Abstract

Historians have generally accepted the argument that the salon culture through which women participated in the public sphere of eighteenth-century France faded in the 1780s, foreshadowing and complementing the general exclusion of women from politics by the French Revolution. This article presents evidence that salon sociability came back to life in the aftermath of the French Revolution, giving upper-class women renewed access to the public sphere as part of the partial reconstruction of aristocratic power. Napoleon encouraged this revival as part of a strategy for winning the support of traditional elites, but he deplored powerful women and struggled to contain salonnières by reducing them to hostesses. He supported the development of ministerial salons centered on male notables and exiled Madame de Staël, France's most prominent salonnière, in order to silence political dissent in high society. Salons recovered significantly with the liberalization of the public sphere during the Restoration and the July Monarchy, along with the influence of salonnières, who presided over a new mondanité (society life) linked closely with the political sociability of elites, and supported by an enduring nostalgia for the elegant society of the past. Nevertheless, the connection between mondanité and politics slowly weakened, and upper-class women saw their informal political role diminished due to the rise of modern institutions designed to organize the political life of a widening middle-class electorate. The salon's decreasing significance within the public sphere occurred after the consolidation of modern gender norms and the juridical inscription of women's second-class status.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 54-80
Launched on MUSE
2002-01-01
Open Access
No
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