The Republic of Letters,
which formed during the second half of the 18th century in France,
was made up of both men, the philosophes,
and women, the salonnières,
who played corresponding but not equal roles. The philosophes
and the salonnières worked together to achieve the ends
of philosophy broadly set up as the project of the Enlightenment.
Their base was the Parisian salons, where networks
of social and intellectual exchange were developed to connect
Paris, the capital of the Enlightenment and the City of Light,
with the rest of France.
in the salons of the Enlightenment, compared to other 18th century
social gatherings and salons of an earlier age, the tone
was much more serious. From
the memoires of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, entitled La Femme
au dix-huitième siècle (1862), it is claimed
that the Enlightenment salons may have been solemn and
grave... but this seriousness was "a sign of decadence, the
first stage in the destruction of all that was beautiful and good"
The de Goncourts'
salon of the time of Louis XV and [that] of the time of Louis
XVI, is the difference between the two reigns. The salon of
the time of Louis XV seemed to open onto the present, the
salon of the time of Louis XVI opens out onto the future.
Its walls, its architecture are saddened like the court and
like society, by reform, seriousness, rigidity....This
is still society, but it is no longer pleasure"
(de Goncourt, 77).
was not the objective of the Enlightenment salons.
The philosophes who had rejected the academy and the university
as the institutional bases for their Republic of Letters turned
to the Parisian salons to continue their conversations
and practices. The salonnières served to listen attentively
to the philosophes and fill in during the silences of the
conversation if needed.
was the primary activity of the salons but it was the letter
that made the Parisian salons of the 18th century centers
of the Enlightenment. Correspondence served to move
the Enlightenment out of the private world of the salon
into the public world beyond it. Letters began to be increasingly
used by the philosophes "to bridge the gap between
the private circles in which they gathered and the public arena
that they sought and conquer" (Habermas,
40-1). By the end of the century, a multitude of letter writing
forms had developed, for example: the copied letter, circulated
letter, open letter, published letter, and the letter to the editor.
This began to connect a large span of readers which often started
with an initial intellectual exchange made in the Parisian salons.
This enormous network of exchange led to the development of readers
who reacted, responded, and then became writers themselves via
pamphlets and the emerging periodical
main purpose of the salons of Paris for the salonnières
during the Enlightenment was to "satisfy the self-determined
educational needs of the women who started them"
(Goodman, 42). For
the salonnières, the salon was a socially
acceptable substitute for the formal education denied to them.
Most parents at this time saw no reason in educating their daughters
and even if they did, there were no institutions in which to do
Under the direction
of the salonnières such as Madame
Geoffrin, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, and Madame Necker,
the salon was transformed from a noble, leisure institution
into an institution of the Enlightenment.