- Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, tome 11: 2 juillet 1750–19 juin 1751, Lettres 1570–1722
Admirers of Françoise de Graffigny will celebrate the publication of the eleventh volume of her letters, expertly edited by an international team of scholars (vol. 1 was reviewed in ECS 19.4 : 542–45, vol. 3 in ECS 28.3 : 352–354, and vol. 7 in ECS 36.4 : 586–89). Graffigny wrote almost daily to her closest friend, François-Antoine Devaux, alias "Panpan," who remained behind in their native Lorraine when she moved to Paris. By turns journalistic, philosophical, and intimate, Graffigny's letters have both public and personal significance. They recount the feats and foibles of famous people, political intrigue, local gossip, publications, and literary events. They also relate the author's triumphs as her literary reputation grows, as well as her trials, whether physical, moral, or financial. Graffigny struggles with ailments including depression: "this ugly brown-gray that is not wholly black" (83, my translation here as throughout). The barometer provides a fitting metaphor for her life's ups and downs; hot or stormy weather makes her sick (91, 162, 195, 523). She writes to Devaux: "assuredly you are the only one in the world to whom I can speak of my miseries" (485). If Graffigny frequently has reason to complain, this dissatisfaction only makes her letters more lively and engaging. She often quotes Racine's Les Plaideurs: "De monde et de chaos j'ai la tête troublée" (241, 302, 371).
This volume's first letter, written on a stifling-hot July evening, begins: "Goodnight, my friend" (1). Often composed in stages over a period of hours or even days, the letters usually open with a report on recent visitors and attendant gossip—witness the telling remark: "I had no visitors yesterday, thus I know nothing" (73). The letters then turn to responding to the latest news from Devaux. The edition's extensive footnotes often include excerpts from Devaux's letters, providing context for their epistolary conversation. Along with the letters, Devaux sends Graffigny products (such as fabric and foodstuffs) from Lorraine, and she sends him books (by authors like Richardson and Diderot) and periodicals (including the Mercure).
During the period covered in volume 11, Graffigny moves to a lovely apartment—which she calls her "new palace" (365)—on the rue d'Enfer near the Jardin du Luxembourg. Students of material culture will read with interest Graffigny's descriptions of luxury goods including a pencil-holder and a Martin lacquer box (334), a rock-crystal snuffbox "incrusted with gold and flowers of colored stones" (337), wallpaper (526), an embroidered purse so lovely that it seems created by fairies (425), and a lacquer snuffbox sent compliments of the king (579).
Graffigny socializes with a wide and varied circle of acquaintances. Ever mindful of censorship, she often uses nicknames, decoded here by footnotes. The pseudonymous figures appearing in volume 11 include Crébillon ("the Great Beast"), Duclos ("Rancor"), Helvétius ("the Genius"), Montesquieu (the "Persian President"), the duc de Richelieu ("the Tulip"), the abbé Turgot ("the Metromaniac"), and Voltaire ("Your Idol"). Graffigny herself is "Our Friend," while her young relative Minette and her lover Valleré are "My Two Earrings"; her acquaintance the Marquise de Stainville is, alas, "My Annoying One." Despite her enthusiasm for reporting the events of others' lives, Graffigny explains: "I have no interest in getting mixed up in the affairs of great people: I could not withhold my reflections, they would be a bit too philosophical" (294). She criticizes guests who overstay their welcome or whose presence prevents her from working: "It is horribly fatiguing to talk all day just to say nothing" (94). But she enjoys good conversation, citing "the pleasure of living with people of wit, good sense, and reason" (365). Patience, she writes, is her...