She was born Sofia Petrovna Soymonova (sometimes Soïmonov or Soymanof) on 22 November 1782 in Moscow, the daughter of Secretary of State Peter Alexandrovich Soimonov (1734–1801) and his wife, Catherine Boltin (1756–1790).
She spent her early years at the court of Empress Catherine the Great, as her father was one of the empress's closest advisors. She was given a good education and spoke several European languages and was popular at court. In 1797, she was made lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Fedorovna. In 1799, she married General Nicholas Sergeyevich Swetchine. Despite General Swetchine being 25 years her senior, their relationship was described as a good one.
She was said to have suffered because of her childlessness, and therefore turned to religion. Under the influence of Joseph de Maistre, she became a member of the Roman Catholic Church in 1815; she had also been under the influence of the Jesuits. Because of the law, which disallowed Russian nobles who converted from the orthodox religion to live in Russia, she was forced to leave Russia, and she decided upon Paris as her new home. In the following year she settled in Paris with her spouse where, until her death, she maintained a famous salon.
From 1826 onward, she held her salon at number 71, Rue Saint-Dominique in Paris. Her salon was considered remarkable for its high courtesy and intellectuality. She often received Russian exiles at her salon. It was also a centre of the French contrarevolutionary movement. Frequent guests were people of France's literary, political and ecclesiastical communities. With her "fervent and enlightened Catholicism", which took the form of a rational and intellectualized form of faith, she is described as an influence on the French Catholic community until her death in 1856.
Her Life and Works (of which the best known are "Old Age" and "Resignation") were published by M. de Falloux (2 vols, 1860) and her Letters by the same editor (2 vols., 1861).
Madame Swetchine is noted for the quotation: "How easy to be amiable in the midst of happiness and success." She was reported to have said that "Travel is the frivolous part of serious lives and the serious part of frivolous lives"
- Sainte-Beuve, Nouveaux lundis, vol. i.
- E Scherer, Etudes sur la littérature contemporaine, vol. i.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Maturin M Ballou, "Travels Under the Southern Cross" Houghton Mifflin, NY, 1894
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