Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc

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Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc
Marie Angélique Memmie LeBlanc, the Maid of Châlons.jpg
Birth name unknown

DiedDecember 15, 1775(1775-12-15) (aged 63)
Other namesThe Wild Girl of Champagne
The Maid of Châlons
The Wild Child of Songy

Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc (1712 in Wisconsin?, French Louisiana – 15 December 1775 in Paris, France) was a famous feral child of the 18th century in France who was known as The Wild Girl of Champagne, The Maid of Châlons, or The Wild Child of Songy.

Her case is more controversial than that of some other feral children because a few modern-day scholars have regarded it as either wholly or partly fictional.[1][2][3] However, in 2004, the French author Serge Aroles argued that it was indeed authentic, after spending ten years carrying out archival research into French and American history.[4]

Aroles speculates that Marie-Angélique had survived for ten years living wild in the forests of France, between the ages of nine and 19, before she was captured by villagers in Songy in Champagne in September 1731. He claims that she was born in 1712 as a Native American of the Meskwaki (or "Fox") people in what today is the Midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin and that she died in Paris in 1775, aged 63. Aroles found archival documents showing that she learned to read and write as an adult, thus making her unique among feral children.

Contemporary accounts[edit]

The story of Marie-Angélique's life in the wild was publicised in the mid-18th century in both France and in Britain through a short pamphlet biography of her by the French writer Marie-Catherine Homassel Hecquet edited by the French scientist-explorer Charles-Marie de la Condamine and published in Paris in 1755.[5] This appeared in an English translation in 1768 as An Account of a Savage Girl, Caught Wild in the Woods of Champagne.[6] However, it was not error-free since it gave Marie-Angélique's age at the time of her capture as ten although it is now speculated to have been nineteen.

Interviews with Marie-Angélique herself were recorded by the French royal courtier and diarist Charles-Philippe d’Albert, Duc de Luynes (1753),[7] the French poet Louis Racine (c. 1755)[8] and the Scottish philosopher-judge James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1765).[9] In addition, accounts of her were published by the French naturalists Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1759)[10] and Jacques-Christophe Valmont de Bomare (1768),[11] Lord Monboddo (1768)[12] (1773)[13] and (1795),[14] the Châlons lawyer-antiquary Claude-Rémy Buirette de Verrières (1788)[15] and the French historian Abel Hugo (1835).[16]

Marie-Catherine Homassel Hecquet[edit]

Marie-Catherine Homassel-Hecquet (June 12, 1686 – 8 July 1764) was a French biographical author of the first half of the 18th century. She was the wife of the Abbeville merchant Jacques Homassel and the semi-anonymous "Madame H–––t" who published a pamphlet biography of the famous feral child Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc, Histoire d'une jeune fille sauvage trouvée dans les bois à l’âge de dix ans, in Paris in 1755.[17] This appeared in an English translation in 1768 as An Account of a Savage Girl,[6] with a preface by the Scottish philosopher-judge James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, which anticipates some of the later evolutionary theories of the English scientist Charles Darwin.

However, just how much of Histoire d'une jeune fille sauvage Hecquet herself wrote is not clear and the work has sometimes been attributed to the French scientist-explorer Charles-Marie de la Condamine, even though La Condamine himself publicly denied its authorship. The biography was advertised in Paris in 1755 as "Brochure in-12 de 72 pag. Prix 1 liv."[18] ("Pamphlet in duodecimo of 72 pages. Price 1 French livre") and was sold in shops in the city in order to provide a small income for Marie-Angélique herself.

At the time, La Condamine described Hecquet as "a widow, who lives near St. Marceau and, having met and befriended the girl after the death of M. the Duke d’Orleans who was protecting her, took pains to write her story".[19] Very little else is known about her other than that she was a correspondent and former childhood friend of Marie-Andrée Regnard Duplessis (1687–1760), a nun and mother superior of the Hôtel-Dieu convent in Quebec in Canada. In later life she is believed to have gone into a religious retreat at an unknown location, perhaps as a nun.[20]

Modern assessments[edit]

The story of Marie-Angélique's life remains little-known in English-speaking countries and appeared to have been almost forgotten in France until quite recently, with the publication of Julia Douthwaite's articles and book. It was featured in broadcasts by the French radio channel Europe1 in 2011 and by the France Inter channel in 2012.[21][22]

The French surgeon-author Serge Aroles summarizes Marie-Angélique's life in his second book, L’Enigme des enfants-loups: Une certitude biologique mais un déni des archives 1304–1954 (Paris, Editions Publibook, 2007):

