• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,083,144 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

Letters of Mme de Sévigné


In my perusal of Paris’ history, one name makes frequent appearances during the reign of Louis XIV—Mme de Sévigné. She was France’s preeminent writer of epistles in the seventeenth century. Not trained in philosophy, yet in her extensive correspondence, de Sévigné develops a distinctive position on the philosophical disputes of her era. Her letters reflect the intellectual sophistication of the period’s salon culture.

During her lifetime, individual letters were already copied and read by members of her social circle. Circulation of letters and memoirs was not unusual in the era’s salons. The preeminent literary quality of the letters quickly established them as favored salon reading. Most of the correspondence is letters between Mme de Sévigné and her daughter.

Soon after her daughter’s marriage to Monsieur de Grignan, a scion of one of Provence’s noblest families, beyond Mme de Sévigné’s expectation, Louis XIV appointed her son-in-law Lieutenant Governor of his native Provence. The Grignans were forced to leave Paris for their ancestral estate, which prompts Mme de Sévigné to begin her writing career as a way of surviving the pain of this severance.

The mother’s correspondence has a tone of erotic possessiveness unusual in any epoch. She even expresses toward her son-in-law that she, the mother, should remain the center of her daughter’s affections. The visit to Paris becomes so strained as Mme de Sévigné’s nagging and snooping are so possessive.

The letters do not limit to domestic happenings. They also deal with the intrigues that accompanied Louis XIV’s shifting affections from Mlle. de La Valli ere to Mme. de Montespan to the future Mme. de Maintenon (Louis XIV’s second wife); the costumes, coiffures, jewelry, games and conversations displayed at the court of Versailles, which Mme de Sévigné visited once or twice a year.

Her letters brought to light the trial on charges of treason of Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s Superintendant of Finances, an event on which she lavished 40 letters that offer as detailed an account as one might have of the daily account of court proceedings in 17th century.



In early elementary school years, in Hong Kong, the Chinese-language curriculum comprised of a section known as “letters”. The textbook consists of sample passages and letters to be modeled after in various occasions. Today letters are a relic from the past. To learn how to write a letter, in the face of technological advent and decadence of social etiquette, is almost unheard-of. The texts aimed to help kids learn the parts of a letter and how to write their own letter. The format was rigidly formal and you are to address your father “Superior Father.” To show respect and politeness phrases like “on my knees” (equivalent to addressing the king “Majesty”) and “head bowed” (equivalent to “sincerely yours”) are used. Even letters between peers are to observe the basic format and abide by correct grammar usage. (No emoticons, sorry) The most difficult aspect to teach and to master is the appropriate tone of language. It’s important to use the right type of language, the right “register”. Most letters you write will need to be formal, but not overly so.

The text was called “Foot-Long Script”, because in the days of the dynasty letters were written on foot-long square bamboo scroll or silk.