Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin

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Marie Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin (4 April 1902 – 26 December 1969) was a French novelist, poet and journalist. Vilmorin was best known as a writer of delicate but mordant tales, often set in aristocratic or artistic milieu.

Early life[edit]

The birthplace of Louise de Vilmorin

Born 4 April 1902 in the family château at Verrières-le-Buisson, Essonne, a suburb southwest of Paris, she was heir to a great French seed company fortune, that of Vilmorin. She was afflicted with a slight limp that became a personal trademark.

Louise was the younger daughter of Philippe de Vilmorin (1872–1917) by his wife Berthe Marie Mélanie de Gaufridy de Dortan (1876–1937), daughter of Roger de Gaufridy de Dortan (1843–1905) and his wife, Adélaïde de Verdonnet (1853–1918).[1][2]

Her siblings included a sister, Marie "Mapie" Pierre (1901–1972), who married, as her first husband, a cousin, Guy Marie Félix Lévêque de Vilmorin (1896-1984) in 1922 (div. 1932) by whom she had three children.[3] She married again in 1933, Guillaume de Toulouse-Lautrec-Montfa, comte de Toulouse-Lautrec (1902–1955), a relative of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; by him she had further issue a son and a daughter. She became a popular food columnist in French magazines as Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec.[4] In addition, Louise had four brothers: Henry (born 1903), Olivier (1904–1962), André (1907–1987), and Roger (1905–1980),[5] who was fathered by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.[6]


Her most famous novel was Madame de..., published in 1951, which was adapted into the celebrated film The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), directed by Max Ophüls and starring Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio de Sica. Vilmorin's other works included Juliette, La lettre dans un taxi, Les belles amours, Saintes-Unefois, and Intimités. Her letters to Jean Cocteau were published after the death of both correspondents. She was awarded the Renée Vivien prize for women poets in 1949.[7][8]

Francis Poulenc literally sang her praises, considering her an equal to Paul Éluard and Max Jacob, found in her writing "a sort of sensitive impertinence, libertinage, and an appetite which, carried on into song [is] what I tried to express in my extreme youth with Marie Laurencin in Les Biches". (Ivry 1996)


As a young woman, in 1923, she had been engaged to novelist and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; however, the engagement was called off, even though Saint-Exupéry gave up flying for a while after her family protested such a risky occupation. Vilmorin's first husband was an American real-estate heir, Henry Leigh Hunt (1886–1972), the only son of Leigh S. J. Hunt, a businessman who once owned much of Las Vegas, Nevada by his wife, Jessie Noble.[9] They married in 1925 (1924 according to other sources), moved to Las Vegas, and divorced in the 1930s. They had three daughters:

  • Jessie[10] Leigh Hunt (b. 3 February 1929,[11] Hauts-de-Seine, Neuilly-sur-Seine[12] not 1928 as misreported[13]). She married in 1951 (divorced by 1962) Albert Cabell Bruce Jr. (b. 11 August 1925), only son of Albert Cabell Bruce (nephew of William Cabell Bruce) by his wife, Helen Eccleston Whitridge (granddaughter of Gov. Oden Bowie), by whom she had issue, four sons: Cabell, Leigh, Thomas, and James, all born 1952–1959 in Midland, Texas.[13] She then married Clement Biddle Wood, an editor of The Paris Review, in 1965.[14]
  • Alexandra Leigh Hunt (b. 1 April 1930, Hauts-de-Seine, Neuilly-sur-Seine)[15] married Henry Ridgeley Horsey (b. 18 October 1924, Dover, Delaware, USA). Her children were Henry Ridgely Horsey Jr., Edmond Philip de Vilmorin Horsey, Alexandra Thérèse Leigh-Hunt Horsey, Randall Revell Horsey, Philippa Ridgely Horsey,
  • Helena Leigh Hunt (23 June 1931, Hauts-de-Seine, Neuilly-sur-Seine – 28 December 1995, Southampton Hospital, Long Island, New York, aged 64[16]), a realist still-life painter. She was married (div) to John Tracy Baxter (b. 23 August 1926, Macon, Georgia),[17] with whom according to the New York obituary, she had three daughters, Elizabeth Baxter, Etienne Baxter, and Leigh Baxter (Mrs Warre).

