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Madame de Sévigné

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(Marie de Rabutin-Chantal).

Writer, b. at Paris, 6 Feb., 1626; d. at Grignan, 18 April, 1696. She was the granddaughter of St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Her father died the year after she was born, her mother in 1632. She was placed under the guardianship of her maternal uncle, the Abbé de Coulanges, who placed her education in charge of Messrs. Ménage and Chapelain, who taught her Latin, Italian, and Spanish. At eighteen she married the Marquess Henri de Sévigné, who did not make her very happy, and who was slain in a duel after seven years of marriage. She had a daughter (1646) and a son (1648). In 1669 her daughter married the Count de Grignan, who was afterwards Governor of Provence. The Countess de Grignan went to rejoin her husband in 1671, which was a great sorrow to her mother. It may be said that her love for her daughter filled Mme de Sévigné's life. On four occasions, Mme deGrignan returned to the north (1674, 1676, 1677, and 1680), and three times her mother went to visit her in the south (1672, 1690, and 1694). From this last visit she was not to return. Stricken at the bedside of her sick daughter — although this was disputed at the end of the nineteenth century — she died at Grignan at the age of seventy.

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As soon as she became a widow Mme de Sévigné, without favoring them, found numerous aspirants to her hand, among them Turenne, the Prince de Conti, and her cousin, Bussy-Rabutin. She lived mostly at court, visiting her friends Mme de La Fayette, Mme de Larochefoucauld, Mme de Pomponne etc. As early as 1677 she went to reside at the Hotel Carnavalet, of which she remained the lessee until her death, but she often stayed at Livry (Seine et Oise) or at the Château des Rochers (Ille-et-Vilaine).But wherever she was, the memory of her daughter was with her. Her maternal love is unparalleled. Arnaud d'Andilly reproaches the Marchioness with loving "as a lovely pagan " her whom Bussy-Rabutin calls "the prettiest girl in France ". As a matter of fact this absorbing and somewhat impassioned affection caused her much suffering owing to the enforced separations, but unlike vulgar passions, it was never egotistical. Naturally it inspired the correspondence of the Marchioness, but this correspondence is also a picture of the lovely-period at which it was written, or rather it is an eloquent echo of what was said and thought at the court and in the distinguished world frequented by its author. Her style is marked by naturalness, movement, and humor, displaying a constant creation of words, not with regard to new terms, but the placing of the old, and the uses to which they were put. The author manifests her gaiety, her natural disposition to look on the best side of things, while her irony and wit, though sometimes light, are always healthy. Exuberant and independent in speech, Mme de Sévigné was always dignified in conduct, with serious tastes beneath her worldly manner. Sincerely religious, she had a special devotion to Divine Providence. She displayed this devotion to her last hour in a manner which impressed the Count de Grignan. "She faced death", he says, "with astonishing firmness and submission".

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