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Biography of Madame Helvétius, by David Smith

Our colleague David Smith's biography of Madame Helvétius has just been published by Honoré Champion.

Madame Helvétius, née Anne-Catherine de Ligniville (1722- 1800), was poorly educated and produced no literary work, but she was an interesting figure by virtue of her association with important writers of the century, especially in the salons over which she presided. Her childhood and youth in Lorraine remain obscure. She became known by her presence in the Paris salon of her aunt Françoise de Graffigny, the famous author of the Lettres d'une Péruvienne and Cénie, then by her marriage to the philosophe Claude Helvétius, author of the controversial De l'esprit. She received at the rue Sainte-Anne the friends of her husband and, after his death in 1771, she ran her own salon at Auteuil, where she received important literary and political figures. Some of them, like Franklin and John Adams, played a vital role in the American Revolution, others, like Cabanis, supported the French Revolution, then Napoleon's coup d'État.


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