Françoise d'Issembourg d'Happencourt

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Entry by Rotraud von Kulessa, 2002/2006

Françoise de Grafigny, née Françoise d'Issembourg d'Happencourt, was born in Nancy in 1695, and died in Paris on December 12, 1758. She married François Huguet de Grafigny, an officer in the Lorraine army, in 1712, but was granted a legal separation a few years later because of his violence. Later, he was held to be so dangerous that he was sent to an asylum, where he died in 1725. The couple had three children, all of whom died as infants. Françoise de Grafigny lived at the court of Lorraine until 1737. There, she first tried her hand at writing, encouraged by a circle of friends which included François-Antoine Devaux, the actress Clairon Lebrun, and Nicolas Liébault. After the court in Lunéville was dissolved, Françoise stayed with friends and spent some time in convents. Around this time, she began corresponding with her friend François-Antoine Devaux, known as Panpan. Françoise's letters of winter 1738-9, when she was staying with Madame du Châtelet and Voltaire in Cirey, are particularly interesting, revealing much about the private lives of her two famous hosts-in fact, so much so that in the end, Madame du Châtelet accused Françoise of leaking part of the manuscript of Voltaire's Maid of Orleans. In 1739, Françoise moved to Paris to stay with the Duchesse de Richelieu. She then spent several years living in convents as a lady's companion. From 1742 on, she regularly attended the salon of the actress Mademoiselle Quinault, the Société du Bout du Banc. She wrote two short stories for the salon, La Nouvelle Espagnole and La Princesse Azerolle in 1744. Despite her permanent financial difficulties, she set up her own salon in 1751 in her apartments near the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was frequented by many promising young writers, as well as established men of letters such as Helvétius, Turgot, Malesherbes, the Duc de Choisel, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Around this time, Françoise began writing one-act plays for the children of Empress Maria Theresa, with titles such as Ziman et Zénise, L'ignorant présomptueux, and Le Temple de la Vertu. Some of these plays were staged in Vienna and published after Françoise's death. Françoise de Grafigny's epistolary novel, Lettres d'une Péruvienne, was published anonymously in 1747. A second edition was published in 1752, including some modifications to the text and a new "historical introduction". This time, Françoise put her name to the novel, which had now been granted a royal privilege. The novel was a tremendous success. By 1835, 134 editions in several languages and four supplements had been printed, but after this date it fell out of favor. The success of the novel improved Françoise's precarious financial situation. In 1750, she wrote a sentimental comedy entitled Cénie, which was a great hit when staged at the Comédie Française that same year. In 1758, she put on another play, La Fille d'Aristide, which was not a success. Françoise de Grafigny died that year. Researchers have focused their attention particularly on Françoise de Grafigny's private correspondence, held in the Beinecke Rare Books Library in New Haven. An edition is currently being prepared for publication by a team of American and French-Canadian researchers led by English Showalter. Françoise's letters are rich in details about her private life, as well as her reading habits. The letters have enabled researchers to build up a detailed picture of how eighteenth-century women acceded to cultural respectability. The last twenty years have also seen a host of publications on Lettres d'une Péruvienne. At first sight, the letters by the young Peruvian Zilia, forced to flee the Temple of the Sun by the conquistadors and ending up in the France of Louis XV, seem to present a mix of all the literary themes then in fashion-criticism of French society, the myth of the noble savage, a healthy dose of exoticism and sentiment, and the genre of the epistolary novel. Yet the criticism of society reveals a notable originality of thought. Recent research, particularly in the United States, has focused on the "feminist" aspects of her work, and in particular the way Françoise de Grafigny adapted literary strategies that had proved successful in other works to describe the evolution of the female self.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


