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The Women of the French Salons   By:

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The Women of the French Salons by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason is a captivating exploration of an often overlooked aspect of French history. In this meticulously researched and beautifully written book, Mason sheds light on the influential women who played a crucial role in the cultural and intellectual development of 17th and 18th century France.

The author impressively illustrates how these salons became vibrant hubs where women from various social classes could gather and engage in stimulating discussions about literature, philosophy, politics, and art. Mason's thorough examination of primary sources, including letters, memoirs, and contemporary accounts, brings these salons to life, allowing readers to vividly imagine the intellectual vigor and societal impact they had during their heyday.

One of the book's strengths lies in its portrayal of the diversity of women who frequented the salons. From aristocrats to middle-class intellectuals, these women defied societal norms and embraced intellectual pursuits. They eagerly participated in debates and contributed to the creation of important philosophical and artistic movements, such as the Enlightenment and Rococo.

Moreover, Mason offers fascinating biographical sketches of the most influential salonnières, including Madame de Rambouillet, Madame Geoffrin, and Madame de Staël. These women not only took the onus of hosting the salons but also served as influential patrons and promoters of emerging artists, writers, and thinkers. Their role in shaping French culture cannot be underestimated, and Mason does an excellent job of demonstrating their impact on the political and intellectual landscape of the time.

While the book primarily focuses on the women themselves, Mason also dedicates chapters to the prominent male figures who visited the salons. Through these anecdotes, readers gain insights into the complex power dynamics between men and women within the salon culture.

Mason's narrative style is engaging. She carefully crafts each chapter with attention to historical context, making it accessible to both scholars and general readers. Her analysis is nuanced, providing a balanced understanding of the complexities surrounding the salons and their broader significance in French society.

However, a minor drawback of the book is that at times it can be overwhelming due to the sheer amount of information presented. The numerous names and historical details might become confusing, especially for readers less familiar with the period. A glossary or character guide would have been a helpful addition to assist readers in keeping track of the various personalities involved.

Nevertheless, The Women of the French Salons delivers an insightful and compelling account of an important chapter in French history. Amelia Ruth Gere Mason's meticulous research, combined with her eloquent prose, creates a well-rounded portrait of the remarkable women who defied social norms and left an indelible mark on the intellectual and cultural landscape of France. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in women's history, French culture, or the Enlightenment era.

First Page:


By Amelia Gere Mason


It has been a labor of love with many distinguished Frenchmen to recall the memories of the women who have made their society so illustrious, and to retouch with sympathetic insight the features which time was beginning to dim. One naturally hesitates to enter a field that has been gleaned so carefully, and with such brilliant results, by men like Cousin, Sainte Beuve, Goncourt, and others of lesser note. But the social life of the two centuries in which women played so important a role in France is always full of human interest from whatever point of view one may regard it. If there is not a great deal to be said that is new, old facts may be grouped afresh, and old modes of life and thought measured by modern standards.

In searching through the numerous memoirs, chronicles, letters, and original manuscripts in which the records of these centuries are hidden away, nothing has struck me so forcibly as the remarkable mental vigor and the far reaching influence of women whose theater was mainly a social one. Though society has its frivolities, it has also its serious side, and it is through the phase of social evolution that was begun in the salons that women have attained the position they hold today. However beautiful, or valuable, or poetic may have been the feminine types of other nationalities, it is in France that we find the forerunners of the intelligent, self poised, clear sighted, independent modern woman... Continue reading book >>

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