These archives [those studied by Aroles himself] suggest that the only feral child to have survived in the forests for as long as ten years without irreversible deterioration of body or mind was an Amerindian of the 'Renards' or 'Fox' people. She was brought to France from Canada by a lady who unfortunately arrived [by ship] in Marseille during the bubonic plague epidemic in Provence in 1720.[23]

Having escaped the plague that should have killed her, Marie-Angélique walked thousands of kilometers through the forests of the kingdom of France before being captured in 1731 in the province of Champagne in a state of savagery. During these ten years, she did not live with wolves, but survived them by resisting their attacks with a wooden club and another weapon [a long stick with a sharp metal tip] that she either found or stole. When she was captured, this black-skinned, hairy and clawed huntress was showing some characteristics of regression (she knelt down to drink water and had regular sideways eye movements, similar to nystagmus, the result of a life lived in a state of permanent alertness). However, this girl overcame an extreme challenge harder than the cold, wolves, or hunger: she recovered the faculty of human speech after ten years of mutism.[24]

Despite Aroles' speculation that she was 19 years old when she was captured, a printed text [Hecquet's Histoire d’une jeune fille sauvage] claimed that she was ten. Her intellectual rebirth was important: she learned to read and write, became a nun for a time in a royal abbey, became destitute, was rescued financially by the Queen of France (spouse of Louis XV), maintained her dignity in the face of her long battle with an illness, and died relatively wealthy, as the inventory of her goods shows.[25]

The Scottish philosopher Monboddo, who interviewed Marie-Angélique in 1765, considered her to be the most extraordinary person of his time. However, this woman was forgotten; she disappears, for more than two centuries, behind all the heroines of fiction.[26]

In September 2002, the University of Chicago Press published the first scholarly book on this case, by Julia V. Douthwaite, "The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment". In January 2015, the Paris publisher Editions Delcourt published a comic book based on Marie-Angélique's life, Sauvage: Biographie de Marie-Angélique le Blanc, written by Jean David Morvan and Aurélie Beviere and illustrated by Gaëlle Hersent.[27]


