she remained a member of thehousehold. It was at this time that she became the friend and correspondent of Mme du Deffand. She died at Gennevilliers on the 15th of June 1750. Her Memoires appeared about five years later, and have often been reprinted, both separately and in collections of the memoirs of the 17th and 18th centuries, to both of which the author belonged both in style and character. She has much of the frankness and seductive verve of Mme de Sevigne and her contemporaries, but more than a little alloyed with the sensibilite of a later time. It may be doubted whether she does not somewhat exaggerate the discomforts . of her position and her sense of them. In her lack of illusions she was a child of the 18th century. Sainte-Beuve says that the most fit time for the reading of the Memoires is the late autumn, under the trees of November. But her book is an extremely amusing one to read, as well as not a little instructive. The humours of the " court of Sceaux " are depicted as hardly any other society of the kind has ever been. " Dans cet art enjoue de raconter," says Sainte-Beuve, " Madame de Staal est classique." Besides her Memoires Mme de Staal left two excellent short comedies, performed at the court of Sceaux, and some letters, the answers to which are in some cases extant, and show, as well as the references of contemporaries, that the writer did not exaggerate her own charm. Her Memoires were translated by S. Bathurst (1877) and by C. H. Bell (1892). See the edition (1877) of her Memoires by M. de Lescure.

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