Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force or Mademoiselle de La Force (1654–1724) was a French novelist and poet. Her best-known work was her 1698 fairy tale Persinette which was adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story Rapunzel.
She was the daughter of François de Caumont de La Force (eighth son of Marshal de La Force), marquis de Castelmoron and of Marguerite de Viçose. Raised as a Protestant, she converted to Catholicism in 1686 and received a pension of 1000 écus from Louis XIV. Like other famous women writers of the 17th century, she was named a member of the Academy of the Ricovrati of Padua.
Her first novels were in the popular vein of “histoires secrètes”, short novels recounting the “secret history” of a famous person and linking the action generally to an amorous intrigue, such as Histoire secrete de Bourgogne (1694), Histoire secrète de Henri IV, roi de Castille (1695), Histoire de Marguerite de Valois, reine de Navarre (1696).
She had a long affair with the much younger Charles Briou, causing more scandal, particularly after she dressed up as a dancing bear to gain access to him. Finally she married him secretly with the king’s permission, but her family and his father intervened to have the marriage annulled.
Later, Charlotte-Rose was engaged to the Marquis de Nesle, the betrothal ending in scandal after a pouch she had given him was found to have toads’ feet and spells in it. As a result, Mme de la Force “came to the attention” of the King during the infamous Affair of the Poisons. They wed, but their marriage was annulled in the courts. In 1697, she was banished to the abbey of Gercy-en-Brie after writing some satirical Christmas verses and under suspicion of having an affair with the Dauphin.
It was from here that she wrote her memoirs: Pensées chrétiennes de défunte de Mlle de La Force. Her novels had a great deal of success in Europe in the 18th century.
She is also well known for participating in the 17th century vogue of contes des fées along with Henriette-Julie de Murat, Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy, Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier, and Charles Perrault. She wrote Les Contes des Contes (1698) and Les Contes des Fées. These works included the tale Fairer-than-a-Fairy. The version translated by James Planché differs considerably to the version told by Andrew Lang. The Queen of the Fairies, named Nabote, kidnaps Fairer than a Fairy and instructs her to clean a room which will only become dirtier as she sweeps it. Nabote’s son, Phratis, professes his love for her and magically cleans the room. Fairer meets a second kidnapped princess, Désirs. The two princesses are given more impossible tasks which are completed by Phratis. Finally, Fairer than a Fairy is instructed to capture the Hind with Silver Feet and Désirs is sent to the Fair of Time. At the fair, Désirs meets her lover who has been instructed by a sage to bring her back to Nabote. Meanwhile, with the help of Phratis, Fairer than a Fairy finds the Hind, who is revealed to be the former Queen of the Fairies under an enchantment. The Queen and Fairer return to Nabote’s court, where they save Désirs from being executed, and Désirs’ lover is revealed to be Fairer’s brother. The former Queen retakes her throne, sends Nabote to another kingdom, and arranges the marriages of the two couples.
Mademoiselle de La Force is featured as a main character in Kate Forsyth‘s Bitter Greens; a fairy-tale retelling of the Rapunzel tale. Kate’s blog has more information about Charlotte-Rose, including a scrap of her writing:
“My life is an ongoing philosophy, a living morality. I am extremely fair; I know neither resentment nor the satisfaction of revenge. The misfortune of my enemy triumphs over my anger, and therefore, there is no duty that does not benefit from my generosity.
Whilst I fear malicious gossip, I do not dread fair criticism. True to my virtue, I would much less forgive myself a misdemeanour than others. I am hard on myself and so always look to correct myself- I look for my own approval and do not give it lightly.”