In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marie de Gournay

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • English Translations
  • The Friendship between Gournay and Montaigne
  • Gournay’s Editorial Practice and Prefaces to the Essais
  • Gournay’s Ombre and Advis
  • Le Proumenoir de Monsieur de Montaigne
  • Gender and Equality for Women
  • Language and Translation
  • Political and Moralist Treatises
  • Gournay’s Authorial Persona
  • Early Modern Women, Literacy, and the Book
  • Editing and Publishing the Essais
  • Bordeaux Copy Debate

Renaissance and Reformation Marie de Gournay
Leah Chang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0231


Philosopher, translator, fiction writer, and editor: it is virtually impossible to pin down one authorial or scholarly identity for Marie de Gournay (b. 1565–d. 1645). Over the course of an extraordinary career that spanned over forty years, the autodidact Gournay created an extensive body of work, remarkable both for its range of genre and subject and for the painstaking care with which she returned repeatedly to her texts, reworking them and recasting them in different editorial contexts for different publics. Gournay is increasingly studied and valued by scholars for the writings of her late career, particularly for her work on gender and equality, on moral philosophy, on language and poetry, and for her monumental editions of her collected works. But for most of the 350 years since her death, she was known principally as the editor of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais. Gournay did much to foreground her identity as Montaigne’s fille d’alliance (or “covenant daughter”), which is a term meant to capture a friendship between the two writers —the older, male essayist, and the younger female one—that appears to have been as historically founded as it was textually cultivated. Until the late 20th century, popular and scholarly opinion has generally been unkind to Gournay. Although during her career she had her supporters and correspondents (Montaigne himself, it appears, and, notably, scholars such as Justus Lipsius and Anna Maria Von Schurman), during her lifetime Gournay was also mocked as a bluestocking, made the butt of various pranks, and ridiculed in print. Scholarly disdain for Gournay continued into the 19th and early 20th centuries. With the rediscovery of the “Bordeaux Copy” of Montaigne’s Essais in the early 19th century—with additions and comments in Montaigne’s hand that differed from those that appeared in Gournay’s 1595 edition—Gournay’s reputation as a “faithful” editor was called into question. Critics also cast doubt on the mutuality of the friendship with Montaigne and suggested that Gournay was little better than an obsessive fan. This disdainful attitude toward Gournay has altered radically in the last thirty years. Gournay’s essays and treatises, in addition to her work on the Essais, have become the subject of several volumes of essays and monographs as scholars have increasingly made Gournay-as-author the subject of critical inquiry; in addition, scholars have sought greater purchase on the mutually informative relation between her editorial work and her writing. Gournay’s complete works have also been reproduced carefully in excellent critical editions. Strikingly, the debate over her work on Montaigne’s Essais has also come full circle, as the 1595 text has been re-adopted as the definitive version of the Essais for the recent Pléiade edition. The quickened scholarly interest in Gournay over the past twenty years—much of which defends her as editor and author—no doubt played a role in that editorial decision.

General Overviews

Gournay’s Copie de la vie de la Damoiselle de Gournay, written later in her life, provided an initial biographical source text from which most early scholarly biographies derived. Early-21st-century work has looked to correspondence and notarial documents to enrich the biographical portrait we have of Gournay. Schiff 1910 is representative of a tension in early biographical sketches between appreciation for Gournay’s oeuvre and patronizing condescension toward her relation to Montaigne. The pithy sketch of Gournay’s biography and texts in Noiset 2007 is an excellent starting point for readers new to Gournay’s work. Ilsley 1963 offers the only full-length study in English and marks an important 20th-century turning point in recovering Gournay’s identity as an exceptionally learned woman and foregrounding her work as an author as well as an editor. Arnould 1996 offers a landmark collection of essays that recovered Gournay’s essential role in the 1595 Essais and pointed scholars toward the importance of her independently authored philosophical, linguistic, and political writings. Recent treatments of Gournay, such as Devincenzo 2002 and Fogel 2004, emphasize her later works and are highly attuned to Gournay’s own efforts to construct her literary persona.

  • Arnould, Jean-Claude, ed. Marie de Gournay et L’Edition de 1595 des Essais de Montaigne: Actes du colloque organisé par la Société Internationale des Amis de Montaigne. Paris: Champion, 1996.

    A collection of essays first presented at a colloquium celebrating the centenary of the 1595 Essais, revealing a renewed interest in Gournay as author and editor. Although most of the volume discusses Gournay’s editorial role, a third part of the book presents studies of Gournay’s fiction and collected works.

  • Devincenzo, Giovanna. Marie de Gournay: Un cas littéraire. Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002.

    Lively and extensive study with detailed attention to both Gournay’s biography and her entire literary corpus. Leans toward a defensive portrait of Gournay in response to a largely negative scholarly reception of Gournay’s work since the 17th century. Includes an exhaustive bibliography of scholarly work.

  • Fogel, Michèle. Marie de Gournay, Itinéraires d’une femme savante. Paris: Fayard, 2004.

    Biography of Gournay that strives to put the author in her historical and social context by reading notarial records and correspondence alongside Gournay’s publications. Emphasizes the ways in which Gournay actively constructed her public persona as an author.

  • Ilsley, Margaret. A Daughter of the Renaissance: Marie le Jars de Gournay, Her Life and Works. The Hague: Mouton, 1963.

    The only full-length study of Gournay’s life and works available in English. An important attempt to understand Gournay’s work both in relation to and beyond Montaigne. Still considered one of the definitive works on Gournay.

  • Noiset, Marie-Thérèse. “Gournay, Marie de (1565–1645).” In Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. Edited by Diane Robin, Anne Larsen, and Carole Levin, 170–173. Oxford: ABC-Clio, 2007.

    Concise entry in English on Gournay’s biography and notable thematics by Gournay scholar Noiset. Inclusion in important collection of biographical notices places Gournay in the context of other early modern European women writers.

  • Schiff, Mario. La Fille d’alliance de Montaigne, Marie de Gournay. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1910.

    Although outdated, Schiff’s works are some of the few devoted to Gournay. Example of a negative scholarly treatment of Gournay’s relationship to Montaigne in the 19th and 20th centuries. Especially interesting given the concurrent preparation of the municipal edition of the Essais based on the Bordeaux Copy.

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