It was on this day 313 years ago, 17 October 1705, that the remarkable courtesan, salon hostess, and letter writer Ninon de l’Enclos died in Paris.
Born in 1620 to an impecunious lutenist and his wife, Ninon decided early on never to marry and to live as independently as she could — not an easy task for a woman in 17th-century Paris. From her teens to her forties, she conducted a highly successful career as a courtesan, racking up an impressive number of titled lovers and at least one illegitimate child. In the late 1660s, she retired to a mansion in the Rue des Tournelles, where she hosted a salon for the rest of her life. It seems that her great beauty never quite left her; that, combined with her charm and legendary wit, had men falling in love with her to the very end of her life.
As a writer, she is best known for her letters. In one of them, she asserted that “when one is truly in love, one shrinks from marriage as from an abyss.”
Ninon de l’Enclos also had a great eye for talent. After meeting the 11-year-old François Arouet (the future Voltaire) shortly before her death, she left him 2,000 livres with which to buy books.
Have you read her letters?