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French woman of letters renowned for her beauty, Ninon de Lenclos (1616-1706) represents the skeptical and libertine current that appeared under the reign of Louis XIV and will flourish in the Age of Enlightenment. " A beautiful woman with all the qualities of an honest man is the most delicious thing in the world. We find in her all the merit. "This is how La Bruyère put it about Ninon de Lenclos. What a nice compliment for the one who hit the headlines at the Grand Siècle, and yet who was sought after in fashionable salons.
The youth of Ninon de Lenclos
Ninon, whose real name is Anne de Lanclos, was born one fine day in November 1620 in a house in Place Royale (now an inn where lust rubbed shoulders with drunkenness), from a father Henry focused on the pleasures of life and a mother Marie Barbe of La Marche too pious. To enhance the coat of arms, the godfather and godmother are Mr Nicolas de Villotret, adviser to the king and general treasurer of the extraordinary wars and his daughter Anne.
Raised devoutly by her mother, and realizing that the church is a place of meeting, of handing out sweet tickets, Ninon turns to her father who teaches her witticisms, human feelings, love music, languages, belles lettres (he offered him the Essais de Montaigne), dance, the art of pleasing the world, until 1633 when he was forced to flee abroad for a manners. She thus loses her dearest friend, but will prolong her memory by reading the works of Rabelais, Marguerite de Navarre, d'Urfé, Gomberville and all those authors who reflected passions and love at that time.
Arriving in her teens, she refuses to hide her throat and features knots in her clothes. The young damsels gather around her until she allows herself to be wooed by a young and handsome, treacherous viscount, speechless, good-for-nothing ... who takes advantage. She has no regrets, other than "aches"! When her mother dies, she locks herself in a convent, but does not feel out of place, she can not help having emotions and desires and returns to the Marais district which she loves so much. .
Penniless, deciding not to marry, yet she must secure her future. By meeting Jean Coulon, adviser to the parliament, she establishes the "rules of the game" and declares him as her protector; by that, she admits to being a courtesan. With the "nourishment" of the body assured, she longs for the nourishment of the mind and enters Marion Delorme's living room. Having two very different characters, they become friends: Marion being sought after for her beauty and Ninon for her quick wit and great culture. Scarron is the first to dedicate a poem full of respect to him.
During the winter, all beautiful people meet in the living rooms. Ninon chooses ... she falls in love with Gaspard de Coligny (descendant of the admiral), who only has eyes for Marion. She is patient, but the two ladies get angry, Coligny takes his legs around his neck! Ninon then decides to no longer follow the movement of her senses, everything will be reflected ... Why would men be so independent, when they refuse this independence to their companions? She goes further by declaring: " men enjoy a thousand freedoms that women do not enjoy. So I make myself a man ”.
Its living room and its hosts
In her living room, Ninon sorts out her relatives and demands decency and correct remarks from her guests, hating vulgarity and pedantry. She satisfies her lovers, but considers them to be passers-by to whom we offer a welcome. Once she has exhausted their capacity for pleasure, they leave her alcove and become her friends.
A few "Greats" do not have his favors, despite their money and their position: such is the case of Alexandre Vendôme, the Grand Prior. He is very surprised to be considered like the others, begs, gets angry, nothing helps. After many tickets, he abdicates, calms down and accepts the role of confidant. At 25, she was disappointed three times: the Comte de Navailles fell asleep while she was getting ready; Pierre de Villars left Paris during the Fronde, without taking him. She chases him to Lyon and comes across Richelieu's brother: Cardinal Alphonse Duplessis. Rejected by the indelicacies and advances of the prelate, the little belief that remained in her is destroyed forever.
One day the Marquis de Villarceaux appears: Ninon's only real lasting passion, for 3 years. A child is born in 1652 or 1653. They spend long periods in the domain of the marquis, away from the world. Forced to return to Paris, their affair "cools", the dates become less frequent and the need for freedom arises.
