Janet Todd, Wollstonecraft's biographer, suggests that Wollstonecraft may have been contacted in 1792 by Condorcet and Paine to help rework the plan for educational reform that Talleyrand had started in 1791. Might Wollstonecraft have at least considered taking them up on the offer, and might she have met Condorcet's wife, Sophie de Grouchy over dinner?
Probably not. When Wollstonecraft was in Paris, she mostly visited English nationals, such as Helen Maria Williams, and Johnson's associate, Thomas Christie.
She was close, ideologically, to the Girondins, some of which were fluent English speakers. Brissot, for instance, had visited England, and developed a friendship there with Catharine Macaulay. Manon Roland also spoke English, having taught herself at the beginning of her marriage, and travelled to England, where she was much impressed with the cleanliness and simple habits of the inhabitants. Sophie de Grouchy was also a fluent English speaker and writer, so that her salon in the early years of the revolution attracted foreign luminaries such as Thomas Paine and Jefferson. But by the time Wollstonecraft moved to Paris, Sophie no longer had a salon, and Manon did not admit any woman in hers.
It is therefore unlikely that they would have met.
Had they read Wollstonecraft? Again there is no evidence. But a letter dated 20 August 1791 from Sophie to her friend Dumont suggests that perhaps she may have come across one of Wollstonecraft's books. Sophie thanks Dumont for sending her books and political news from England and says:
"Until I receive more news from you, I will be busy reading the book you sent me and dreaming about the best way to raise reasonable women who can live with men who are not and will not be reasonable towards women for a long time from now".
This could, of course, be coincidence. But it does suggest that the book Dumont sent her and Sophie's dreams might be related. And who, better than Wollstonecraft could be the inspiration for such dreams?
Just as Olympe de Gouges did, Sophie de Grouchy had to relocate to the suburbs during the Terror. In 1793, the Jacobin Chabot had issued an order to arrest her husband, Condorcet. Condorcet had gone into hiding in the house of Madame Vernet, on the Rue des Fossoyeurs (now the Rue Servandoni). Their property was confiscated by the government, and Sophie, together with her young daughter, her nanny and her sister Charlotte, moved to a house on the Grande Rue D'Auteuil, not far from where Madame Helvetius lived.
Several times a week, Sophie walked into Paris to visit her husband.
As she did not want to be recognised, or to attract anybody's attention to Condorcet's hiding place, she came dressed as a peasant woman, pretending to be with the crowds of farmers come to sell their goods to the starving capital. Once through the gates, she would lose herself in the crowds come to see that day's executions at the Place de la Revolution (now Place de la Concorde), then cross the river to reach the left bank, and walked towards the church of St Sulpice, and beyond that to the street where her husband was hiding.
Often she would bring him books, or notes that he needed for his work - as he'd had to leave home in a hurry. She would also stay and encourage him, and work with him. His last work, the Sketch of human progress, was almost certainly something they worked on together.
After seeing her husband, Sophie would walk back across the Seine towards the Rue St Honoré, where she rented an underwear shop and the half-floor above it. Putting Auguste Cardot, younger brother of her husband's secretary, in charge of the shop, she set up a studio in the alcove and worked on her miniatures from there. Thus she insured that she had sufficient income to see to the needs of her husband, her family and herself until she could claim back some of what the government had seized.
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?
Elizabeth Vigee le Brun, the famous portrait painter of the late eighteenth century, was married to a man who saw her art as his private source of income. Finding that what she earned from painting portraits was not enough, he decided that she ought to teach.
She recorded her reaction in her memoirs:
"I agreed to his request without taking the time to think about it, and soon, a number of young ladies came to me, to whom I shewed how to make eyes, and noses and ovals, which I had to correct all the time. This took me away from my work and was a tremendous bore".
One of her students, according to Guillois, was Sophie de Grouchy. Her biographer doesn't say when she had these lessons, but looking at the dates when Vigee le Brun was teaching, it must have been during the early years of Sophie's marriage to Condorcet, before the Revolution, when the couple were living in the Hotel des Monnaies in Paris and Sophie was attending lectures at the Lyceum, a school for the public set up by Condorcet and La Harpe. Although Sophie may have been one of Vigee Le Brun's irritating students, having to have her eyes and noses redone by the master, she nonetheless became a very decent miniaturist herself. We have several of her self portraits (including one in the nude).
Sophie was in fact such a successful miniaturist that during the Terror she supported herself, her daughter, sister and her nurse by going around the prisons of Paris and painting the portrait of prisoners for their families. On two occasions, Guillois tells us, she avoided arrest by drawing the soldiers come for her for free.
Looking through some documents, I came across a pastel miniature portrait of Manon Roland, drawn, apparently, at the Conciergerie. There is no signature, and I have not been able to trace any information about it. But doesn't it just look like one of Sophie's?
In his testament to his daughter, Condorcet tells us that his wife, Sophie de Grouchy, as well as her Lettres sur la Sympathie, wrote other texts in moral philosophy.
These are apparently lost, along with her manuscript of the Lettres.
In the summer 2015 I visited the Bibliotheque de l'Institut in Paris, on the Quai de la Monnaie, where Condorcet and Grouchy used to live, and which houses all the papers related to the Academie Francaise. I was hoping to find some trace of her papers.
I found her will, stating that she left her papers to her daughter, Eliza, and her sister, Charlotte Cabanis. Her executor was Madame de Lasteyrie, Lafayette's daughter.
Next stop the Cabanis archives?
Sophie de Grouchy's first biographer was the civil servant, part-time historian Antoine Guillois. His book, La Marquise de Condorcet, sa famille, son salon, ses amis, portrays Sophie as a 'superior woman' praised for her beauty, her virtue and her intellect. Guillois dedicates his work to Sophie's grand nephew, the Vicomte de Grouchy.
Olympe de Gouges also had a biographer named Guillois, a young medical student who chose to write his thesis on women's psychology during the revolution, focusing on one case, a woman clearly suffering from paranoid delusions, according to his expert diagnostic.
Would it be too much of a coincidence if the two Guillois were related? It's by no means an uncommon name. In fact, in my searches, I discovered some Guillois of that period based in Turkey! But as it turns out, they are father and son, and here's the evidence on Guillois Junior's birth certificate (courtesy of a Guillois descendant , Jacques le Normand.
This is where I live blog about my new book project, an intellectual biography of three French Revolutionary women philosophers.