Madame de Sévigné Summary


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)


Madame de Sévigné (say-veen-yay) was born Marie de Rabutin-Chantal in Paris on February 5, 1626. Her father was Celse-Bénigne de Rabutin, Baron de Chantal, the son of a noble family whose titles went back at least to the twelfth century. Her paternal grandmother, Jeanne-Françoise, who as a widow had given the care of her family to her own parents, had withdrawn from the world in 1610 to embrace the religious life under the direction of the man who was to become one day Saint-François de Sales. She was canonized in 1767 for her exemplary life and work in establishing the Order of the Visitation of Saint Mary. Now known as St. Jeanne de Chantal, her extensive correspondence with St. François de Sales has been published and reveals her profound literary talent. De Sévigné’s mother, Marie de Coulanges, was the daughter of a noble but somewhat less illustrious family.{$S[A]Rabutin-Chantal, Marie de[Rabutin Chantal, Marie de];Sévigné, Madame de}

In 1627, only a year after her birth, de Sévigné’s father was killed in battle against the English. Six years later, in 1633, her mother also died, and the seven-year-old girl was sent to be cared for by her maternal grandparents. The child’s misfortunes were not yet over. Her grandmother died in 1635, and her grandfather died the following year. The ten-year-old girl was then sent to her maternal uncle, Christophe de Coulanges, abbé of Livry. There at last she found security.

The abbé took the girl’s upbringing and education quite seriously. He gave her the best teachers, from whom she learned, among other things, Latin, Spanish, and Italian, and he gave her a firm Christian education, by the tenets of which she lived her entire life, a respected and virtuous woman. Throughout the rest of his life (until 1687) the abbé, whom de Sévigné called “Kindness Itself,” was a faithful friend and counselor of his niece.

In 1644, at the age of eighteen, de Sévigné married Henri Marquis de Sévigné. It was a “good” but unhappy match. The young marquis was a gambler, a fighter, and a rake. After badly damaging his own and his wife’s fortunes, he was killed in...

(The entire section is 899 words.)