Paris: City of Light

A Positive Critique of the Salons


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




"The traits which strike us most forcibly in the lives and characters of the women of the early salons are delicacy and sensibility; they colored their minds, ran through their literacy pastimes and gave a distinctive flavor to their conversation. It was these qualities, added to a decided taste for pleasures of the intellect, and an innate social genius, that led them to revolt from the gross sensualism of the court and form, upon a new basis, a society that has given another complexion to the last two centuries" (Mason, 356).

~ Amelia Gere Mason, The Women of the French Salons



The Salon was a School of Higher Education for Women

To the Frenchwomen of the 17th and 18th centuries of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, the salon served as school of higher education. Since women of this age did not aspire to nor have careers, the salon offered this and more. The salon was where a woman's distinctive gifts - neither purely intellectual nor purely physical - were prized and fostered.

Here in the salon, salonnières were offered exposure to a range of literary figures such as:

                    • the severe moral system of Blaise Pascal
                    • the majestic eloquence of Bishop Jacques Bousset
                    • the irony of Jean de la Bruyère
                    • the aristocratic cynicism of François de La Rouchefoucauld

Often times these authors or their disciples were present to interpret the works and share their thoughts of the age with the women of the salons.

It was also at the salon where all of the salonnières' womanly graces came into practice, including her:

                    • sweetness
                    • sympathy
                    • charm
                    • unselfish loyalty
                    • disinterested enthusiasm

All these womanly traits were needed as these women worked to humanize and socialize the great thoughts of their masculine teachers and guides. Yet, it should be noted that these women were still free to instinctively take what was theirs and reject the rest.


"Without grinding competition or unnatural concentration, some of the most precious qualities of the feminine mind reached their most complete development and most perfect expression here in the salon" (Ravenel, 32).


However, this postive view of the Parisian salonnières and their salons was not shared by all. For example, Jean Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century French philosopher, claimed the salonnières were the "basis of corruption in society" (Goodman, 5)



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