Her second husband was Count Paul Pálffy ab Erdöd (1890–1968), a much-married Austrian-born Hungarian playboy, who had been second husband to the Hungarian countess better known as Etti Plesch, owner of two Epsom Derby winners. Palffy married Louise as his fifth wife in 1938, but the couple soon divorced.

Vilmorin was the mistress of another of Etti Plesch's husbands, Count [Maria Thomas] Paul Esterházy de Galántha (1901–1964), who left his wife in 1942 for Vilmorin. They never married. For a number of years, she was the mistress of Duff Cooper, British ambassador to France. Louise spent the last years of her life as the companion of the French Cultural Affairs Minister and author André Malraux, calling herself "Marilyn Malraux".

Death and legacy[edit]

Tomb of Louise de Vilmorin in Verrières-le-Buisson.
"Square Louise-de-Vilmorin", Verrières-le-Buisson

Louise de Vilmorin died 26 December 1969. She is memorialised in placenames across France, including in Limeil-Brévannes, Mantes-la-Jolie, Draveil, Saint-Pierre-du-Perray, Mennecy and Avrainville.

In popular culture[edit]

She was a significant character in Antonio Iturbe’s 2017 Spanish language novel A cielo abierto which was translated into English and published in 2021 with the title The Prince of the Skies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Berthe Marie Mélanie de Gaufridy de Dortan, *1876 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Sold images/Fine cabinet photograph of Alfonso XIII by Arnaldo Fonseca, c. 1907" Archived 4 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine, 19thcentury-photography.com; accessed 11 June 2012.
  3. ^ "Guy Marie Félix Lévêque de Vilmorin, *1896 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Marie-Pierre Adelaide Lévêque de Vilmorin, *1901 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Roger Marie Vincent Philippe Lévêque de Vilmorin, *1905 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  6. ^ Roger de Vilmorin's biological father is identified in Gerard Eyre Nobel, Ena, Spain's English Queen (Constable, 1984), p. 170
  7. ^ de Flers, Claude; Bodin, Thierry (19 November 2014). "Littérature, de la comtesse de Ségur à Marguerite Duras". Femmes, Lettres & Manuscrits autographes [Women, Letters & Autographed Manuscripts] (PDF) (in French). Paris: Etude Ader of Drouot. p. 403. Lettre autographe signée "N.C.B.", Paris 24 mai 1949, [à la poétesse George Day] ... La seule poétesse éligible reste donc Louise de Vilmorin ...
  8. ^ Wagener, Françoise (14 January 2009). Je suis née inconsolable: Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969) [I was born inconsolable: Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969)]. Essais - Documents (in French). Editions Albin Michel. ISBN 9782226196521. Retrieved 10 April 2016. Notons que Natalie Barney appréciait l'œuvre poétique de Louise et lui avait donné le Prix Renée Vivien ...
  9. ^ "Leigh Smith John Hunt Papers, RS 2/3, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library". Archived from the original on 1 May 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Obituary: Jessie Wood, 73, Paris hostess". The New York Times. 15 March 2002. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Henry Leigh-Hunt, *1886 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  12. ^ "Familia Herreros-Galan - pafg989 - Generated by Personal Ancestral File". Archived from the original on 23 February 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Tudor 39". William1.co.uk. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Clement Biddle Wood Jr., 69, Novelist and Paris Review Editor". The New York Times. 5 December 1994. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Alexandra Leigh-Hunt, *1930 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Helena Leigh-Hunt Still-Life Painter, 64" (obituary), The New York Times, 5 January 1996.
  17. ^ "Helena Leigh-Hunt, *1931 – Geneall.net". Geneall.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017.


  • Ivry, Benjamin (1996): Francis Poulenc, 20th-Century Composers series. Phaidon Press Limited, ISBN 0-7148-3503-X.
  • Bothorel, Jean (1993): Louise ou la Vie de Louise de Vilmorin, Bernard Grasset, Paris
  • Wagener, Françoise (2008), Je suis née inconsolable: Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969), Albin Michel, Paris, ISBN 978-2-226-18083-4.