Saint-Simon, Louis De Rouvroy (1675–1755)

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SAINT-SIMON, LOUIS DE ROUVROY (16751755), duke and peer of France, whose memoirs depict courtly life and politics during the reign of Louis XIV and the regency. Saint-Simon was the offspring of a favorite of Louis XIII. Having lost his father at the age of eighteen, he served in the army and tried to gain prominence at the court. Soon, however, disappointed by Louis XIV's perceived neglect of the nobility, he retired from the military and incurred the king's disfavor. Instead of a promising career, he thus embarked upon the path of a clandestine and critical observer of the court.

Although removed from the king's favor, Saint-Simon had powerful allies and informants: his beloved wife, Marie-Gabrielle de Lorges, duchess of Saint-Simon, who remained in Louis XIV's closest circles in spite of her husband's precarious position, and to whom he owed regular invitations to the much coveted royal secondary residence at Marly; Philippe II, the duke of Orléans, the king's nephew and future regent; a state chancellor; several ministers who formed with François Fénelon the circle of Louis, duke of Bourgogne, heir to the crown and its would-be reformer. Thus Saint-Simon gained close knowledge of state politics in which he even participated briefly during the regency. Living at the court from 1691 through Louis XIV's death in 1715 to the regent's in 1723, he saw, listened, and took secret notes at night, in a small dressing cabinet behind his Versailles apartment. He composed numerous genealogies, timely memos to influence decisions of etiquette and rank politics, and even a bitterly critical anonymous letter to Louis XIV that he had the courage to circulate during the monarch's lifetime, in spite of a recognizable personal style of writing.

After he retired from the court, Saint-Simon came upon a detailed journal kept by the well-known courtier Philippe de Courcillon (the marquis of Dangeau). Shocked by its boundless flatteries and "lies," he reread and annotated it between 1729 and 1739 and, at the age of sixty-four, set out to write his own journal, a truthful "history of his time." His monumental Mémoires, 2,754 manuscript pages narrating court intrigues and crown politics over thirty-two years (16911723), encompass over seven thousand characters depicted with inimitable insight and wit, and lament the chaos introduced into the kingdom by absolutism and predict its demise. The narrative was destined by its author to "remain under the safest locks" for at least fifty years after his lifetime. His wish was granted: a first, incomplete, version was published in 1788, and not until 18291830 did a first complete edition appear in French. By presenting a unique backstage view of Versailles, in spite of a certain partiality admitted by the author and due to his distinct noble ethos, his memoirs give an exact picture of daily life at court and of its factions and intrigues, and constitute an important source for court sociologists and historians. Testifying to Saint-Simon's unique vision and style, his memoirs have also inspired French novelists including Stendhal and Marcel Proust, and they remain a masterpiece of early modern French literature and of the memoir genre as a whole.

See also Biography and Autobiography ; Court and Courtiers ; Louis XIV (France) ; Versailles .


Primary Sources

Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy. Les additions de Saint-Simon au journal de dangeau. Edited by Yves Coirault. Paris, 1965.

. Ecrits inédits de Saint-Simon. 8 vols. Paris, 18801893.

. Grimoires de Saint-Simon: Nouveaux inédits. Edited by Yves Coirault. Paris, 1975.

. Hiérarchie et mutations: Écrits sur le kaléidoscope social. Edited by Yves Coirault. Paris, 2002.

. Historical Memoirs of the duc de Saint-Simon: A Shortened Version. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. 3 vols. London, 19992000.

. Mémoires. 8 vol. Edited by Yves Coirault. Paris, 1983.

. Papiers en marge des Mémoires. Edited by François-Régis Bastide. Paris, 1954.

. Traités politiques et autres écrits. Edited by Yves Coirault. Paris, 1996.

Secondary Sources

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Translated by Willard R. Trask. Princeton, 1968.

Coirault, Yves. L'optique de Saint-Simon. Paris, 1965.

De Ley, Herbert. Saint-Simon Memorialist: "Un enchaînement si singulier . . ." Urbana, Ill., 1975.

Elias, Norbert. The Court Society. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Oxford, 1983.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, with Jean-François Fitou. Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago, 2001.

Stefanovska, Malina. Saint-Simon, un historien dans les marges. Paris, 1998.

Malina Stefanovska

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Saint-Simon, Louis De Rouvroy (1675–1755)

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Saint-Simon, Louis De Rouvroy (1675–1755)