There are many anecdotes about the woman known as Madame de Staël. Born Anne Louise Germaine Necker in Paris, France, but of Swiss origin, Madame de Staël’s father was Jacques Necker, a prominent Swiss banker and statesman who also served as the Director-General of Finance under King Louis XVI of France. Her Swiss mother was named Suzanne Curchod and was a no-nonsense woman who had no regard for practical jokes.
Madame de Staël and her father had an extremely close relationship. Part of their closeness was because they were compatible intellectually and had many traits in common, but they also loved the ridiculous. Their love the ridiculous is demonstrated by the following anecdote that happened one morning.
During breakfast, Madame de Staël did everything to get her father’s attention without her mother seeing, but not matter what she did she was unable to obtain even a glance from her father. Fortunately, Madame Necker was called out of the room. While she was absent, Madame de Stael’s threw her napkin through the air, her father caught it, and tied it around his head. He then began dancing around the table. Madame Necker’s footsteps put and ended to their fun as both Necker and his daughter “hastened back to their chairs like truant school-children, forgetting to observe that they were betrayed by the father’s wig, [still sitting on top of his head].” Continue reading →
The pioneering French midwife, Angélique du Coudray, gained fame in the 1700s. She was born in 1712, the same year as the King of Prussia (Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great) and the Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Little is known about Coudray’s early years. However, at twenty-five she graduated from the College of Surgery École de Chirurgie in Paris and completed her three-year apprenticeship that allowed her to become an accredited midwife.
Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Surgeons also began to expanded into the birthing field and this further reduced the medical community’s willingness to train female midwives. Women were upset and began to petition that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives.
Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives. Continue reading →
Luigi Lablache was a famous bass singer born in Naples on 6 December 1791. His father, Nicola Lablache, was a merchant from Marseilles and his mother an Irish woman named Franziska Bietak. Lablache displayed an unusual inclination for music at an early and captured the notice of Joseph Napoleon, who took an interest in the 12-year-old after Lablache’s father became a victim of the French Revolution.
Because of Lablache’s talents, Napoleon also procured a place for him at the Conservatorio della pieta de’ Turchini in Naples. However, Lablache was interested in the stage and decided that he didn’t want to devote himself solely to music. This resulted in him run away five times from the Conservatory and gaining employment at local theatres. Because of Lablache’s antics a royal law was issued that put an end to Lablache’s escape. The royal law stated: Continue reading →
The love affair between Marquis de Lafayette and Diane of Simiane began after Diane married Charles-Francois of Simiane, Marquis of Miremont. Charles-Francois was the son of François Louis Hector of Simiane and Marie Esther Emilie of Seveyrac. He had served in the American Revolutionary War with the famous French nobleman and general, the Count of Rochambeau, who had played a major role in helping the thirteen colonies win independence during the American Revolution. Continue reading →
Although preceded by other women in the air, Sophie Blanchard was the first female to fly a balloon solo. She got into ballooning because of her husband, pioneer balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. The story goes that Jean-Pierre was passing through the village of Trois-Cantons, near Rochelle, saw a pregnant woman working in the field, and told her that if her child proved to be a girl, he would marry the girl when she turned 16.
Jean-Pierre was already married when he made the promise to Sophie’s mother, and likely had already abandoned his first wife, Victoire Lebrun, and his four children. On 25 March 1778, Marie Madeleine Sophie Armand was born. Jean-Pierre kept his marriage promise, but exactly when Jean-Pierre and Sophie married is unclear. The earliest is 1794, but the most frequent date given coincides with Sophie’s 1804 ascent. Continue reading →
French Victorian feminist Hubertine Auclert was born to a middle-class family on 10 April 1848. At age 13, when her father died, she was sent to a Roman Catholic convent. She initially intended to become a nun, but she left the convent permanently after being rejected because of her vivacious personality. She then went to Paris, and shortly thereafter, Napoleon III was ousted and the Third Republic established. These changes encouraged activism by women, and women began to demand changes and greater rights. Inspired by others, Auclert then became involved in securing rights for women and because of her time spent in the convent, she became a militant anti-cleric. Continue reading →
The French tightrope walker, Charles Blondin, as he was called, was born at St. Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France on 28 February 1824 under the name of Jean-François Gravelet. When Blondin was about four, a traveling company of equestrian and acrobatic performers came to town. It “produced a powerful and abiding effect upon his infantile mind,” and Blondin fell in love with the idea of acrobatics and tightrope walking. It also encouraged him to attempt to duplicate these acrobatic and gymnastic feats, and before long, he succeeded.
