Paris: City of Light

Madame Geoffrin: A Woman of the Salon


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion





Mme. Geoffrin (1699-1777)

Figure 1.3 Engraving of Mme. Geoffrin, (Hall, 35).

With a personality that was tactful, kindhearted, tender, honest, and generous, it is no wonder that Madame Geoffrin's motto was:

"Donner et pardonner"

[To give and be forgiven]


To many her salon was "one of the wonders of the social world" as she had no position, was not beautiful by any means and of course was not educated like most women at the time (Mason, 40). At a young age, she was orphaned and at fourteen was married off to the wealthy director of the royal glassworks at Saint-Gobain. In her twenties, she began apprenticing at the salon of her neighbor, Madame de Tencin.

Philosophes, artists, nobles, princes, ambassadors, politicians, and reformers flocked to Mme. Geoffrin's. On Monday nights, her guests were mostly painters and sculptors. Mme. G knew little about art but was willing to be taught. Wednesday night dinners had a literary theme with guests such as Jean François Marmontel, Baron d'Holbach, and Jean le Rond d'Alembert.

Figure 1.3 "Abbé Delille reciting his poem, La Conversation in the salon of Madame Geoffrin" from Jacques Delille, "La Conversation" (Paris, 1812) Courtesy of Harvard University (Goodman, 1).

Surrounded by men and seated in the very front, Mme. Geoffrin listens and watches quite naturally and orderly in her prim, exact dress and little cap tied under her chin. Like the others, she appears to devote her attention to Delille who recites aloud, La Conversation, one of the three most important poems of his career. Unlike the lazy, distracted guests in Jean-François de Troy's La Lecture de Molière featured on the Parisian salon's home page, Mme. G and all her guests appear very alert and interested in the speaker. Sitting on the edges of their seats, they are ready at any moment to insert their voices and maintain an intellectual group dialogue.




What two innovations did Mme. Geoffrin add to create the ideal Enlightenment salon?

  • Mme. G switched the traditional late night dinner, "the sociable meal of the day" to a one-o'clock dinner to allow for an entire afternoon of conversation.
  • Mme. G created a regular, weekly salon dinner schedule with Monday assigned to the artists, Wednesday for the men of letters and so forth. Her salons often met weekly with the inclusion of a dinner meal. However, the prime focus and function of her salon was the conversation and exchange of intellectual activity, which could also include time for sharing informal writing or formal poetry.


What exactly was the great appeal of Mme. Geoffrin and her popular salon?

  • Mme. G was a wonderful, sympathetic listener. She often listened to the hopes, cares, fears, and ambitions of her literary guests.
  • Mme. G knew how to make other people talk their best. She knew just when to say her bit or ask a question.
  • Mme. G was a very generous woman as she was quite wealthy and willing to share. She often helped young authors struggling to make ends meet and on Sundays she didn't open up her salon. Instead she put together large sums of money in little bags to distribute among the poor.

    "For here in evil Paris with its great gulf fixed between class and class, there were so many sick who needed the necessaries of death of so many orphaned babies, so many despairing women!" (Hall, 59)