Education of a young lady
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont was born in 1711 in bourgeoisie family of Rouen, France, to the painter and sculptor Jean Baptiste Nicolas and his second wife Barbe, who died when Jeanne-Marie was only eleven years old. Soon after she was sent to convent school, where she received a good education, but was supposed to become a nun and stay there for the rest of her life.
At about 20 years of age, she started teaching younger girls in the same convent, and did that for four years, until she suddenly left the school. While we can only speculate why, recent findings of her letters suggest her behavior wasn't as exemplary as it should be.
She left the convent and moved to the castle of Duke Leopold where (probably with intervention of her father) she became a tutor and governess of Elisabeth-Therese, who only two years later married the king of Sardinia. While Jeanne-Marie lost her job, she got many influential connections, which eventually helped her to establish a career as a writer and publisher.
What happened in next five years of her life is unclear. We can find all sorts of rumors about her affairs with different men. She at least partly supported herself as a governess at different noble families, until she (this is hard fact) moved to England in 1748. There she instructed different young ladies from noble families. Among her protegees was Sophie Carteret, whose mother was Lady Charlotte (later Finch), official Royal Governess of George III's children. Madame de Beaumont's methods of work greatly influenced Lady Charlotte and the whole educational system of nobility in England.
Just one interesting piece of trivia: Mme de Beaumont is credited as an inventor of a technique for solving dissected maps.
London proved to be an encouraging environment for her. She published several works in the field of moral education (magazines) and is the creator of the first educational magazine for children. These books were a huge success, often printed in French and English at the same time and frequently translated into other European languages.
She was an avid supporter of rational thinking. For instance, she believed La Fontaine's Fables were not appropriate for children, because they 'stimulate false ideas'. Many of her books share the same narrative format: the governess talking with young ladies about different important issues in life.
The governess always encouraged the girls to think about the problems and find solutions through their own ways of reasoning. She promoted debate and confrontation as tools for intellectual and social personal growth.
Today she is most known for her fairy tales, especially The Beauty and the Beast, published in 1757, a simplified retelling of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's novella from 1740. Although familiar with the tradition of storytellers like Madame d'Aulnoy and Charles Perrault, Madame de Beaumont thought about fairy tales more as a didactic, not an entertaining material.
This means her opus is more related to works signed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire). She was a versatile and industrious writer with more than 70 works, published as books, magazines and essays.
If we are looking for a comparative writer for children, we should probably mention Miss Molesworth. Just like Madame Leprince de Beaumont prepared girls for arranged marriages to total strangers in a world where nunnery was often the only other option, Mary Louisa Molesworth prepared girls to become housewives and mothers in Victorian England.
As an average reader (vaguely) associates Beaumont's name with fairy tales, a dedicated scholar knows her mostly for magazines. She founded and edited several of them and we can safely say her work paved the way for magazines as Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.
Her most important contribution was constant promotion of women's rights to education. Books of this prolific author circulated among upper and middle class all around the Europe, from Sweden to Greece, from Spain to Poland. Even the Empress of Russia suscribed to her magazines and sent her thank you notes with money.
Mme de Beaumont got her surname following her marriage with Antoine Grimand de Beaumont. It is hard to say why they married because pieces of information from different sources don't match as they should. They are actually contradictory. Most articles claim this wasn't a happy marriage. It was obviously arranged and the bride brought a nice amount of money, paid by her employer the Duke of Lorraine, in matrimony.
Antoine Grimand was an officer, who liked gambling and the company of ladies of negotiable virtue. With the dowry, he was able to pay off his debts and continue with his questionable lifestyle, which led to the annulment of the marriage less than two years after the wedding. He eventually died from venereal disease. Their relationship wasn't without consequences. They had a daughter named Elizabeth, who later became the grandmother of another great Frenchman, Prosper Merimee (1803-1870).
While this information will probably circulate around the web for many years, it is not necessarily true.
Historians have recently found another interesting connection. A certain Marie Le Prince apparently married Claude-Antoine Malter (both stated dancing as their profession) in 1837, and this marriage was also annulled. Is it possible Elizabeth was born from that relationship? And the marriage with Monsieur de Beaumont in 1843 served only to provide a surname for Jeanne-Marie's daughter?
There is at least one bit of evidence supporting that theory. The supposedly estranged Antoine Grimand witnessed the signing of the publishing contract between his ex wife and her London editor about seven years after they got separated. We can also find a note about his death in a duel before she left France...
We'll probably never find the truth, but we can presume her acts were always unconventional, based on what can be seen from another important relationship in her life. In London she met Thomas Pichon, another Frenchman, who worked as a spy and changed his surname to Tyrell. They lived together until she returned to France and stayed with Elizabeth for good.
We can also find misinformation about her six kids with Tyrell, which probably evolved from the six children Elizabeth had with Nicolas Moreau. But this is material for another story.
Although Mme de Beaumont is not the most known name today, her work influenced many social changes and her version of Beauty and the Beast is without doubt the most popular story from the 18th century written by a woman.