Isabelle de Charriere (1740-1805) is best known for four of her novels: Lettres neuchateloises, Lettres de Mistriss Henley, Lettres ecrites de Lausanne, and Caliste. These finely drawn representations of provincial courtship, marriage, and domestic life have been called the closest thing in French to the novels of Jane Austen. A daughter of a distinguished Dutch noble family, she was known in her youth as Belle de Zuylen. At the age of twenty she began a clandestine correspondence with a middle-aged Swiss colonel stationed in Holland. David-Louis, Baron de Constant d'Hermenches, was a friend of Voltaire, an accomplished musician, an amateur writer, and a ladies' man. Their correspondence was one of the finest in a great age of letter-writing. It lasted fifteen years, and nearly all of it is extant. Although the two rarely saw each other, their epistolary friendship became one of great depth and scope. Their correspondence touches on a wide range of subjects: James Boswell's courtship of Isabelle, her opinions of English high society, the new smallpox inoculation, and visits by royalty. It includes firsthand accounts of the French conquest of Corsica and of Voltaire's social activism. Readers acquainted with Charriere's novels will see in these letters the same finely observed detail, epistolary style, and moral and intellectual awareness. Janet and Malcolm Whatley live in Burlington, Vermont. Janet Whatley is a professor of French at the University of Vermont specializing in the literature of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
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