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A 6 Pages Term Paper on Salons of the 18th Century

Flimsiness and sensitivity are the most important characteristics of the people of the salons of eighteenth century, which painted their minds, ran through their legendary pastimes, and gave a distinctive flavor to their conversation. It was these qualities, added to a decided taste for pleasures of the intellect, and a natural social genius, that led them to revolution from the gross sensibility of the court, and form, upon a new basis, a society that has given another complexion to the last two centuries. The natural result was, at first, a sovereignty of sentiment that was often over-strained, but which represented on the whole a reaction of morality and refinement. The intelligence and beauties of the salons of those times may have committed a thousand follies, but their polite codes of honor and of manners, their hard to please tastes, even their formal affectations, were open though sometimes rather strange tributes to the virtues that lie at the very foundation of a well-ordered society.  They had high-ranking ideas of the dignity of womanhood, of spotlessness, of loyalty, of devotion. The eighteenth century brings new types to the surface. The women of the salons of eighteen century made great achievements in the fields of art, literature and politics. They came up with certain aristocratic bounties that would mark great endeavors in history.

Women of Salons

 The social life of the two centuries in which women played so important a role in Europe is always full of human interest from whatever point of view one may regard it. The different dimensions in which women played their role are worth mentioning.  The remarkable mental strength and the far-reaching influence of women whose theater was mainly a social one, was remarkable. Though the society was showing its unsuitable behavior, it also had its serious side, and it was through the phase of social evolution that the women of salons attained the position they hold today.   However attractive, or valuable, or poetic may have been the feminine types of other nationalities, it is in Europe that we find the forerunners of the intelligent, self-poised, clear-sighted, independent modern woman.
Literary portraits and ethical maxims have given place to a fiery mixture of scandal and philosophy, humanitarian speculations etc. The woman who headed over these centers of fashion and intellect represent to us the mastermind of social sovereignty. The women of salons provide us an opportunity to be dazzled by the subtlety and clearness of their intellect, the brilliancy of their wit. In order to clearly understand the salon women, we must take the point of view of an age that was fraudulent from the central part. The fact cannot be denied that the period of eighteen century in which France was so dominant in ideas, so active in thought, so swarming with intelligence, so rich in philosophy, was poor in faith, bust in morals, without religion, without poetry, and devoid of imagination.  The divine ideals of virtue and repudiation were drowned in a sea of self-interest and cupidity. Custom had given place to private finding and in its first reaction private finding knew no law but its own mood. The catchphrase of intellectual liberty was made to cover widespread license, and clever sophists constructed theories to justify the mad fair of vice and perkiness.

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Domestic Relations

 The freedom and complaisance of the women in salons of eighteen century domestic relations were absolute .It is true that the women were examples of marital devotion, the affection of women never disappeared; but the fact that they were considered worthy of note sufficiently indicates the go with the flow of that particular age.  It was noticed that in the world of fashion there was not even a charade of preserving the sacredness of marriage, if the archives of the time are to be accredited.  Marriages were simply a commercial concern that united names and fortunes, unrelenting the grandeur of the families, replenished bushed purses, and gave free will to women.  If love ever entered into it at all, it was merely by accident. "They got married out of financial interest rather than any other inclination." (Hufton, 127). This redundant sentiment was ridiculed, or relegated to the bourgeoisie, to whom it was left to protect the tradition of household intrinsic worth. If at that particular time a young wife was reserved or shy, she was the object of uncomplimentary persiflage.  If she hesitated to give her innocent love for her husband, she was not taken as a good in the charmed circle of drollness and good tone that frowned upon so naughty a weakness, and laughed at inopportune conscience. Nowadays if we typically think of that period we won’t be able to conceive how, in the barbarous ages, one had the courage to merry. The marriage was considered as a chain binding the two players. But nowadays we see kindness, liberty, peace and supremacy in the bosom of families engaged.  If the husband and wife love each other, very well; they live together happily with mutual consent.  If they are no more in love, they say it sincerely, and return to each other the promise of loyalty.  They are now no more lovers but are friends.  These are the social manners or gentle manners. 

