NINON DE LENCLOS and DOROTHY PARKER? An unlikely pair? Perhaps not. Both were stars in their own era of female enlightenment, both were witty writers, keen observers of life, and surrounded by intelligent men. Dorothy had her Algonquin Round Table, Ninon had King Louis XIV–– who when confronted by a dilemma would often remark, “Well, what would Ninon do?”
NINON was the most famous courtesan of the 17th Century. Her Paris salon was open every day from "five to nine" and attended by some of the greatest minds in France: Racine, Francois de la Rochefoucauld, the Duc de Saint Simon, La Fontaine, and Moliere–– who once remarked, “Ninon is a beautiful women who has all the qualities of a good man.” Praise indeed in those days.
Independent and spirited, she was famous for her bons mots: "It takes a hundred times more skill to make love than to command an army.” Her suitors worshiped at her feet, but her philosophy was more profound. She insisted that for maximum sexual pleasure men must start treating women with respect. Another novel idea. With so many lovers, she was known in Paris as Notre Dame des Amours. She defended her conduct in her book La Coquette vengée (1659; “The Coquette Avenged”)––however, she eventually fell hopelessly in love with writer Francois Arouet, later known as Voltaire.
As Dorothy might have said: “Serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard!”
Of course Dorothy had little respect for loose women on the make ––“You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think," she said––but was sufficiently impressed by courtesan Lenclos to dedicate this poem to her: To Ninon on her last birthday…
And are you sure my eyes are bright,
And is it true my cheek is clear?
Young what's-his-name stayed half the night;
He vows to cut his throat, poor dear!
So bring my scarlet slippers, then,
And fetch the powder-puff to me.
The dear young men, the poor young men-
They think I'm only SEVENTY!
(part of poem)