Les Aveux d'une Jolie Femme. Françoise-Albine Puzin de la Martinière BENOIST.
Les Aveux d'une Jolie Femme.
Les Aveux d'une Jolie Femme.
Les Aveux d'une Jolie Femme.
Novelist and libertine

Les Aveux d'une Jolie Femme. A Bruxelles, et se trouve à Paris [i.e., Paris]: chez la veuve Duchesne, 1781.

2 parts in one, 12mo (164 x 89 mm). Part 1: 232 pp.; part 2: [225]-467 [i.e., 475], [1 blank] pp. Half-titles. Woodcut title vignettes, part 2 vignette with monogram DC (the publisher’s device?), woodcut headpieces. Very occasional light foxing, else fine. Contemporary speckled calf, flat spine with gold-tooled diaper design, morocco gilt lettering-piece, blue marbled edges, marbled endpapers. 

Second (or possibly first) edition of a fictional autobiography of a courtesan by a French woman novelist and libertine. Another edition of the novel appeared the same year, under the same widow Duchesne semi-false “Brussels” imprint, with a different title, Les Erreurs d’une Jolie Femme, ou l’Aspasie moderne. Library catalogues give the Erreurs priority, on unexplained grounds. The present edition is rarer. The work was reprinted in 1782 (under this title), and was translated into German the same year. A supposed 1771 edition (titled Les Aveux) mentioned by Gay and others appears to be a ghost. 

This first-person confessional novel relates the spiral into vice of a pretty young girl, lively of wit but perilously vain, whose poor but honest artisan parents envisage for her a bright future by sending her to live with a Marquise. The latter, and her wily cousin (and lover) the Baron de Germeuil, cultivate the girl’s talents, letting her learn all the skills usually reserved for boys, thus (says her later self) inflating her egotism and unwarranted sense of superiority. So is she primed for a fall ... Benoist’s writing is characterized by psychological acuity and close observations of subtle social interactions. 

Although the author left ten or eleven novels and two plays, all centered on the “feminine condition,” little is known of her life. Madame Benoist was born in Lyon, and moved to Paris. Probably self-educated, like most women of her age, she frequented minor literary salons. These 18th-century salons were the center of a proto-feminist movement, in that women could express themselves there on matters of literature or philosophy. The principal contemporary description of Madame Benoist was left by Madame Roland, in the Memoirs she wrote from prison; aged 16 when she met her, Roland describes Mme Benoist as an “openly voluptuous” woman at the advanced age of forty. Widowed by then, she appears to have been a “libertine,” or what a later century would call a sexually liberated woman. (For a discussion of the meaning  and impact of 18th-century female “libertinage,” see the first chapter of Montonen’s doctoral dissertation, cited below, and the main source for the above paragraph.) She was a skilled writer, to judge from the prose of this novel. 

Marie-Antoine Cailleau (ca. 1713-1793), the “widow Duchesne,” was the daughter of the bookseller André Cailleau. Her husband, the bookseller Nicolas-Bonaventure Duchesne, died in 1765, after which she managed the business until her death. The woodcut of a wreathed monogram CD on the second title may be her device.

Of this edition, OCLC locates a single copy in the US, at Bryn Mawr. Copies of the 1781 Erreurs are found at Princeton, U. Chicago, and U. Illinois. Barbier I: 356 (Erreurs: II:171), no priority given; Gay-Lemonnyer I: 335, citing the ghost 1771 edition, and this 1781 edition, calling the Erreurs a reprint. Quérard (I: 274), Conlon (81:765), and Martin, Mylne, Frautschi (81:12) were all unaware of this edition, citing only the 1781 Erreurs and the 1782 Aveux. Cf. Jane Montonen, Libertinage et feminisme dans les lettres du Colonel Talbert de Francoise-Albine Puzin de la Martiniere Benoist, doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic university, 2014 (online), pp. 1-10.

Item #4093

Price: $1,400.00