Jeanne Julie Éléonore de Lespinasse (Lyon, France, 9th November 1732 – Paris, France, 23rd May 1776)
As a salon-keeper myself, it is a joy to welcome one of my illustrious fellows to the Guide. Today's guest lived a life of glorious highs and terrible lows and though she suffered a sad end, it is a joy to mark her birth and learn a little more of the life of Julie-Jeanne-Eleonore de Lespinasse.
Born in Lyon to the unmarried comtesse d’Albon, Julie's upbringing was entrusted to Claude Lespinasse, a man who lived a somewhat scandalous life himself. The intelligent young girl was schooled in a convent and at the age of 16 took a job as governess to the children of the comtesse's legitimate daughter, the marquise de Vichy. It was through her role as governess that Julie was introduced to the famed salon-keeper, Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand. Despite the vast differences in their ages the two women became friends, with Julie eventually becoming her official paid companion in Paris. Madame du Deffand's sight had deteriorated to the point of blindness and she found the charming young lady an invaluable help in her continued entertaining.
At the age of 22 Julie was installed in Madame du Deffand's apartments in the Convent of St. Joseph on the rue Saint-Dominique and took instantly to the life. Suddenly the convent girl was mixing in the most illustrious intellectual and political circles in France, learning the art of salon-keeping from her experienced employer. It was not long at all before the young lady became the focal point of the salon, her popularity threatening to outstrip that of her mistress and after a decade together, the women's friendship ended in animosity. Madame du Deffand discovered that Julie was meeting salon guests in private an hour before their appointed audiences with the salon-keeper herself and was furious at this apparent betrayal; a terrible argument ensued and Julie struck out on her own.
Julie's salon became one of the brightest gatherings in Paris, with many members of her former employer's circle defecting to this new intellectual proving ground. A glittering hostess of keen wit and intellect, Julie was happy to allow the famed thinker Jean le Rond d'Alembert to take up residence in her home. His influence leant an air of exclusivity to her salon and increased her reach even further. However, whilst d'Alembert was infatuated with his hostess the pair were never to be more than friends and Julie nursed a secret passion of her own, which was to end in tragedy.
Not long after moving out of Madame de Deffand's home, Julie met the Marquis de Mora, son of the Spanish ambassador to France and the couple fell in love against the wishes of his family. Mora was already in the early stages of consumption though and returned to Spain for the good of his health, leaving Julie bereft. Despite her unhappiness, the couple continued to exchange loving correspondence, little knowing that they would never meet again. Planning to marry his adored salon-keeper, Mora began the journey to France to fulfil his vow; however, he fell dangerously ill on the road and died before he could reach Paris. The tragic groom-to-be was not to know that his adored Julie had already begun a new and unrequited infatuation with Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, comte de Guibert.
Julie's letters reveal that she was torn between the two men, her unhappiness deepening at the news of Mora's death in 1774 as well as the marriage of Guibert to another. She descended swiftly into depression and withdrew from society, cared for by the ever-devoted d'Alembert. Despite the efforts of her friend, the once famed hostess began to deteriorate at an alarming rate and died a broken woman at the age of just 43. Following Julie's death her letters were published and revealed a woman of wit, intelligence and desire who fell victim to passions she was unable to overcome.