It is not in favor of the background that the women who were so eminent in the salons are outlined.  This was the air they breathed, the fortitude they assimilated.  There were many human wild flowers that had not lost their primitive freshness and delicacy, but they did not flourish in the contemptuous atmosphere of the grand world.  With its outstanding beauty of form and high richness of color, it had no sweetness, no fragrance. These are the women that we can only consider on the mature and intellectual side.
In this particular age or century, in which women have so much to do, when they may paint, carve, act, sing, write, enter professional life, or do whatever they can or their intellect proceed with it, without loss of dignity or prestige, until and unless they do it awkwardly, and perhaps even this exception is a little exaggerated, however it is difficult to understand fully, or estimate in the approved manner, a society in which the best feminine intellect was inclined toward the art of entertaining and of giving an indirect power through the minds of men.

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The salons that represented and left an enduring mark upon their time, and a memory that is not likely to die were not simply the centers of distinguished and intellectual hilarity.  The reaction of the seventeenth century in terms of morals and literary, was one of the great social and political forces of the eighteenth century.  The salon of eighteen century had become a huge engine of power, an organ of public opinion that is like the modern press.  Bright and determined women had found their instrument and their opportunity.  They had learned it much before and they know that the veneration paid to weakness is illusory; that the influence of beauty is short-lived.  Their eagerness of apparition, their complete skill in the adaptation of means to ends, the knowledge that they possess of the world, their realistic intelligence, their character of pleasing, all made them suited for the part they assumed for themselves.  They clearly stated the truth that their ideal is not somewhere out but is wisely modified in them.  The intellect of the women of eighteen century was rarely deceived of the emotions.  The women of the eighteenth were more inclined toward their mind then heart. And these are the qualities, which are very much essential to the highest character in women.

Impulsiveness is not appropriate to be cultivated, and the emotions are not a good source to the guides of worldly distinction.  It would be fine to say that those artists are not the only one, who feels the most keenly, who move men the most powerfully rather it is the one who has acquired the art to move men.  To be agreeable was the basic aim in the lives of the women of eighteen-century salons.  The women knew very much how to use the talent that they have, and they studied it, to the smallest shade, their own confines. This was one more quality that added and was more or less mental intensity, or, what is equally necessary, the faculty of calling out the luminosity of others; but their education was not that much profound or even it was that much accurate. 

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Women and Literature
The circumstances of the past cannot be recharged, nor are they desirable. The present has its own theories and its own methods.  But at a time when the time in power of luxury is rapidly establishing false standards, and the best intellectual life makes hopeless struggles against an ever hostile materialism, it may be gainful as well as interesting to consider the possibilities that lie in a society equally removed from laughing and joking and self-importance, inspired by the talent, the sincerity, and the moral force of European women, and borrowing a new element of fascination from the simple and charming but polite informality of the old salons.
The women represented the social life of their time on its most intellectual side. We can easily see the influence that the women of eighteenth century marked upon the civilization through the avenues of literature and manners.  And it was because of this that the women exercised the greatest power in Europe for a period of more than two hundred years.

The women of the salons of eighteen century were usually clever and brilliant, but their cleverness and brilliancy were used to bring into stronger relief the talents of their friends around.  It won’t be wrong to say that many women of the salons of eighteen century wrote, as they talked, out of the fullness of their own hearts or their own intelligence, and with no thought what the public in picture would think; but it was only an incident in their lives, yet another form of diversion, which left them quite free from the dreaded taint of feminine authorship.  Their unusual gift was to inspire others, and much of the enthrallment that gave them such power in their day still clings to their memories.

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“Woman was the governing principle, the directing reason and the commanding choice of the 18th century...She held the revolutions of alliances and political systems, peace and war, the literature, the arts and the fashions of the 18th century, as well as its destinies, in the folds of her gown.”(Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, 1862)

The novel and literary works in the form of letters became closely associated with women as writers, heroines, and readers in the course of the eighteenth century. Women were taken as good examples but at the same time people considered them a threat for themselves. The women who led the salons of eighteen century were well-versed in philosophy, literature, art, and politics. They played the role of opposition between the public and the private sphere. Woman was the living form of the ideal of liberty but at the same time was excluded from the "Rights of man." The role played by women was appreciated as nurturers and peacemakers but at the same time cast into doubt the capacity for genius. The texts in the form of literature, that feature women, became infighting ground and the   sensitivity of the women was thought to contain the seeds of virtue and dissolution.

