The Queens of Poetry (part 1)

Elena Văcărescu or Hélène Vacaresco (September 21, 1864, Bucharest - February 17, 1947, Paris) - Romanian-French writer, twice a laureate of the Académie Française.

Through her father, Ioan Văcărescu, she descended from a long line of boyars of Wallachia (the Văcărescu family), including Ienăchiţă Văcărescu, the poet who wrote the first Romanian grammar. She was also a granddaughter of Romanian poet Iancu Văcărescu. Through her mother, Eufrosina Fălcoianu, she descended from the Fălcoianu family, a prominent group in the times of Prince Michael the Brave.

She spent most of her youth on the Văcărescu estate near Târgovişte. Elena first got acquainted with the English literature through her English governess. She also studied French literature at Sorbonne in Paris, where she met Victor Hugo, whom she later mentioned in her memoirs. She attended courses of philosophy, aesthetics and history, and also studied poetry under the guidance of Sully Prudhomme. Another influence on her early life was the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878 that also involved Romania - the country declared independence from the Ottoman Empire, and joined Imperial Russia's camp. Elena's father fought in the war, experience which influenced her first book (published in 1886).

The meeting that changed her life was that with Elisabeth of Wied, Queen of Romania, wife of King Carol I. The Queen invited her to the palace in 1888. Interested in Elena Văcărescu's literary achievements, she became much more interested in the person of the poet. Having not yet recovered from the death of her only daughter in 1874, Elizabeth transferred all her maternal love on Elena. In 1889, due to the lack of heirs to the Romanian throne, the King had adopted his nephew Ferdinand of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who, due to his loneliness in a strange country, grew close to Elena, fell in love with her, and eventually expressed the desire to marry her. But, according to the 1866 Constitution of Romania, the heir to the throne was not allowed to marry a Romanian. The result of the affair was that the Queen (who had encouraged the romance) was exiled to Neuwied for two years, Elena was exiled to Paris for life, while Ferdinand was sent off in search for a new bride (which he eventually found in Marie of Edinburgh).

Văcărescu was the Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1922 to 1924. She was a permanent delegate from 1925 to 1926. She was again a Substitute Delegate to the League of Nations from 1926 to 1938.

She was the only woman to serve with the rank of ambassador (permanent delegate) in the history of the League of Nations. She was co-founder of 'The International Institute for Intelectual Cooperation' (today UNESCO).

In 1925 she was welcomed as a member of the Romanian Academy. She translated into French, works of Romanian poets such as Mihai Eminescu, Lucian Blaga, Octavian Goga, George Topîrceanu, Ion Minulescu and Ion Vinea. Just before her death, Văcărescu was a member of the Gheorghe Tătărescu-headed Romanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War II.

In 1946 she became the first woman officer of the French 'Légion d'honneur'. She initiated the 'Femina' Prize for Poetry, now one of the most important literary prizes.

She is interred in the Văcărescu family crypt in the Bellu cemetery in Bucharest.