Saint-Evremont is back. He is the only one to have a dominant influence on the moral life of Ninon. Thanks to him, she will finally open the Essais de Montaigne that her father left her. She is opposed to religion and says that believing in God does not solve problems. For her, the religion of the time was just a facade ... priests are the most libertine of men!
In his living room, his small group is growing. But the ladies are jealous, seek quarrels with her and peddle gossip to Queen Anne of Austria, who has her locked up in a Parisian convent and then in Lagny. There she enjoys great freedom and receives people. The visit of Queen Christine of Sweden is beneficial to her: taking part for Ninon against the devotees of the Court, the queen intercedes with Louis XIV to get her out of this convent.
Back in Paris, she settled permanently near the Place Royale in 1657. She happily reunited with the Scarron couple, but again turned against the party of the devotees. By a real coincidence, Molière, writing and performing Les Précieuses Ridicules, will help him. From there, a deep friendship is born where they will "work" together against the devotees. Molière presents his pieces to him in preview and they retouch them together. We are in 1664.
Until the beginning of 1671, several trials monopolized her, where she had neither the taste nor the time to be gallant. Her last lover will be Sévigné's son. She left him 1 month later: no culture, no spirit, nothing to do with her father!
The age of Reason
At 50, she is not spoiled by age: she retains her size despite being slightly overweight, her lively appearance, her freshness of skin. She avoids overeating, prolonged vigils.
Not expecting to live long, she lends some money to young damsels and wealthy parents against forgiveness of their future property. Voltaire’s father takes care of his finances and those of his son who has become a ship's ensign in Toulon. No more lovers, she becomes attached to true and sincere friends and reformed her living room: Mme de La Sablière, Boileau, the painter Mignard, La Fontaine, Tallemant des Réaux.
Saint Simon pays him a nice compliment: “ everything happened (at Mlle de Lanclos') with a respect and an outward decency that the most honest princesses seldom support with weaknesses. In this way she had for friends all that was most milky and most elevated at court, so much so that it became fashionable to be received at her house and that it was right to be desired by the bonds that formed there. No gambling, no high laughs, no arguments, no talk of religion or government; a lot of wit and very ornate, old and modern news, news of gallantries, and yet, without opening the door to backbiting, everything was delicate, light, measured and formed the conversations that she knew how to sustain with her mind and by all she knew of facts of any age ».
Even Louis XIV regularly asks: "What did Ninon say? ". He goes further: he retains the words of Ninon.
She has a good time with Gourville, a former lover, remembering Molière, Marshal d'Albret. Mme de Maintenon insisted on receiving her (so that Ninon does not speak of her youth!), As did the Duchess of Bouillon, "slightly depraved" seeking her support and approval. But she prefers the calmer, more candid circle of Melle de Scudéry.
Tired of age, forced to wear glasses, she writes and meditates in her hotel, listening to her neighbor. She restricted her circle of relatives to Abbé Dubois, academician Simon de La Loubère, Abbé de Troisville, lieutenant general of the armies Philippe de Clérambault. Others have disappeared such as Gourville and Villarceaux, but when she learns of Saint-Evremont's disappearance, it is a shock. She then immersed herself in the writings of Seneca, Montaigne no longer suited her. She fell ill and finally turned to religion, succeeded in making her will, bequeathing some sums to certain abbots as well as to the father of the future Voltaire (Voltaire whom she met in his salons recently).
She passed away at the age of 85, on October 17, 1705, while having revealed the secret of her seduction: "Philosophy goes well with the amenities of the mind. It’s not enough to be good, you have to please ”.
- Ninon de Lenclos or Roger Duchêne's pretty way of making love. Fayard, 2000.
- Ninon de Lenclos: Libertine du Grand Siècle, by Michel Vergé-Franceschi. Payot, 2014.
- Letters from Mademoiselle Ninon de L'Enclos, To the Marquis de Sevigne (1777). Louis D'Amours, 2009.