La Casa — Alexandra David-Néel

The House — Alexandra David-Néel

Here is the portrait of an extraordinary woman: Alexandra David-Néel who represents the brown color of our CASA .

Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David, better known as Alexandra David-Néel, born October 24, 1868 in Saint-Mandé (Val-de-Marne), died at almost 101 years old on September 8, 1969 in Digne (Alps- de-Haute-Provence), of French and Belgian nationalities, is an orientalist, Tibetologist, opera singer, feminist, journalist, writer and explorer, Freemason and Buddhist. She was, in 1924, the first woman of European origin to stay in Lhasa in Tibet, an exploit which the newspapers reported a year later in 1925 and which strongly contributed to her fame, in addition to her personal qualities and of his erudition.

She is considered the greatest explorer and adventurer of the 20th century. She produced 27 books. His literary work includes travel stories, novels, philosophy, religion, ethnology, etc.

Alexandra is the only daughter of Louis David, Freemason, teacher, and a Belgian Catholic mother of Scandinavian and Siberian origin, Alexandrine Borghmans. In 1873, the Davids emigrated to Belgium. From an early age, Alexandra David-Néel also tried her hand at adventure, multiplying the runaways and very quickly learned her first lessons: you have to free yourself from the body and learn to master it.

This is how she practiced many extravagant austerities, such as fasting, bodily torture with recipes drawn from biographies of holy ascetics found in the library of one of her relatives. After musical and lyrical studies, she took courses on Tibet at the Collège de France. In 1891, she sailed for India and traveled the country for a year. Back in France, she launched a career as a lyrical artist, performed in different theaters and increased her number of tours abroad.

On August 4, 1904, in Tunis, she married Philippe Néel, whose mistress she had been since September 15, 1900. She was 36 years old and began a career as a journalist. She collaborates with various English and French journals and organizes numerous conferences on Buddhism and Hinduism.

Life together with her husband was sometimes stormy, but marked by mutual respect, it was interrupted on August 9, 1911, by her departure, alone, for her third trip to India (1911-1925). Alexandra does not want children, she is aware that the responsibilities of motherhood are incompatible with her need for independence and her taste for studies. She promises Philippe to return to the marital home in eighteen months. She begins a scholarly journey, learning idioms, translating manuscripts, meeting sages and scholars, and trying her hand at meditation.

In 1912, in order to approach the mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism, she climbed the Himalayan ranges and managed to meet the thirteenth Dalai Lama, then disciple of a great Tibetan master. In 1914, she met the young Aphur Yongden, aged 15, in a monastery, whom she subsequently made her adopted son in 1929.

Both decide to retire to a cave hermitage more than 4,000 meters above sea level, in the north of Sikkim. Then disguised respectively as a beggar and a monk and carrying the most discreet backpack possible, Alexandra and Yongden leave for the forbidden city.

From cities to deserts, from monasteries to valleys, after more than 3,000 km, Alexandra at 56 years old, is the first Westerner to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa. In order not to betray her status as a foreigner, Alexandra does not dare to take a camera or any survey equipment, but she hides under her rags a compass, a pistol and a purse with the money for a possible ransom.

On her return to Le Havre on May 10, 1925, she was able to appreciate the extraordinary fame that her audacity had earned her. She made the front pages of the newspapers and her portrait appeared in magazines. The story of her adventure will be the subject of a book, Voyage d'une Parisienne à Lhassa, which was published in Paris, London and New York in 1927. It was only fourteen years after the start of her journey, in May 1925, that the spouses will meet again... and will separate again after a few days.

Legend has it that her husband was also her patron, but the truth is quite different. She had, at her marriage, a personal fortune and in 1911, three ministries helped her to finance a study trip.

In 1937, at the age of sixty-nine, Alexandra David-Néel decided to leave for China with Yongden via Brussels, Moscow and the Trans-Siberian. She finds herself in the middle of the Sino-Japanese War and witnesses the horrors of war, famine and epidemics.

The announcement of her husband's death in 1941 touched her deeply. Fleeing the fighting, she wandered in China, with makeshift means, then ended up finding herself in 1946 in India. At the age of 78, Alexandra David-Néel returned to France to settle her husband's estate, then began writing again from her home in Digne. She suffered the pain of losing Yongden in 1955.

In 1959, at the age of 91, she took as her personal secretary a young woman of 29, Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet, who stayed by her side until the end. At one hundred and a half years old, she requested the renewal of her passport from the prefect of Basses-Alpes. She died on September 8, 1969, at almost 101 years old. His ashes were transported to Vârânasî (India) in 1973 by Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet to be scattered with those of her adopted son in the Ganges.

(Source: Wikipedia – Evene – Alexandra David-Né –

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.