Marie de Gournay (1565–1645) was a French author, editor, and translator of Latin classics.
De Gournay was born in Paris to Guillaume le Jars de Gournay and Jeanne de Hacqueville, both minor aristocrats. After her father’s death, her mother moved the family to their castle in Gournay-sur-Aronde. De Gournay did not receive a formal education, since, according to Marie-Thérèse Noiset, “her mother simply wanted to initiate her into the womanly arts in order to marry her well.” Nonetheless, she was self-taught in Latin, classical philosophy, and contemporary French literature. At the age of eighteen, she discovered the works of prominent sixteenth-century philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, which would have a lasting impact on her life and thought. In fact, she developed a close friendship with Montaigne who considered her his “fille d’alliance” [adopted daughter]. After the philosopher’s death in 1592, she was asked by his widow and friends to edit and publish his Essays in a new, expanded edition. De Gournay never married and was a fixture in Paris’ salons, earning a living from her pen. Although she was mocked by many of her contemporaries for her unconventional life, she was recognized for her talents and given a state pension in 1634.
De Gournay’s first published work is the novel, Le Proumenoir de M. de Montaigne [The Promenade of M. de Montaigne] (first ed. 1594). Telling the story of the niece of a Persian king, Alinda, who is led astray by a seductive young man and eventually commits suicide, Le Proumenoir is meant as a moralistic warning to young girls, but also stresses the importance of education for the latter. In addition to many treatises on morality, politics, and education, she also wrote two treatises in defense of gender equality: Égalité des hommes et des femmes [Equality of men and women] (1622) and Le grief des dames [The Complaint of Women] (1626). The first lists a number of examples of notable women to bolster her claims. Her works were collected in an anthology titled L’ombre de la damoiselle de Gournay: Oeuvre composé de meslanges [The Shadow of the Damoiselle de Gournay], first published in 1626 and in two other revised editions, under the new title, Les advis ou les presens de Demoiselle de Gournay [The Offerings or Present of Demoiselle de Gournay], in 1634 and 1641.
De Gournay died in 1645.
Conley, John J. “Marie le Jars de Gournay.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/gournay/ (accessed October 31, 2016)
Noiset, Marie-Thérèse. “Marie de Gournay.” Sixteenth-Century French Writers. Volume 327 (2006).