Come in and let us tell you the tale of Madame Julie de Lespinasse. This morsel of salonnière history is both inspiring and sad—inspiring because of Julie’s 18th century Paris salon; sad because she lived a life of romantic disappointments and unrequited love. Pull up a chair and pour yourself a glass of Burgundy as I paint for you a picture of this lady from Lyon, complete with salon rivalries and retributions.
Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse was born in November of 1732 to the Comtesse d’Albon and Claude Lespinasse. But there was a problem, mes amis: Julie was born out of wedlock, and her upbringing was entrusted to her father and to the local convent. When Julie was 16, she was sent to live with her half-sister, and her mother’s legitimate daughter, the Marquise de Vichy. She lived a quiet life until she was introduced to the reigning dame of Paris salons, Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand. Deffand instantly recognized in Julie a protégé, a woman both intelligent and charming, and convinced Julie to come to Paris to live as her companion.
Madame du Deffand
It was 1754, and at the age of 22, Julie was installed in Deffand’s apartments in the Convent of St. Joseph on the rue Saint-Dominique. She instantly took a liking to her new aristocratic life, and who could blame her? It was here that Madame du Deffand held her toast-of-the-town salons, which attracted famous diplomats, great ladies, philosophers, and politicians. It was not long before Julie became integral to the salons and her popularity eclipsed that of Madame du Deffand’s, creating distrust between the two. Imagine the scandal when Madame du Deffand discovered that Julie was meeting salon guests in private an hour before their appointed audiences with Deffand! The ladies quarreled, possibly even violently, and Julie decided that it was time to set up shop on her own, even wooing some of Deffand’s famed guests in the process.
Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, the philosopher and mathematician, was among Julie’s guests. They became fast friends, though d’Alembert wanted more from Julie, who did not return his affections. Instead, she became smitten with the Marquis de Mora, son of the Spanish ambassador to France. But, bien sûr, who doesn’t love a dashing Spanish diplomat? Many billets-doux were exchanged between the two and eventually Mora asked for Julie’s hand. Unfortunately, Mora was in the early stages of consumption and returned to Spain to restore his health. Sadly, upon his return to France, Mora again fell ill and died in Bordeaux before he could be reunited with his love.
Jean Le Rond d’Alembert
While Mora was away, however, our savvy Julie, keeping her options open, had begun a dalliance with Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert, “a man of fashion.” Unfortunately for Julie, this love went unrequited, and Guibert married another. Julie’s feelings for Guibert soon turned to infatuation, and she descended swiftly into deep despair, withdrawing herself from the society she loved. The ever faithful d’Alembert stayed by her side, but despite his efforts, Julie succumbed to a broken heart and died, unmarried, at the age of 43.
Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert
Following Julie’s death, her published letters revealed a woman of wit, intelligence, and desire who fell victim to sadness and passions she was unable to overcome. C’est très triste.
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