- 1733? : La réunion du bon sens et de l'esprit. Pièce en un acte (inédit).
- 1745 : «La Nouvelle Espagnol, «La Princesse Azerolles», in Caylus, Anne-Claude-Philippe, comte de et al. Recueil de ces Messieurs. Amsterdam (Paris), Chez les frères Westein.
- 1747 : Lettres d'une Péruvienne. Paris, A Peine.
- 1750 : Cénie. Paris, André Cailleau.
- 1752 : Lettres d'une Péruvienne. Nouvelle Edition, Augmentée de plusieurs Lettres... 2vol. Paris, Duchesne -- Ed. Jonathan Mallinson, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2002.
- 1750? : L'Ignorant présomptueux. Pièce en un acte (inédit).
- 1750 : Le Temple de la vertu. Pièce en un acte (inédit).
- 1752 : Les Saturnales. Pièce en trois actes en prose -- Ed. English Showalter, SVEC 175, 1978, p.113-180.
- 1759 : La Fille d'Aristide. Paris, Duchesne.
- Oeuvres posthumes de Mme de Grafigny contenant Ziman et Zenise suivi de Phaza, comédies en un acte en prose. Amsterdam et Paris, 1770.
- Lettres de Madame de Graffigny, suivies de celles de Mme de Staal..., Ed. E. Asse. Paris, 1879.
- Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny. Ed. J.A. Dainard, E. Showalter et al. Oxford, Voltaire Foundation: t. 1: 1716-1739 (1985); t. 2: juin 1739-sept. 1740 (1989); t. 3: oct. 1740-nov. 1742 (?); t. 4: nov. 1742-janv. 1744 (?); t. 5: janv. 1744-oct. 1744 (?); t. 6: oct. 1744-sept. 1745 (?); t.7: sept. 1745-juin 1746 (2002).
- Françoise de Graffigny. Choix de lettres. Edition présentée par E. Showalter, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2001.

Selected bibliography

- Grayson, Vèra. L. «The genesis and reception of Mme de Graffigny's Lettres d'une Péruvienne et Céni». Studies on Voltaire and the eigteenth century, 336, 1996, p.5-152. - Kulessa, Rotraud von. Françoise de Grafigny: Lettres d'une Péruvienne. Interpretation, Genese und Rezeption eines Briefromans aus dem 18. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart/Weimar, Metzler, 1997. - Mallinson, Jonathan. Francoise de Graffigny, femme de lettres. Écriture et réception. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 12/2004.
- Showalter, English. Francoise de Graffigny, her life and works. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 11/2004.
- Showalter, English. «Writing Off the Stage: Women Authors and Eighteenth -Century Theater.». Yale French Studies, 75, 1988, p.95-111.

Web links

  • Letters


- «Madame de G*** vient de contribuer à la gloire de son sexe et de sa nation par les Lettres d'une Péruvienne.» (Elie-Catherine Fréron, Lettres sur quelques écrits de ce temps, Genève, 1749.)
- «On peut dire en général qu'il n'a paru aucun ouvrage dans ces derniers temps parmi nous, où le style fût plus brillant, les expressions plus tendres, le sentiment plus vif, les pensées plus neuves, que dans l'Histoire de Zilia. Heureuse la nation, où le sexe, borné par tout ailleurs aux soins obscurs du ménage, ose prendre l'essor, et se mêler aux êtres pensants! Heureuse la femme qui a assez de force d'esprit, pour se mettre au-dessus des préjugés de son sexe.» (L'abbé Joseph de La Porte, Observations sur la littérature moderne, La Haye, 1749.)
- «Cette femme, ne pouvant se distinguer par ce qui donne de l'éclat à nos femmes, s'est jetée dans le bel esprit, et vit avec des gens de lettres.» (L'abbé Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, Nouvelles littéraires manuscrites, 1747-1755).

Françoise d'Issembourg d'Happencourt
Spouses François Huguet de Grafigny
Also known as Madame de Grafigny
Madame de Graffigny
Birth date 1695
Death 1758
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet
Dictionnaire Charles de Mouhy
Dictionnaire Philibert Riballier et Catherine Cosson
Dictionnaire CESAR - Calendrier électronique des spectacles sous l'Ancien Régime et sous la Révolution.
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