  1. ^ Lucien Malson, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature: With the Complete Text of the Wild Boy of Aveyron (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1972), pp. 41–42.
  2. ^ Julia V. Douthwaite, "Rewriting the Savage: The Extraordinary Fictions of ‘The Wild Girl of Champagne’", Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 28, no. 2 (Winter 1994–95), pp. 163–192.
  3. ^ Julia V. Douthwaite, The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 29–53.
  4. ^ Marie-Angélique (Haut-Mississippi, 1712–Paris, 1775): Survie et résurrection d'une enfant perdue dix années en forêt (Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Terre Editions, 2004).
  5. ^ Histoire d’une jeune fille sauvage trouvée dans les bois à l’âge de dix ans (Paris, no publisher, 1755).
  6. ^ a b An Account of a Savage Girl, Caught Wild in the Woods of Champagne. Translated from the French of Madam H–––t [trans. William Robertson] (Edinburgh, A. Kincaid and J. Bell, 1768).
  7. ^ Mémoires du duc de Luynes sur la cour de Louis XV (1735–1758) (17 vols, Paris, Firmin Didot, 1860–1865), vol. 13 (1753–1754), pp. 70–72.
  8. ^ "Éclaircissement sur la fille sauvage dont il est parlé dans l’Épître II sur l’homme" (c. 1755) in Oeuvres de Louis Racine (6 vols, Paris, Le Normant, 1808), vol. 6, pp. 575–582.
  9. ^ Antient Metaphysics (6 vols, Edinburgh and London, Bell and Bradshute and T. Cadell, 1779–1799), vol. 4 (1795), Appendix, pp. 403–408.
  10. ^ Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (36 vols, Paris, de l'Imperie Royale, 1749–1788), vol. 4 (1759), p. 56.
  11. ^ "HOMME SAUVAGE" entry in Dictionnaire raisonné universel d’histoire naturelle (6 vols, Paris, Chez Lacombe, 1768), vol. 3, pp. 367–368.
  12. ^ Preface to An Account of a Savage Girl, pp. iii–xvii.
  13. ^ Of the Origin and Progress of Language (6 vols, Edinburgh and London, J. Balfour and T. Cadell, 1773–1792), vol. 1 (1773), pp. 188–189, 243, 262–263.
  14. ^ Antient Metaphysics, vol. 4 (1795), pp. 33–34, 36, 403–408.
  15. ^ Annales historiques de la ville et comte-pairie de Châlons-sur-Marne, premiere partie (Châlons, Chez Seneuze, 1788), pp. lxxvii–lxxxvi.
  16. ^ "Variétés: La fille sauvage" in France pittoresque (3 vols, Paris, Chez Delloye, 1835), vol. 2, pp. 222–223.
  17. ^ Madame H–––t [Marie-Catherine Hommasel Hecquet], Histoire d’une jeune fille sauvage trouvée dans les bois à l’âge de dix ans (Paris, no publisher, 1755)[1] accessed 1 September 2013.
  18. ^ Annonces, Affiches, et Avis Divers, 19 February 1755, p. 1, Bibliotheque historique de la Ville de Paris.
  19. ^ Charles-Marie de la Condamine, "Lettre à M. de Boissy, de l’Académie Françoise", Le Mercure de France (Paris, April 1755), p. 75. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-15. Retrieved 2014-11-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) accessed 26 November 2014
  20. ^ Julie Roy, "Des femmes de lettres avant la lettre. Les religeuses et le livre manuscrit a l'époque de la Nouvelle-France" in Le Québec au miroir de l'Europe (Québec, Association internationale des études québécoises, 2004), p. 26 [2] accessed 1 September 2014.
  21. ^ Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  22. ^ Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  23. ^ French text: "Ces archives attestent que l’unique enfant qui eût pu survivre une décennie en forêt sans altération irréversible de son corps et de son esprit, fut une petite Amérindienne du peuple des Renards (actuellement les Fox; États-Unis), emmenée en France par une dame du Canada qui eut le malheur d’aborder à Marseille lors de la grande peste de 1720.
  24. ^ French text: "Évadée lors de la terrible épidémie dont elle eut dû être la victime, Marie-Angélique parcourut sur des milliers de kilomètres les forêts du royaume de France, avant d’être capturée en Champagne, en 1731, dans un fort état d’ensauvagement. Durant cette décennie, elle n’a pas vécu au sein des loups, mais survécu au péril de ceux-ci, s’étant armée d’un gourdin et d’une arme métallique, volée ou découverte. Lorsqu’elle fut capturée, cette chasseresse noirâtre, chevelue, griffue, présentait certes des éléments de régression (elle s’agenouillait pour boire l’eau et ses yeux étaient animés d’un battement latéral permanent, tel un nystagmus, stigmate de sa vie dans l’alerte), toutefois, cette enfant avait triomphé d’un défi inouï, non tant la lutte contre le froid, les loups et la faim, mais bien le combat de préserver son langage articulé, fut-ce après une décennie de mutisme, de parole envolée.
  25. ^ French text: "Alors que les archives assurent qu’elle était âgée d’environ 19 ans lors de sa capture, un texte imprimé lui attribua la moitié de cet âge. Cette erreur monumentale, infiniment reprise, ayant empêché, depuis trois siècles, les enquêteurs de découvrir son origine, attendu qu’il fallait chercher sa naissance et sa venue en France dans les registres antérieurs d’une décennie. Sa résurrection intellectuelle fut majeure; elle apprit à lire et écrire, devint un temps religieuse en une abbaye royale, tomba dans la misère, fut secourue par la reine de France, épouse de Louis XV, refusa un amour qu’un lettré lui offrait, fut tant digne lors de son ultime maladie, un asthme aux longues asphyxies, et mourut assez fortunée, son inventaire après décès en faisant foi."
  26. ^ French text: "Considérée par le philosophe écossais Monboddo, qui l’interrogea en 1765, comme le personnage le plus extraordinaire de son époque, cette femme d’autrefois est tombée en notre oubli; elle s’efface, depuis plus de deux siècles, derrière toutes les héroïnes de la fiction.
  27. ^ Retrieved 1 April 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Benzaquén, Adriana S., Encounters with Wild Children: Temptation and Disappointment in the Study of Human Nature (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006)
  • Strivay, Lucienne, Enfants sauvages: Approches anthropologiques (Paris, Editions Gallimard, 2006)
  • Calder, Martin, Encounters with the Other: A Journey to the Limits of Language Through Works by Rousseau, Defoe, Prévoust and Graffigny (Faux Titre 234) (Amsterdam/New York, Editions Rodopi, 2003)
  • Douthwaite, Julia V. "Les sciences de l'homme au 18e siècle: Le parcours de la jeune fille sauvage de Champagne," Pour l’histoire des sciences de l’homme, 27 (automne-hiver, 2004): 46-53.
  • Douthwaite, Julia V. "Rewriting the Savage: The Extraordinary Fictions of the "Wild Girl of Champagne," Eighteenth-Century Studies 28, 2 (Winter 1994-95): 163-192.
  • Douthwaite, Julia V., The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 29–53
  • Newton, Michael, Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children (London, Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press, 2002; repr. London, Picador, 2004)
  • Cayre, Anne, La fille sauvage de Songy, novel, (L'Harmattan, 2013)

External links[edit]

  • French comic-book artists' blog about Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc [3]