Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse

Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse
Julie de Lespinasse

Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse (November 9, 1732 – May 23, 1776) owned a prominent salon in France.


Early life

She was born in Lyon, an illegitimate child of the comtesse d'Albon, but was brought up as the daughter of Claude Lespinasse of Lyon. At the age of 16, on leaving her convent school, she became governess in the home of her mother's legitimate daughter, Madame de Vichy, who had married the brother of Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand. Here Madame du Deffand made her acquaintance, and, recognizing her extraordinary gifts, persuaded her to come to Paris as her companion.

The Salon of Madame du Deffand

Julie moved into Madame du Deffand's apartments in Convent of St. Joseph in 1754, location of the glittering salon that attracted famous diplomats, great ladies, philosophers and politicians. The relationship lasted ten years until 1764, when Madame du Deffand became jealous of the younger woman's increasing influence and a violent quarrel resulted.

Establishment of her own Salon

Mlle de Lespinasse then set up a salon of her own which was joined by many of the most brilliant members of Madame du Deffand's circle. Jean le Rond d'Alembert was one of the most assiduous of her friends and eventually came to live in her house. This arrangement ensured d'Alembert's comfort and lent influence to Mlle de Lespinasse's salon. Although she had neither beauty nor rank, her ability as a hostess made her get-togethers the most popular in Paris. She owes her distinction, however, not to her social success, but to circumstances which remained a secret during her lifetime, even from her closest friends.

Two volumes of Lettres published in 1809 displayed her as the victim of a passion of a rare intensity. In virtue of this ardent, intense quality, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve and other of her critics place her letters in the limited category to which belong the Latin letters of Héloise and the Letters of a Portuguese Nun.

Relationship with the marquis de Mora

Her first passion, a reasonable and serious one, was for the Marquis de Mora, son of the Spanish ambassador in Paris. She first met him about two years after establishing her salon, and then met him again when he returned to Paris two years later. Julie fell in love with the wealthy and handsome Marquis, and he returned her feelings. He began to suffer symptoms of consumption, however, and returned to Spain because of his ill health. Mora's illness and the separation caused Julie much pain and anxiety, although soon after his departure she became acquainted with the man who would be the main passion of her life, the Comte de Guibert. On the way to Paris in 1774 to fulfill promises exchanged with Mlle de Lespinasse, Mora died at Bordeaux.

Relationship with the Comte du Guibert

Julie's letters to the Comte de Guibert, the undeserving object of her fatal infatuation, begin from 1773. From the struggle between her affection for Mora and her blind passion for her new lover, the letters go on to describe her partial disenchantment on Guibert's marriage and her final despair.


Julie finally fell into total mental and physical collapse, apparently caused by the agitation and misery surrounding her relationship with Guibert. On her deathbed, she refused to receive Guibert and was watched over by her faithful friend, d'Alembert. She died on May 22, 1776 at the age of 44. She is said to have uttered the last words "Am I still alive?" before expiring.


Her Lettres were published by Mme de Guibert in 1809 and a spurious additional collection appeared in 1820. Modern editions include that of Eugène Asse (1876-1877). Lettres inédités de Mademoiselle de Lespinasse à Condorcet, à D'Alembert, à Guibert, au comte de Crillon, edited by M. Charles Henry (1887), contains copies of the documents available for her biography. In addition to the Lettres she was the author of two chapters intended as a kind of sequel to Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey. Mary Augusta Ward's novel, Lady Rose's Daughter, owes something to the character of Mlle de Lespinasse.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Strachey, Lytton "Biographical Essays"

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