Historical Figures

Marie de Gournay, freelance writer

French woman of letters of the modern era, Marie de Gournay (1565 – 1645) frequented the scholars of his time and worked in particular on the corrections of Montaigne's Essays while continuing his own writings.


Born in Paris on October 6, 1565 into a wealthy family, Marie Le Jars was the eldest of the six children of Jeanne de Hacqueville and Guillaume Le Jars. It takes its name from Gournay from the castle and the seigniory acquired by his father in Gournay-sur-Aronde (in Picardy), a few years before his death in 1578.

Marie was brought up in the traditional way for a young girl from a good family at the time, but she herself did not intend to be satisfied with this education. By reading works in the original text and in translation, she learned Latin and Greek on her own. She is also interested in science, literature, philosophy. Starting to write herself, she already aspired to give up marriage and live from her pen.

The Trials by Montaigne

Around the age of eighteen, she discovered the first edition of the "Essais by Michel de Montaigne which made such a strong impression on her that she wanted to meet their author. In 1588, while she was in Paris with her mother, she sent Montaigne a note in which she expressed her desire to meet him. The writer, thirty-two years her senior, accepts and they meet the next day. Subsequently, Montaigne stayed for a few weeks at the Château de Gournay. Maybe they have a romantic relationship; they exchange in any case around a new edition of the Essais and the writer dictates his corrections to Marie. Thereafter, they will not see each other again but will continue to correspond.

Jeanne de Hacqueville died in 1591 and Marie moved to Paris, leaving the château to her brother Charles. Montaigne died in 1592 and his widow sent Marie an annotated copy of the Essais asking him to publish them. Taking up the corrections and prefacing the text, she publishes these Essays posthumous in 1595, while working on his own writings.

Women and Ladies' Grievance

In the capital, Marie de Gournay frequented scholars and built up a network of protectors at court, offering her pen to Marguerite de Valois, Henri IV, Marie de Médicis and Louis XIII. Single, she supports herself alone. Receiving a royal pension, she manages to publish her works, including poems, translations (Ovid, Virgil, Tacitus, etc.), adaptations and reviews. A feminist, she published in 1622 Equality between men and in 1626 The Women and the Grief of the Ladies; she advocates absolute equality between the sexes. Like many independent women of her time, she faced rumors and slander, both personally and for her works.

Marie de Gournay died in Paris on July 13, 1645, at the age of seventy-nine.