Because Blondin proved to have uncommon agility and a strong desire to perform as an acrobat, at the age of five, his parents placed him in the École de Gymnase at Lyon. Blondin’s first instructor was a man named Blondin and it was from this elder Blondin that he took the name Blondin. The elder Blondin was a man who used kindness to get the best out of the young Blondin, and the young Blondin quickly became recognized as a prodigy. In fact, it was noted that whatever feat he desired to achieve, “he … practised with unflagging pertinacity until he achieved complete success.” Continue reading →
Born on 30 October 1757 at Saint-Berthevin, the legendary Jean Chouan was the nom de guerre of Jean Cottereau, a counter-revolutionary, insurrectionist, and staunch royalist. He was also a man of several nicknames, with “Chouan” a nickname given to him by his father (or it may have come from his imitation of the call of the tawny owl. However, he got the nickname, it meant silent one. There was also the less flattering nickname of “le Gars mentoux” or “le garçon menteur” (the boy liar).
Chouan is legendary because what is known about him was written by royalist partisan Jacques Duchemin des Cépeaux in 1825 at the request of Charles X. The story that Cépeaux reported has many unfounded facts that were further nourished by a small faction of Catholics and royalist-legitimist. Thus, Chouan’s actual role in history remains questionable and is likely more legend than fact.
Some facts that appear to be true are that Chouan’s father, Pierre Cottereau, was a lumberjack who felled trees, stacked and seasoned the lumber, and then made wooden shoes called sabots. His mother was a woman named Jeanne (nee Moyné) Cottereau. The Cottereau’s lived as tenants on a 20-acre farm located half-way between Saint-Ouën-des-Toits and Bourgneuf-la-Forêt in Mayenne, France. Chouan’s father was often absent and his mother was illiterate, which meant the children — Jean, Pierre, François, and René — were largely unschooled. Thus, when Chouan’s father died, Chouan declared himself a sabot maker, but unlike his father, Chouan was not as energetic or as skilled. Continue reading →
The French actress Mademoiselle Clairon, better known as La Clairon, was the stage name of a woman whose real name was Clair Josèphe Hippolyte Leris (sometimes spelled Lerys). La Clairon was born about a month a half early on 25 January 1723 to François Joseph Desiré Leris and Marie Claire Scanapiecq. Her father was a sergeant in the Régiment de Mailly and her mother an ordinary working woman.
When La Clairon was twelve, she and her mother left Condé-sur-l’Escaut, Hainaut, where La Clarion was born. They settled in Paris. One person described La Clairon’s life with her mother in Paris, stating:
“The future queen of tragedy was at this time … a delicate sensitive child, with a confirmed dislike to needlework, in consequence of which she spent the greater part of her days ‘trembling beneath the blow and threats of her mother,’ whom she describes, rather undutifully, as ‘a violent, ignorant, and superstitious woman.'”
The first French celebrity chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was born on 8 June 1784. It is rather surprising Carême achieved such wonderful success as his initial beginnings did not seem to indicate such an illustrious future. He was one of fifteen children, and, in 1794, at the height of the French Revolution, his father left him on the streets of Paris and told him to go and seek his fortune.
Hungry and in despair, Carême begged for shelter. The following day he was admitted into the service of a man who owned a cheap eating house or chop-house, and, at that point, he began working as a kitchen boy. Four years later, in 1798, he was apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier with a shop near the Palais-Royal. Bailly immediately noticed Carême’s talents, and Carême quickly gained fame for the works that he created and displayed in Bailly’s shop window.