In the spring 1792, Sophie de Grouchy, Marquise de Condorcet wrote to her friend Etienne Dumont, speech writer for Mirabeau, and translator for Jeremy Bentham, sending him some of her manuscripts for feedback.
"Here are the inchoate manuscripts I mentioned to M.Dumont, or rather the indecipherable sketches. I have lost the eighth letter on sympathy. As to the other mess, it contains as yet only a few weak traces of a development of character and passions, and that is not yet strengthened by any of the circumstances that make a novel interesting. One of the main causes of my laziness when it comes to working on it is 1) difficulty in obtaining good advice (will some arrive from overseas!) 2) the fear of not having the means of executing the ideas which, in other hands could enrich the subject matter, but in mine, will probably make it less.
If M.Dumont were to dine here this Tuesday, I would be in a better position to take heed of his advice, but also, they might be more frank if they are in writing. There is no need, I know, to ask him to speak to no-one of that which I send him."
Letter to Dumont, spring 1792.
Apparently, Dumont did not reply, and either he did not come to dinner, or the conversation did not turn to Sophie's writings.
"You are a merciless man for poor authors, especially a for a shameful author like a woman. What would it have cost you to tell me whether what you'd seen from my drafts deserved to be developed? I give you my word you would have had no grief from it." 19 May 1792.
Why did Dumont not reply? Perhaps, despite his friendship for Sophie, he was not entirely persuaded that women should waste their time in literary pursuits, or that their contributions would be particularly good. Or perhaps he did not wish to spend his leisure time doing for free what he did for a living!
Fortunately, the Letters on Sympathy were already fully drafted, and six years later she published them, together with her translation of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Unfortunately, we know nothing of the novel. Was she discouraged by Dumont's refusal to talk about it, and did she give in to the laziness she refers to in the first letter?
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