Marguerite Buffet

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Entry by Isabelle Ducharme, 2003

Marguerite Buffet, a Parisian author who died in 1680, is one of the many women writers whose works have fallen into neglect. Very little is known about her even today. Although the parliamentary counsel whose letter opens Marguerite Buffet's Nouvelles observations sur la langue française (1668) underlines the high regard in which she and her works were held in the second half of the seventeenth century, and although he specifically states that her book contributes to "increasing the high esteem that [he] has always held for [her] works", no other works by Marguerite Buffet have been identified to date. The few terse biographical notes that remain record her contribution as a philologist, a grammarian of the French language, or as a lady "whose profession is to teach Ladies the art of speaking and writing well upon all subjects, following the rules of French orthography", as she is described on the cover of her book Nouvelles observations.

As the full title of the work indicates, the content has a dual purpose. Two-thirds of the volume are filled with a certain number of recommendations in the field of grammar, aimed at a primarily female readership. The remaining third consists of a discourse in praise of women's intellectual capacities, followed by a list of female role models who serve to illustrate her defense of women.

Marguerite Buffet introduces her observations on language with a brief text reflecting on the subject of "The necessity of speaking one's language well and how the French tongue is respected by all nations". The rest of the work is divided into four parts. In the first part, Marguerite Buffet encourages the proper and appropriate use of high style in French, emphasizing the necessity of avoiding a number of given archaic terms and barbarisms. This first section accounts for half of all of her observations on language, reflecting her interest in reforming her native tongue. In the second part, she makes a number of remarks concerning superfluity in language and the over-use of unnecessary terms. Here, Marguerite does not hesitate to defend her ideal of the precise, clear use of a language stripped of all its imperfections and superfluities. The following section then details the best ways to correct the faulty pronunciation of French vocabulary. In this same section, she also highlights the importance of using one's time wisely by spending free moments studying and improving oneself. Finally, the fourth section gives the correct definition of a number of words too often used in an inappropriate context.

The Traité sur les Éloges des Illustres Sçavantes Anciennes et Modernes is a continuation of the author's observations on language. This section provides the reader with a number of examples of cultivated, erudite women who were skilled conversationalists and writers, thoughtful in their use of language. The value of the grammatical theory and advice in the first part of the book is thus proven by the examples invoked. What makes this Traité sur les Éloges so interesting is the fact that it represents a symbiosis of two particular traditions that had been developing since the fifteenth century in texts in defense of women: the apology and the epidictic discourse. The Éloges are divided into three parts of varying length. The first part is an apology in defense of women that synthesizes Marguerite Buffet's argument in thirty-seven pages, setting out the superiority of women and in particular the caliber of their intellectual capacities. The work continues with texts in praise of nineteen contemporary woman thinkers. Finally, the last fifty-two pages of the book include a list of no fewer than forty-one illustrious women who lived prior to the seventeenth century.

Whether in the seventeenth century or the present day, Buffet's work seems never to have received much attention. The few articles and critical texts that acknowledge its existence either simply note its title, or, at best, give a brief description of its contents. Consequently, there is still a good deal of critical and analytical work to be done on Marguerite Buffet and her work.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


- 1668 : Nouvelles observations sur la langue française; où il est traitté des termes anciens et inusitez et du bel usage des mots nouveaux avec les Éloges des Illustres Sçavantes Anciennes et Modernes, Paris, Imprimerie Cusson, chez Monsieur Bourdon.

Selected bibliography

- Chang, Leah, «Les Précautions ridicules: textspin in 17th-Century France», Romances Notes, vol. XXXVIII, 3, printemps 1998, p.333-341.
- Ducharme, Isabelle, «Une formule discursive au féminin: Marguerite Buffet et la Querelle des femmes», Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, vol. XXX, 58, 2003, p.131-155.
- Ducharme, Isabelle, «Marguerite Buffet: lectrice de la Querelle des femmes», in Isabelle Brouard-Arends (dir.) Lectrices d'Ancien Régime, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2003, p.311-320.


- "Little is known about either Buffet or her work, but she has left a rare and valuable document in this linguistic treatise written specifically for women (Nouvelles observations sur la langue française avec les Éloges des Illustres Sçavantes Anciennes et Modernes), which seems also to refer to an earlier work giving her pupils rules fo spelling French correctly. Buffet was thought to be simply a compiler of the French grammarian Claude de Vaugelas (1595-1650), who showed particular care in collecting decisions regarding "la chasteté du langage" [...] but has recently been revalued. Her aim was to convince women that the study of good speech and writing was a serious subject that should not be left to "les hommes de cabinet" (Claire Buck, Women's Literature, s.l., Bloomsbury Publishing, 1992).
- "Les savoirs -- ou, plus exactement, les savoir-faire -- indispensables à la "vie civile" (ou mondaine), voilà ce que, après Mlle de Scudéry, défend et revendique Mlle Buffet" (Linda Timmermans, L'Accès des femmes à la culture (1598-1715). Un débat d'idées de Saint François de Sales à la Marquise de Lambert, Paris, Honoré Champion, 1993, p.330).

Marguerite Buffet
Birth date After 1600
Death 1680
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
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