Rediscovering the French salonniere
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A salonnière has been called many things but has rarely been understood for the impact she has had upon society. As a group of women, they were hostesses of intellectual discourse for the Enlightenment philosophes. As individuals, they were writers, lovers, mothers, adventurers, and true intellectuals. This exploration begins with an understanding of the flaws in Enlightenment historiography and why the salonnières have been marginalized. Beginning with Rousseau’s negative view, and continuing with present day scholarship, these women have been misunderstood and maligned. To understand the true salonnière, a timeline of their development and their connection to the intellectual world they lived in must be examined closely. In order to grasp who they were as a community, the lives of Julie de Lespinasse, Madame d’Épinay, and Madame de Staël are examined closely. Each woman held a salon in her own style and to further her individual educational ambitions. Each woman also had her own tumultuous personal life often characterized by miserable marriages and passionate affairs. These women need to be studied as contributing members of their time, intellectuals in their own right, and equals to the men they spent their time with. They were individuals but they were also part of the unity of intellectual life in Paris and to understand them each facet must be illuminated.