Salons Life

Salon life was thus a vital aspect of cultural creation, and salon women played a major role not only in shaping but also in molding the ideas of their time because they were the one who had power in their salons.

Conversation played a major role as far as the success of a salon is concerned. Formal presentations were held in salons that used to help greatly in not only creating new ideas but also in making new contemporary skills of that particular time. The typical conversation style of the women of salons greatly helped the women to actually affect the events that were occurring at that particular time.
Certain salons used to host evenings of innovative conversation that were greatly attended by the leading writers, artist, philosophers, and scientists of that time. The meetings at salons were of great help in creating and innovating new ideas that not only helped the general elite but also greatly influenced the kings and queens, political and social opinions, literary and artistic taste and the thoughts of other higher elite. It won’t be wrong to say that these drawing room discussions were of real help. The salons really provided shelter to the ideas, views and thoughts of great thinkers and reformers that helped in forming the salon society.

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Salons and Writers

The women of the salons were witty in nature. They wanted to talk wittily and with well manners and this is considered as a great gift of these women. This was a great help and attraction to the writers of that time, who were at ease to discuss any topic with these salon women easily and without any censorship because it was impossible for them to make it in writing. The writers of that time found these women good friends, companion and off course good advisors. They used to come and shared their thoughts and took criticism as well. In other words it won’t be wrong to say that they formed a healthy relationship with those salon women that lasted for years.

Salons and Education

There were very few people who really advocated that women should get higher education although the reformers believed in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. Although the public at that time complained about women's lack of education, but they did not wanted to encourage education for women. In spite of the general discrimination against well-read women, there was only one place for women where they could exhibit their learning and that were the literary salon. The writers of the eighteenth century have regarded women’s role in salons with greater respect. They defined the role played by the women as that of the intelligent hostess. Salon basically was not merely a place of social function for women but it was an informal educational institution, too, where women used to share ideas with the intellectual elite. The increase in the population of cities greatly helped the salons to play its part. (Anderson 2: 234). Women used to read their own writings and other works and would listen and appreciate the work of others. Criticism was taken with open hands that helped them improve their work.
The eighteenth century was the period when educational institutions were not available to women. Therefore women didn’t achieve that intellect as of men. "Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not however, an intellectual position," (Nochlin 176).

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Women and Political Endeavor

The salons of eighteenth century incorporated noble attitudes that dignified polite pleasure and emphasized artistic endeavors. It is because of the intellect of women of salons of eighteenth century that we find the practical cleverness in these women that lead them to play the prominent part in politics and social life. Although a certain elite of men never considered women as their equivalent. "Women were different from men in every respect." (Harris and Nochlin 45). Beside that, women were the essential part in every political change that took place in Europe. Women were taken as a kind of republic whose members were always ready to perform any task, aid and serve one another any time. Women were regarded as a new state within a state. Rulers were asked to cultivate the society of women if they wished to succeed. We have examples where we find that some of the most popular and famous people of their time failed to retain their fame because of their neglect to favor women.

Salons Etiquettes

The women in salons of eighteenth century knew about the men. They had the knowledge of men. They very well knew their tastes, their interest, their ambition, their vanities, and their weaknesses. The women were very cautious for the rise in the social life and they knew how to tackle the delicate parts of it. They knew how to bring harmony to it. They assimilated all their senses in the right way. They were applauded for their good cheer, and the bounties that strike the eyes, the frills that charm the taste, as for their intelligence, their tact, and their daily conversation.

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The people who were bound together by many ties of congeniality and friendship characterized the salons of eighteen century. The spirit of commercialism was conspicuously absent. No debit and credit concept was there. Personal values were highly regarded. There was no difference of wealth but talent, combined with the necessary tact, was, to a certain point, considered the correspondent of rank. If there happened to be some differences they were based upon the quality of the guest rather than upon the material display at salons. The modes of entertainment were very much dependent upon the abilities of the women who presided those salons.

Works Cited

Anderson, Bonnie S., Judith P. Zinsser.  A History of their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, Volume II.  New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1988.

Hufton, Olwen.  The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Nochlin, Linda. "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"
Art and Sexual Politics. Ed. Thomas B Hess and Elizabeth C
Baker. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973.

Harris, Ann S., and Linda Nochlin. Women Artists: 1500-1950. New
York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Alfred A. Knopf,
Inc., 1976.

 
 


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