LA DAME d'ESPRIT: A Biography of the Marquise Du Chatelet by Judith P. Zinsser

Publisher Viking, December 2006

Gabrielle Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise Du Châtelet, might be best known for her unorthodox fifteen-year liaison with Voltaire, but she was much more than the patron, mistress, and intellectual companion of France's most famous poet and playwright. In the first decades of the French Enlightenment, although barred because of her sex from even the most informal gatherings of learned men, in the course of her brief life, she wrote on the ideas of English moral philosophers and deists and on the nature of fire and of the cosmos itself. Her Institutions de physique [Foundations of physics] was translated into German and Italian and gained her recognition as a genius from the members of Europe’s Republic of Letters. Her translation of Isaac Newton's Principia remains the authoritative French version to this day.

However, she never allowed her intellectual pursuits to interfere with her duties as an aristocrat. At eighteen, she followed the traditions of her class and married a marquis, bore him three children and saw to the promotion of her military husband's career, her son’s education and her daughter’s marriage. Nor did she deny herself the pleasures of the courtier's life: dressing elaborately, attending the theater in Paris, gambling with the Queen's inner circle at Versailles, and taking a younger man—the soldier-poet, Jean-François de Saint-Lambert-- as her lover. It was the birth of their child that led to her tragic death at forty-two.

Set against the panorama of Louis XV's France, La Dame d'Esprit is the compelling story of a woman who strove to balance the expectations of society, the needs of the people she loved, and a rich intellectual existence. Based on over a decade of original research, this sparkling biography brings this daring, unorthodox woman to life with style and wit and demonstrates once and for all, that there was indeed a great woman philosophe of the Enlightenment.

Judith P. Zinsser, past president of The World History Association, has become the "Du Châtelet expert" with scholars worldwide.

It was while co-authoring the enormously successful two-volume book project A History of Their Own, a narrative of European women’s history, that Judith P. Zinsser first came into contact with the Du Châtelet story. At a recent major Du Châtelet exhibition in Paris, Zinsser was recognized as an important international expert, asked not only to consult on the exhibition, but to write the concluding chapter of the show’s catalogue.

She currently is on the faculty of Miami University in Ohio.
 

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