'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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July 15, 2015

A woman of letters



I was having too much fun sharing that letter on Sunday to stop and say more about it, but I've been meaning to come back and explain.

I have always loved reading letters (Edith's, Henry's, Henry's to Edith, Edith's to Henry, Virginia Woolf's, Eudora Welty's, Julia Child's, and many others that I can't think of right now ...). I read in a tweet the other day that a new book of Miss Welty's letters to another writer (Ross Macdonald, this time) has just been published, and I don't think I've ever placed an Amazon order so immediately ... I even {gasp} paid for postage.

So, over the years, I've often heard of a certain Madame de Sévigné, getting the vague impression that she was renowned as a letter writer, someone that French schoolchildren and historians read, and not knowing much more, but still putting her on my mental reading list and Paris in July list often, letter-writing being enough for me. :)


This is the year! (for an introduction at least). I found a book from 1985 in the college library — a biography that quotes her letters extensively. That puts me just about in heaven.  I've now learned that Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné was born in 1626, in her family's home in the Place des Vosges {have you been there? it's beautiful}. She was raised in the Marais by a loving extended family after the early deaths of her parents, and then married {an arranged marriage, for financial and dynastic reasons, but they almost always were} to a 'rake' with a castle in Brittany who was very conveniently if scandalously killed in a duel, leaving Madame a widow at 25, with a young son and daughter. She returned with them to Paris, and lived with other members of her family in what is now the Musée Carnavalet. {I think I went there on my one visit to Paris so long ago, at least I hope so.} She wrote many letters to relatives and friends, describing life in Paris and at the court of Louis XIV, and many more when her beautiful daughter Francoise married a certain Monsieur de Grignan and accompanied him to his government post in Provence, the parting that was (so I'm reading) the reason for most of her now-famous letters.  The delightful one from the other day {I know you've been waiting patiently} was written to her cousin, about the marriage of  a royal princess to {shocking! unbelievable!} a mere duke.

So, letters, the Place des Vosges, the Marais, so many things I love in one place.  I'm not sure how much I''ll be able to get read in July, but it wouldn't be a hardship to linger in Paris a little longer.

And you? Do you like to read letters, and do you have any to recommend?




9 comments:

Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock said...

Aha! My library has a volume of her letters - published in 1955 and introduced by Somerset Maugham - in reserve stock. Rarely have I placed a reservation so quickly!

Cosy Books said...

It will come as no surprise to you that I'm recommending 'Love's Civil War'. I picked up this fabulous book of letters between Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie for only $2 as a last copy. I was wrung out after reading that one!

Lisbeth Ekelof said...

Fits very well since we have seen posts from Place de Vosges and Marais. Sounds like an interesting book. I seldom read letters. Maybe I should try it out. I actually have a book with Evelyn Waugh's letters that I have not yet read.

lyn said...

I love letters & have Madame's on the tbr shelves which is very tempting... I'd recommend the Mitford sisters, Vera Brittain's WWI letters (in Letters from a lost generation which also includes letters from her brother, fiance & friends), Dorothy L Sayers, Willa Cather, Charlotte Bronte, Byron, Keats, Queen Victoria & Sydney Smith. I should probably stop there... Oh, Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Rd. There, I'm definitely stopping.

thecaptivereader.com said...

Like you, I've been hearing about Madame de Sévigné for years but, unlike you, I've not done anything to investigate further - yet! I love books of letters (and am reading a volume of Sylvia Townsend Warner's letters right now) so this sounds ideal.

Cozy in Texas said...

Interesting post.
Ann

Terra said...

Her letters sound fascinating as that time in history is of interest to me, plus the lives and thoughts of French nobility. I have a treasured copy of Letters to an American Lady by C.S. Lewis. Lewis answered by post most every letter he was sent, and he was sent many. What a kind man.

Tamara said...

You know I had never really comprehended Madame de Sevigne was a french female author of another era.... I was ignorant. Until this year when I read Ransacking Paris bu Patti Miller - where she 'has coffee' with famous french authors and introduces us to Madame de Sevigne amongst others. I'm posting tomorrow night the e-Interview I've done with Patti just for Paris in July. Come and visit :)

Lory said...

I believe The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder was also inspired by these letters -- and even if not I do highly recommend it to you for its portrait of a (fictional) aristocratic letter writer. I also recommend the compendium Letters of Note, which is just candy for letter lovers. A second volume is coming soon!

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