1765 – 1825
Who was Adélaïde Dufrénoy?
The daughter of Jacques Billet, a jeweller for the Crown of Poland, she had a lavish education and learnt Latin to a proficient enough level that she was able to translate the works of Horace and Virgil. A M. Laya would later introduce her to French poetry, which would capture her imagination for years to come.
At the age of fifteen, she married a rich prosecutor, Simon Petit-Dufrenoy, at the Châtelet de Paris. Her marital home became the meeting-place of the beaux-esprits of the city, which influenced her towards a true poetic vocation. In 1787, her career as a writer started in earnest with a small work titled Boutade, to a friend. Also, she had a few of her poems published in the popular poetic periodical, the Almanach des Muses. The subsequent year, she tried her hand with theatre, and put on a play, l'Amour exilé des Cieux, but she would owe her literary reputation to her popular elegies.
Her run of good luck ended when the French Revolution erupted and their home was set on fire, which would lead to the bankruptcy of her husband. The Directoire offered no compensation to them, and the subsequent Consulate moved him to a badly paid job in Alexandria. Adélaïde-Gillette accompanied him there and, when he went blind, tried to help him by copying his dossiers and writing out his judgements. Despite this monopolising her time, it is from this sombre period that the majority of her elegies come. The melancholy that she felt was bolstered by her feeling so far from her homeland.
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