Ninon de l'Enclos

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Etching by Antoine-Jean-Baptiste Coupé

Anne "Ninon" de l'Enclos also spelled Ninon de Lenclos and Ninon de Lanclos (10 November 1620 – 17 October 1705) was a French author, courtesan and patron of the arts.[1]


Early life

Born Anne de Lenclos in Paris, she was nicknamed "Ninon" by her father at an early age. In 1632 her father was exiled from France after a duel, and when her mother died ten years later the unmarried Ninon entered a convent, only to leave the next year.

Based on the remainder of her life, the choice of a convent would seem surprising, but it was really only an aspect of the clear idea that drove her actions: she was determined to remain unmarried and independent.

Life as a courtesan and author

Returning to Paris, she became a popular figure in the salons, and her own drawing room became a centre for the discussion and consumption of the literary arts. In her early thirties she was responsible for encouraging the young Molière, and when she died she left money for the son of her accountant, a nine-year old named François Marie Arouet, later to become better known as Voltaire, so he could buy books.

It was during this period that her life as a courtesan began. Ninon took a succession of notable and wealthy lovers, including the king's cousin the Great Condé, Gaston de Coligny, and François, duc de La Rochefoucauld. These men did not support her, however; she prided herself on her independent income. "Ninon always had crowds of adorers but never more than one lover at a time, and when she tired of the present occupier, she said so frankly and took another. Yet such was the authority of this wanton, that no man dared fall out with his successful rival; he was only too happy to be allowed to visit as a familiar friend," Saint-Simon wrote. This life (not as acceptable in those days as it would become in later years) and her opinions on organized religion caused her some trouble, and she was imprisoned in the Madelonnettes Convent in 1656 at the behest of Anne of Austria, Queen of France and regent for her son Louis XIV. Not long after, however, she was visited by Christina, former queen of Sweden. Impressed, Christina wrote to Cardinal Mazarin on Ninon's behalf and arranged for her release.

In response, as an author she defended the possibility of living a good life in the absence of religion, notably in 1659's La coquette vengée ("The Flirt Avenged"). She was also noted for her wit; among her numerous sayings and quips are "Much more genius is needed to make love than to command armies" and "We should take care to lay in a stock of provisions, but not of pleasures: these should be gathered day by day." A picture of Ninon, under the name of Damo, was sketched in Mlle de Scudéry's Clélie (1654–1660).[2]

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