The Novels of Mme Riccoboni

The Novels of Mme Riccoboni

The Novels of Mme Riccoboni

The Novels of Mme Riccoboni


Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni was one of the most popular novelists of her day. Joan Hinde Stewart examines Lettres de Fanni Butlerd (1957) and the seven subsequent novels, paying particular attention to the technical aspects of her work, to her handling of the letter form, to her ideas on men, women, and love, and to her feminism.


Faites-leur des ouvrages bien doux, bien tendres,
remplis d’esprit, de goût et de sensibilité.

—Diderot to Mme Riccoboni
November 27, 1758

Mme Riccoboni was not Italian, as her name would suggest, but a Frenchwoman—the widow of an Italian actor—who lived her entire life in Paris. She began her own career as an actress at the Comédie Italienne, but eventually abandoned the stage to write novels and became, along with Mme de Graffigny and Mlle de Lussan, one of the most successful female authors of the century. Her first three novels—Lettres de Mistriss Fanni Butlerd (1757), Histoire du Marquis de Cressy (1758) and Lettres de Mylady Juliette Catesby (1759)—rapidly attained the status of best-sellers and catapulted her into a position of prominence both in France and abroad; by the end of the century, her works had gone through numerous French editions and been translated into all the major languages of Europe. Several American editions

At least twenty editions of Lettres de Juliette Catesby alone had appeared by 1800, and the novel had been translated into English, Italian, Danish, Swedish and Russian. See Angus Martin, “Romans et romanciers à succès,” Revue des Sciences Humaines, 139 (1970), 388, Emily Crosby, Une Romancière oubliée (Paris, 1924), pp. 175-83, and Paul Van Tieghem, “Le Roman sentimental en Europe de Richardson à Rousseau (1740-1761),” Revue de Littérature comparée, 20 (1940), 145. Emily Crosby’s work, uneven in quality and largely biographical in orientation, is nonetheless the only full-length study of Mme Riccoboni to date, and has provided material for my own work.

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