French Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Eva Martin Sartori; Dorothy Wynne Zimmerman | Go to book overview

MARIE-CATHERINE DESJARDINS DE
VILLEDIEU
(1640?-1683)

Katharine Ann Jensen


BIOGRAPHY

Marie-Catherine Desjardins was the daughter of bourgeois parents; her mother worked as a ladies' maid for the prominent and noble Rohan family, and her father was in charge of timber revenue for the Perseigne forest in Normandy. The exact date and place of Desjardins's birth is not verifiable, but she probably spent her childhood in Normandy. At the age of fifteen, she fell in love with a cousin and intended to marry him. For reasons that are unclear, her father was incensed by the proposed marriage and issued a writ against the fiancé, accusing his own daughter of "criminal disobedience." This excessive behavior prompted Desjardins's mother to file for a separation from the father. The separation was obtained, and the mother moved to Paris with Desjardins and an older daughter.

In Paris, although a minor, Desjardins lived on her own and received guests, which was, of course, exceptional behavior for a woman and not apt to earn her a reputation for flawless feminity. Yet, offsetting this questionable independence, Desjardins was received within the circle of women her mother served. If she was received as less than an equal, she was definitely more than a servant. The noblewomen admired Desjardins for her wit and spirit, and within this encouraging milieu she began composing and reciting poetry. Her poems began appearing in published collections as of 1659.

At the time she began composing poetry, around 1658, she met a nobleman and lieutenant of a prestigious regiment, Antoine de Villedieu. Their meeting apparently kindled the "grand passion" for both of them, and they lived together openly; they signed a marriage contract in 1660 but did not exchange vows. Their marriage became a bone of some contention, for Villedieu tired of Desjardins and carried on sexual conquests elsewhere. While she maintained publicly that they were married, he denied it. He eventually had her sign a declaration

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