Do you think, Ibben, that it enters a woman’s head to become the mistress of a minister in order to sleep with him? What an idea! It is so as to present him with five or six petitions every morning.
Lettres persanes, 1721.

If ever the early eighteenth century saw such a creature as a female political animal it was the “scandalous” Claudine Alexandrine Guérin de Tencin. She was also the author of Mémoires du Comte de Comminges, a novel about love and self-sacrifice that was still reducing its readers to floods of tears well into the following century. Fascinated by the political game, she simply had to know the state of play and contrive to be a party to it. She could judge—without any excess of charity—the leading political players of the moment. What she wanted was to influence the course of the...

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