What is the destiny of women? What is their rôle on Earth? It is to please. Now, a charming figure, personal graces, in a word, all the amiable and brilliant qualities are the only means of succeeding in that rôle. Women possess them to a superlative degree, and it is in these qualities that they wish men to resemble them. It will be vain for you to accuse them of frivolity, for they are playing the beauty rôle, since they are destined to make you happy. Is it not, indeed, due to the charm of our companionship, to the gentleness of our manners, that you owe your most satisfying pleasures, your social virtues, in fact, your whole happiness?
One thing that can be said for the French -- their culture produces a fairly high percentage of courtesans with literary talent. Our next boarder is no exception to that norm. Anne de l’Enclos was born in Paris in 1620. Her father always called her Ninon, however, and that was the name she used all her life. Apparently, her mother was an ardent Catholic and her father an Epicurean wastrel. Thus, the first major decision in her life was which parent to emulate. As her name might suggest, her heart belonged to daddy. Biographers note that she was quite precocious and well read in both religion and philosophy by the age of twelve.
Her father was eventually exiled from France over a duel, and when her mother died she was sent to a convent. They had no more luck changing her philosophy than her mother had. Soon her reputation for beauty inspired suitors to beat a path to her door, but she had no desire to marry any of them. She returned to Paris, foot-loose and fancy-free.
The combination of beauty and brains made her irresistible to the wealthy men of Paris. Soon her salon was all the rage. She counted amongst her lovers many nobles, including royalty. This brought her to the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, who apparently hoped to enlist her services as a "persuader." I've read differing accounts as to how successful he was at this. Nonetheless, Queen Anne, who assumed the regency of France and outlasted Richelieu, disliked her intensely. She had Ninon shipped off to a convent again in 1656. Cardinal Mazarin let her out.
Upon her return to Paris, she began to write about her Epicurean Philosophy (La coquette vengée), and soon became an often quoted source on the pursuit of pleasure. As she aged, she slowly cut back on the sex work and focused more and more on building a literary circle around herself. Among her close friends were Molière and Racine. Once the competition was over, even the ladies took to her side. Ninon was a strong influence upon Madame de Maintenon (later the wife of Louis XIV).
Ninon lived to be a vigorous old woman, and died rich. Writers of the time claimed that she was still beautiful. This prompted at least one story that she had made a deal with the devil. I think it was the fact that she stayed single!
Near the end of her life she took a fancy to a young man named Voltaire and left him a thousand francs in her will. He was apparently the only man she ever met who was disrespectful -- and even he waited until after she was dead.
"Live fast, die old, and leave a beautiful corpse." A slightly altered motto I think Ninon would have endorsed!
Let's Hear it for Project Gutenberg! The entire Life, Letters, and Epicurean Philosophy of Ninon de L'Enclos.
This site has a nice collection of Baroque Art
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