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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.4 (2003) 586-589
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Parisian and Peruvian Lives in Letters:
Works by Françoise de Graffigny
Michigan Technological University
J.A. Dainard, gen. ed. Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, tome 7: 11 septembre 1745-17 juillet 1746, Lettres 897-1025, Pierre Bouillaguet, Nicole Boursier, and J.A. Dainard, eds., with M.-P. Ducretet-Powell, English Showalter, and D.W. Smith (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 2002). Pp. xxiii + 564. £80.00.
Jonathan Mallinson, ed. Françoise de Graffigny, Lettres d'une Péruvienne (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 2002). Pp. 362. £14.50.
English Showalter, ed. Françoise de Graffigny, Choix de lettres (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 2001). Pp. 299. £16.00.
Few eighteenth-century authors have benefited more from canon revision than Françoise de Graffigny. Recognition of her significance as a literary author, letter writer, and social commentator has given rise to a growing number of articles, dissertations, and colloquia. The three editions of her work under review here mark a watershed moment not only in Graffigny studies but in eighteenth-century scholarship broadly defined.
The publication of Volume 7 of Graffigny's Correspondance means that half of the projected volumes in this monumental editorial undertaking have now appeared (see Madelyn Gutwirth's review of Volume 1 in ECS 19 (2): 542-45 and Janet Altman's review of Volume 3 in ECS 28 (3): 352-354). Previous volumes span Graffigny's life from 1716 to late 1745, including the author's separation from a brutal husband and her subsequent widowhood, her life at the ducal court of her native Lorraine, and, upon the court's dissolution in 1738, her departure for Paris. Along the way, she stayed with Madame du Châtelet and Voltaire at Cirey, the site of her legendary falling out with the famous couple. Graffigny writes almost daily to her dear friend, François-Antoine Devaux, alias "Panpan." In a familiar style by turns poignant, humorous, witty, and critical, the letters chronicle the social, political, and literary life of eighteenth-century France from the perspective of a highly intelligent woman of the petite noblesse.
Volume 7 invokes some of the most celebrated personalities of the day. Graffigny takes note of the activities and machinations of those in power—including Louis XV and Mme de Pompadour in Paris, and the emperor François I (ex-duke of Lorraine) and princess Anne-Charlotte at the imperial court of Vienna. She worries about various friends, including the marquis de Saint-Lambert, who are battling in the War of the Austrian Succession. In the literary sphere, she remains in contact with her sometime collaborators Caylus, Duclos, and Helvétius. Frequent comments about Voltaire (one of whose nicknames is "Your Idol" to reflect Devaux's admiration) and his work include a description of the behind-the-scenes events surrounding his election to the Académie Française in 1746. Acting as a buyer on behalf of Devaux and various wealthy provincial acquaintances, she sends Devaux regular shipments of books and periodicals, often after reading and commenting on them herself. The authors treated in this way include Diderot, La Mettrie, Vauvenargues, and Pope. Graffigny keeps Devaux up to date on the Parisian theatre scene, and the books she mails frequently include printed [End Page 586] copies of plays. She aids Devaux in revising his play Les Portraits and tries to get it accepted for production. She likewise helps other writers, including the amorous Jean Galli de Bibiéna, to edit their work; tired of reading Michel Linant's texts, she begins referring to him as "Sir Disgusting" (502). Moreover, Graffigny also reads and critiques manuscripts for book publishers.
In the realm of the private sphere, Volume 7 offers an insider's look at the everyday experiences of an eighteenth-century woman. It covers a particularly troubling period in Graffigny's life, colored by her frustration at Devaux's endless deferral of his promised visit to Paris. The principal problems plaguing her center on the themes of health and money. Graffigny's recurring medical problems...