Letter to Madame Helvetius “Elysian Fields”

After Franklins wife of 50 years died in Philadelphia in 1774 (he was not there for her death) he sought relationships with many different women. Specifically, French women adored franklin because they viewed him as an American symbol. He found particular interest in his neighbor Madame Helvetius. She was the widow of a celebrated philosopher and was described as one of the most beautiful women in Paris. She was 60 years old when she met Franklin and he was 72. They spent their time together being entertained by various poets, writers and philosopher in France. They formed a relationship that was not only intimate but very intellectual and franklin viewed her as his equal. He found something in her in which he lacked in his previous wife. He adored her so much so that he proposed to her multiple times. She rejected his proposal each time, prompting him to write the essay Elysian Fields. At first glance many thought the letter was a light hearted joke, but further critique shows that Franklin was actually trying to convince Madame Helvetius to marry him. “Elysian Fields” is an allusion to a Grecian mythical land that was a final resting place for virtuous souls. The letter begins with Franklin falling asleep and traveling to these fields. Upon arrival, he is asked if he wants to see anyone in particular who rests here. He is asked to pick between Socrates or Helvetius. He chooses to see Helvetius because he is a known philosopher from France. He speaks to him about contemporary issues in France and asks for his views. He finally brings up his relationship with Madame Helvetius and asks why she will not marry him. Helvetius replies by saying she is still in love with him, even though he has passed and she does not want to remarry. Helvetius has gone on to say that he himself has remarried and his new wife turns out to be Franklin’s late wife, Deborah. After finding out that Debra has remarried to Helvetius, Franklin goes and sees her, demanding her to remain loyal to him. She replies coldly and says she remained loyal enough for him for 50 years and now has found a love with Helvetius that will last for an eternity. Franklin was so upset after hearing this that he decides to wake up and reenter the real world. The letter was meant to persuade Madame Helvetius to marry him but the letter was perceived as a humorous story. The essay was in an anomalous classical literacy genre called “dialogues of the dead”. The letter is still to this day read for entertainment by many.

Gabriella Roostaie, Melody Torres, & Edwin Romero

One thought on “Letter to Madame Helvetius “Elysian Fields””

  1. This summary, and your explanation in class made it so much easier to understand what Franklin was writing about. Overall, it was humorous while still informing the class about the topic.

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