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French Women & Feminists in History: A Resource Guide

Louise Dupin

Louise Dupin. By Frédéric Marty, (Paris: Payot, 2022). Library of Congress General Collections.

Madame Dupin (1706-1799), known as Louise Marie Madeleine Fontaine before her marriage, was nicknamed by the great thinker Voltaire as the "goddess of beauty and music." She employed the renowned Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a tutor to her son (and her beauty made a noted impression upon him). Her intelligence, sociability and natural charm attracted philosophers and scholars as well as nobility. It was at the château of Chenonceau (bought in 1733 thanks to her husband Claude Dupin's success as a government official) that Madame Dupin was able to play hostess at her popular salon. Guests included Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau as well as members of the nobility such as the Princess of Monaco and Madame du Deffand. Her political savvy helped her to survive the French Revolution unharmed, and even exert enough influence to keep her beloved château from being destroyed. For images of the famed castle search the Library's digital collections under Chenonceaux, France or Châteaux de Chenonceaux.

Louise Dupin was an ardent advocate for gender equality. Her major, though unfinished, work, Ouvrage sur les femmes, challenges Montesquieu's reasoning, and voices radically feminist ideas. She narrates the history of famous women and discusses women's roles in all areas including literature, history, philosophy and the church. In many ways her ideas on differences between genders predate the assertions made by the modern 20th-century feminist Simone de Beauvoir. Beyond this work, her great-great nephew, le Comte de Villeneuve-Guibert published Le Portefeuille de Madame Dupin, Dame de Chenonceaux External in the 19th century. Her works are somewhat clouded by what is viewed by scholars as a difficulty reconciling her belief that women be empowered, with her world view on the nature of social hierarchy. She had monarchial leanings, due to her status and her upbringing, and this undoubtedly shaped her writings. Nevertheless, her works, more recently reviewed of late, show a dedication to lifting the status of women and propose concrete ideas on how to reform society for the better.

For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources: La Renaissance & Ancien Régime.

Print & Digital Resources