The Dictionary of Seventeenth-Century French Philosophers


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Des Houlières, Antoinette (1638–94)

Des Houlières, Antoinette (1638–94)
DOI: 10.5040/9781350053250-0174

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Antoinette Du Ligier de La Garde, generally known as Madame Des Houlières, was born in Paris on 1 January 1638 and died there on 17 February 1694. She received an advanced education in the arts, and Somaize , in his Grand Dictionnaire des Précieuses, depicts her under the name of Diocles: ‘Diocles is a young, agreeable and well-made précieuse …; she has perfect knowledge of the language of Hesperia and Ausonia’ (‘Dioclée est une jeune précieuse agréable et bien faite … elle sait parfaitement la langue d’Hespérie et d’Ausonie’). In 1651, she married Guillaume de La Fon de Bois Guérin, seigneur Des Houlières, a member of the Prince de Condé’s retinue. She associated with other free-thinkers such as Des Barreaux, Saint-Pavin and the poet Jean Dehénault, whose romantic interest she had rejected but who became her friend and taught her his poetic art. Madame Des Houlières, a true woman of knowledge with libertine views, learned about the philosophical views of erudite libertinage, particularly those of Gassendi . She considered life to have come from nothing by chance, and death was, for her, a return to that nothingness. As an integral part of nature, man is doomed to definitive and total destruction. His principal unhappiness comes from his use of his mind always to render passions suspect, and from his awarenessness of his destiny. This leads her to condemn reason constantly. Like flowers, we should forget how to think and reason; we should try to live in the ignorance of the mind and the silence of passions and at last experience a state of contented passivity. This did not prevent Madame Des Houlières from finding herself implicated with her husband against the Fronde. They were imprisoned for several months at the château de Vilvorde (in the Brabant, modern Belgium), but managed to escape. Once back in France, Madame Des Houlières usually opted to remain in Paris. She held a salon and devoted herself to the fashion of literary portraits. As a précieuse, she cultivated refinement of behaviour, language and ideas. From 1654, Mademoiselle de Scudéry published in La Clélie seventy-three portraits of women including that of Madame Des Houlières under the name of Artélise. Madame Des Houlières travelled for more than three years, particularly in the Forez, where she visited the banks of the river Lignon and paid homage to Honoré d’Urfé . Back in Paris, she held a new salon in the Marais which was frequented by, among others, the duc de La Rochefoucauld , Corneille and La Fontaine , as well as Charles and Claude Perrault . Her advanced literary positions remained ambiguous: although in the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns she took the side of the Moderns, being close to Corneille whom she admired, she became involved in the plot mounted against Jean Racine ’s Phèdre and instead supported that of Pradon. In 1677, the Nouveau Mercure galant published Madame Des Houlières’s Idylles des moutons et des fleurs. On 20 January 1680, her tragedy Genséric was performed at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, but the play was not a success. Her plan to write a second tragedy on Julius Antony was abandoned. She was elected to the Accademia dei Ricovrati in Padua in 1684 and published a first selection of her Poésies in 1688. Antoinette Des Houlières died in Paris at the age of fifty-six. She later fell into almost complete oblivion until recent times, but in the eighteenth century she enjoyed a certain notoriety. Voltaire mentioned her on several occasions in his catalogue of writers of the Siècle de Louis XIV and in Le Temple du goût. In the nineteenth century, Sainte-Beuve revived her in his Portraits de femmes, not without showing his customary lucidity: ‘She seems more moralistic than is fitting for a shepherdess; there are thoughts beneath her ribbons and flowers’ (‘Elle semble plus moraliste qu’il ne convient à une bergère; il y a des pensées sous ses rubans et sous ses fleurs’). And, closer to the present in 2001, the French actress Isabelle Hupert and the singer Jean-Louis Murat dedicated a duo album to her based on a selection of her texts.


Épîtres, Œuvres choisies de Mme Des Houllières (Paris, 1882; INALF, 1961).

Idylles, Œuvres choisies de Mme Des Houllières (Paris, 1882; INALF, 1961).

Poésies, 1st edn of a selection of Madame Des Houlières’s poems (Paris, 1688, BNF taken from the Cambridge, Mass. edn, 1990).

Poésies, post. pub. of Madame and Mademoiselle Des Houlières (Paris, 1695, BNF taken from the Cambridge, Mass. edn, 1990).

Madame Des Houlières, texts selected and presented by Jean-Louis Murat, drawings by Carmelo Zagari (Saint-Étienne, 2001).

Other Relevant Works

Somaize, de, Le Dictionnaire des précieuses (Paris, 1656; Kraus repr., 1970, of the new Paris enlarged edn by P. Jannet, 1856).

Somaize, de, Le Grand dictionnaire des pretieuses (Paris, 1661; Paris, 1973).

Sainte-Beuve, , Portraits de Femmes (Paris, 1839; in Œuvres Complètes, vol. 2, Paris, 1951).

Voltaire, , Le Siècle de Louis XIV, writers’ catalogue, vol. 2 (Paris, 1930).

Voltaire, , Le Temple du goût, crit. edn by E. Carcassonne (Paris, 1953).

Further Reading

Adam, Antoine, Les libertins au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1986).

Dérens, Jean, Histoire de la vie française, vol. IV, chap. ‘Les libertins’ (Paris, 1971).

Lachèvre, Frédéric, Les derniers libertins, biographical notice of Madame Des Houlières (Geneva, 1968).