Voltaire Residence
This page shows people who were in the life of Emilie du Châtelet.

Madame du Deffand, engraving by Forshel after a portrait by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle
Marie de Vichy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand
born: 1697, Chateau of Chamrond, Burgundy, France
died: Sept. 23, 1780, Paris

The Marquise du Deffand is described as having the best mind and the worst character among the salonnières. She was proud, cynical, openly selfish, and one historian even referred to her as a she-cat.

It is likely that her wit is what attracted people to her salon. When discussing Helvétius' book On the Mind and his lengthy discourse on La Rochefouchauld's point -- that all human motives are egoistic, she remarked, "Bah, he has only revealed everyone's secret."

The Marquise du Deffand hosted a salon in Paris that attracted scientists, writers, wits, and all who were of any consequence in the world of letters and in society. Voltaire was one of her favorite people and she admired his superb manners, wit, and intelligence. The Marquise and Voltaire also carried on a correspondence for many years.

The Chateau de Cirey was Voltaire and Emilie's residence from 1734 to 1749, and they also made frequent trips to Paris. Voltaire introduced Emilie to Mme du Deffand, and hoped that they might become friends.

Emilie would have enjoyed Mme du Deffand's dinner parties. The other guests were likely to include Charles Henault (President of the Court of Inquiry and a close friend of the Queen), Diderot and D'Alembert (publishers of the Encyclopedie), Montesquieu (political philosopher), Marmontel (writer, poet, dramatist), and Mme de Staal de Launay (known for her letter writing). It certainly would have been an evening of high level conversation.

However, it is likely that the hostess would have preferred that Voltaire not bring Emilie to her salon. Emilie was not good at drawing out the accomplishments of others, a talent at which Marquise du Deffand excelled. Emilie found it difficult to keep her intellect in tune with the general trend of talk, and was not particularly fond of gossip.

Emilie had a virtue that Voltaire admired in her - she did not discuss people behind their back. The salon hostess and Emilie did not become friends as Voltaire had hoped.

The Marquise du Deffand wrote a description of Emilie that was published in 1777 as part of a collection of letters. In the following text, the Marquise du Deffand reveals her own true character and values.

Marquise du Deffand's Description of Emilie du Châtelet
"Imagine a tall, hard and withered woman, narrow-chested, with large limbs, enormous feet, a very small head, a thin face, pointed nose, two small sea-green eyes, her color dark, her complexion florid, her mouth flat, her teeth set far apart, and very much decayed: there is the face of the beautiful Emilie, a face with which she is so well pleased that she spares nothing for the sake of setting it off. Her manner of dressing her hair, her adornments, her top-knots, her jewelry, all are in profusion; but as she wishes to be lovely in spite of nature, and as she wishes to appear magnificent in spite of fortune, she is obliged in order to obtain superfluities to go without necessaries, such as under-garments and other trifles.

She was born with sufficient intellect, and the desire to appear as though she had a great deal, made her prefer to study the most abstract sciences rather than the more general and pleasant branches of knowledge. She thought she would gain a greater reputation by this peculiarity, and a more decided superiority over all other women.

She did not limit herself to this ambition; she wished to be a princess as well, and she became so, not by grace of God nor by that of the king, but by her own act. This absurdity went on, like the others; one became accustomed to regard her as a princess of the theater, and one almost forgot that she was a woman of rank.

Madame worked so hard to appear which he was not, that no one knew what she really was; even her faults were perhaps not natural; they may have had something to do with her pretensions, her want of respect with regard to the state of princess, her dullness in that of savant, and her stupidity in that of a jolie femme.

However much of a celebrity Madame du Chatelet may be, she would not be satisfied if she were not celebrated, and that is what she desired in being becoming the friend of M. de Voltaire. To him she owes the splendor of her life, and it is to him that she will owe immortality." (1)

1. Correspondance littéraire, tome XI, mars 1777, p. 436-437.

There is some truth in this description, which is why it is particularly funny in several places. Read the web page on Emilie which will help to explain what is true in this statement and where the Marquise du Deffand reveals her jealously and true character.

Return to People in Emilie's Life