Marie Thérèse Blanc, better known by the pseudonym Thérèse Bentzon (September 21, 1840 – 1907) was a French journalist, essayist, and novelist, for many years on the staff of the Revue des Deux Mondes. She was born at Seine-Port, Seine-et-Marne, a small village near Paris, traveled widely in the United States, and wrote of American literature and social conditions.
Marie-Thérèse was the daughter of Edward von Solms, consul of Württemberg in Paris, and Olympe Adrienne Bentzon. She was born in the family house, owned by her grandparents. She had a brother, from whom we know nothing. Her grandmother, a woman she never mentions in her letters except to say she was a "witty and sound Parisian" was at that time remarried to the Marquis de Vitry, an old French aristocrat, born before the French Revolution, who used to tell her story about this era.
Although her biological maternal grandfather died when her mother was very young, she mentions in her letters to Theodore Stanton that she was raised with an admiration for this unknown grandfather, Major Adrian Benjamin Bentzon, governor of the Danish West Indies from 1816 to 1820. The major, after Denmark lost the Virgin Islands, went on to file a case in the US Supreme Court arguing he should have his sugar canes plantations back. After living in America with his family, Adrian Bentzon went back to Europe, but died later in the Caribbeans. His wife later married the Marquis de Vitry, installed in the small village of Seine-Port.
Marie-Thérèse was in part raised by her grandparents and the new husband of her mother, Count Antoine Cartier D'Aure, whom her mother had married shortly after her father's death (her father was 13 years older than her mother, as her birth certificate demonstrates). At her grandparents' home she received a cosmopolitan education, learning German and English, due to her father's origins and having an English nurse. She was taught every day at their house by the village's school teacher, and from him learned Greek, Latin and how to write.
She married in 1856 to a Louis Blanc, but three years later, after having a son, her husband left her. It isn't clear if he died or simple if they divorced, but she mentions in her letters to Stanton that after three years of a long and grieving time, she finally got free. But with this freedom also came the need for money to provide for her son, whose name is unknown (he is mentioned by the Goncourt brothers as the "son of Madame Blanc").
After working for different newspapers and magazines, she was introduced by her grandfather, the Count Antoine Cartier D'Aure to George Sand, and spent a lot of time at Sand's house, in Nohant, helping her with her recording of events happening here. Sand mentions her in her journal. Her grandfather and Sand shared an interest for horses, and he had helped the writer buy some pure-breed race horses. As a thank she agreed to read a short novel written by his granddaughter, and to present her to the then editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes, François Buloz. This was the real beginning of her writing career. As an alias, she took her mother's maiden name, and generally was known as "Théodore Bentzon" a masculine penname that was voluntarily identifying her as a man, for a woman writing was not well perceived in the nineteenth century.
The Revue des Deux Mondes
After Sand insisted, and helped by Victor Cherbuliez, a reluctant Buloz let her in, as a literary critic, in 1872. She stayed in the magazine up until one year before her death. Thanks to her fluent English, she was appointed to the translation and comment of very important American and English authors, and it contributed to build her a solid network in the United States.
Her work at the magazine consisted essentially in writing critics pertaining to the Anglo-Saxon, German and Russian world. She also published most of her fictional work through the magazine, while developing her friendship with major literary figures of her time. By the time the magazine's direction changed to Ferdinand Brunetière, she had become a prominent writer at it. She lived the best years of the magazine.
In 1893, she was sent by the Revue des Deux Mondes in the US to report on the women's condition there. She left France in the first part of 1893, and from New York City went to Chicago. After spending a couple of months there, she took the train to Boston, where she spent almost a year, with trips to Louisiana and the Midwest. During her stay she went to visit Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, met Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. just before he died, and saw Jacob Riis during a lecture on one of his latest novels.
She also met political, feminists and abolitionist figures.
At her return from the US, she compiled her articles in a book, a travel journal, published in 1896 by Calmann-Levy. She visited the US again in 1897 for a shorter amount of time. Her travel journal was a best-seller and was edited again 8 times, in different editions, the latest in 1904.
The American Women At Home
First published in 1896, her travel notes were organized around the remarks she had about American women. Her travel notes are not considered to be very original in terms of opinion on America, but the subjects she chose (education of and for women, women in society and the charity system in America) make her notes original according to William Chew's researches.
Her book also accords a great importance on urban America, making a thorough portrayal of it.
Among her essays are Littérature et mœurs étrangères (1882) and Les nouveaux romanciers américains (1885). Her novels include:
- La vocation de Louise (1873)
- Sang mêlé (1875)
- Un remords (1878)
- Yette, histoire d'une jeune Créole (1880; 1882)
- Yvonne (1881)
- Tony (1884), crowned by the French Academy
- Contes de tous les pays (1890)
- Jacqueline (1893)
- Une double épreuve (1896)
- Au dessus de l'abime (1905)
She also wrote Nouvelle France et Nouvelle Angleterre: Notes de Voyage (1899); Choses et gens d'Amérique, Questions Americaines, and Femmes d' Amérique, and translated works by Dickens, Bret Harte, Ouida, Aldrich, and Mark Twain.
- Jacques Portes - Fascination and Misgivings: The United States in French ... 2006 - Page 15 "Among the academics there were, in addition to Boutmy and Levasseur, André Chevrillon, Auguste Moireau, Achille Viallate, and abbé Félix Klein; among the journalists were Thérèse Bentzon, Auguste Laugel, Edouard Masseras,.."
- Stanton, Theodore, "Autobiographical notes of Madame Blanc" The North American Review Vol. 166, Issue 498. (May 1898).
- The Goncourt brothers' journal
- Jenney Howe, Marie. George Sand. The Intimate Journal. Chicago: Academy of Chicago Publishers, 1978.
- Chew, William. Shifting Identities in Late 19th Century French Feminism: the case of Th. Bentzon.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. Missing or empty
- Chew, William: "Marie-Thérèse Blanc in America. A Fin de Siècle French Perspective of the American Woman”, in: Johan Callens (ed.): Re-discoveries of America. Meeting of Cultures, Brussel 1993, pp. 17–61.
- Sieffert, Anne-Caroline. "Thérèse Bentzon (1840-1907). Itinéraire d'une française aux Etats-Unis.", in: Le Voyage au féminin. Perspectives historiques et littéraires (18e et 20e siècle). Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2008.
- West, Joan M.: „Th. Bentzon’s Traveler’s Notes: Redefining American Women”, in: Selecta: Journal of the Pacific Northwest Council on Foreign Languages 16 (1995), pp. 29–33.