The Correspondence of Madame de Graffigny

Primary Contributors:

Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford

Portrait of Mme de Graffigny, by Pierre-Augustin Clavareau (musée du château des Lumières-Lunéville).

Françoise de Graffigny (1695–1758)

Born in Nancy, Françoise d’Issembourg Du Buisson d’Happoncourt was the daughter of a cavalry officer. Following a disastrous marriage and the death of her husband, she was forced by the political upheavals of 1737 to leave her native Lorraine and move to Paris. It was here she wrote her world-famous novel Lettres d’une Péruvienne (1747) and her play Cénie (1750), which ranks among the most successful French plays of the century. Here, too, she became prominent in literary society, and was acquainted with many of the famous figures of the time, including the Duke de Choiseul, Mlle Clairon, Fontenelle, Fréron, Mme Geoffrin, Helvétius, Malesherbes, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Pâris Montmartel, Prévost, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Turgot and Voltaire. In the 1750s, she received many of them in her own salon.

Her correspondence is regarded as an important literary work in its own right and a rich reference source for scholars interested in eighteenth-century French literature and culture: ‘[…] the Correspondance may well come to be regarded as the crown jewel of Graffigny’s œuvre. Her letters not only charm with their wit, insight, and style, but also document diverse aspects of eighteenth-century French culture and society’ (Heidi Bostic, Eighteenth-century studies, 2008).

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this correspondence was supplied to EMLO by the Voltaire Foundation from the printed correspondence edited by an international team of specialists under the direction of †J. A. Dainard (Toronto) and English Showalter (Washington) and its collation was funded by Cultures of Knowledge during the project’s second phase.

Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Stephen Ashworth for his work in collecting the metadata, and Pippa Faucheux for her help in providing information about the individuals and places connected with the correspondence.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Correspondance de Madame de Graffigny, ed. †J. A. Dainard and English Showalter, 15 vols, with a planned volume 16 online (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1985– ).


The 2,524 letters in the catalogue at present range in date from 1716 to November 1759, and were written to 37 recipients. Written entirely in French, they offer a unique insight into France’s intellectual, social, political, and literary history, as well as the female condition in the eighteenth century.

‘D’Haponcour de Grafigny’, Mme de Graffigny’s signature (Beinecke Library, Yale University).

Further resources


Vera L. Grayson, ‘The Genesis and Reception of Mme de Graffigny’s Lettres d’une Péruvienne and Cénie’, SVEC, 336 (1996), ISBN 978-0-7294-0522-5, pp.1–152.

Jonathan Mallinson.ed., Françoise de Graffigny, femme de lettres: écriture et réception, SVEC 2004:12 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2004), ISBN 978-0-7294-0848-6. Includes C. Ionescu, ‘Bibliographie: Mme de Graffigny, sa vie et ses œuvres’, pp. 399–414.

Jonathan Mallinson, ed., Françoise de Graffigny, Lettres d’une Péruvienne, Vif 13, (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002), ISBN 978-0-7294-0750-2.

Charles A. Porter, Joan Hinde Stewart, and English Showalter, eds, ‘Mme de Graffigny and French epistolary writers of the eighteenth century’, Papers from the Yale Symposium of 2–3 April 1999, SVEC, 2002:06 (2002), ISBN 978-0-7294-0787-8, pp. 3–116.

English Showalter, Françoise de Graffigny: choix de lettres, Vif 12 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002), ISBN 978-0-7294-0781-6.

English Showalter, Françoise de Graffigny: her life and works, SVEC 2004:11 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2004), ISBN 978-0-7294-0847-9.

English Showalter, Madame de Graffigny and Rousseau, SVEC 175, (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1978), ISBN 978-0-7294-0113-5.

English Showalter, Voltaire et ses amis d’après la correspondance de Mme de Graffigny, SVEC 139 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1975), ISBN 978-0-7294-0028-2.


Additional resources

Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO] project page

WEMLO network and resources hub



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