- Marie Bruneau, Dame des Loges:Salon Conversation and the honnête femme
"Elle tient, d'une main souveraine, le sceptre des lettres.C'est elle qui connait leur secret pour mettre de belles pensées en un beau langage."Guez de Balzac (1637)1
In "salons and innovation," Faith Beasley counters the notion, dating to the nineteenth century, that seventeenth-century salons were simply havens of "civilizing gentility" exerting primarily a social rather than an intellectual and creative literary influence.2 As literary scholars have recently shown, however, these salons, commonly called ruelles, compagnie or commerce, produced and circulated knowledge.3 Credit is usually given to Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet (1588–1665), as the founder of the seventeenth-century French salon in her efforts to bring together mondain guests and professional writers in polite conversation.
This study examines another early but little mentioned contributor to the seventeenth-century French salon movement, Marie Bruneau, Dame Des Loges (or Desloges, c. 1584–1641). Her Parisian gatherings in the 1610s and 1620s preceded in reputation Mme de Rambouillet's. Future academicians such as Conrart and salonnières such as Madame de Sablé, epistolary writers such as Balzac, and royals such as Gaston d'Orléans, Louis XIII's rebellious brother, as well as ambassadors, diplomats, and nobles from France and other countries attended her salon. Her gatherings aligned conversation and literature with politics and religion. Several reasons account for Des Loges's relative obscurity. She was forced to leave Paris at the end of the 1620s when her circle had gained full momentum and importance. The mid-1620s to the civil war of the Fronde (1648–1652) then became the years when Rambouillet's circle achieved its highpoint. Once Des Loges abandoned Paris (more on this later), literary trendsetters such as Jean Chapelain vaunted Rambouillet as a star salonnière.4 And since Des Loges's salon was also labeled an 'academy,' she was not in later centuries credited with promoting fine and stimulating conversation.5 Unfavorable comparisons between her and Rambouillet continued well into the twentieth century with Émile Magne dismissively stating that Des Loges had an "austère esprit protestant" and was "inférieure" since she didn't know "l'art d'ensorceler ses hôtes de son charme,"6 and David Randall recently asserting that she hosted a "highly academic (in the modern sense) salon," while Rambouillet "set up the first proper salon."7 [End Page 100]
My thesis is that the conversational brio, literary production, and figure of the honnête femme, or cultured woman, that Des Loges promoted in her salon influenced in foundational ways the trajectory of the salon movement in seventeenth-century France. Recovering her from the margins of literary history where she has been positioned for too long is the aim of this study. My analysis has two parts. In the first I profile key features of Des Loges's social and lettered career as a leading salonnière in Paris in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. In the second I examine Des Loges's fashioning of the honnête femme in an anonymous unpublished letter attributed to her. She wrote this letter at a time of heightened political, religious, and literary transition when absolutism was on the rise and militant Protestantism on the wane, and poetic modernism was privileged in the salons over humanist erudition. Internal evidence indicates that her letter was written in 1632–35, the years of her exile.8 Why and to whom did Des Loges write this letter? What agenda does she propose, and how does it relate to her political and religious activism before and during her exile? Which published works in this period are referenced in her letter, and how did her views influence the development of honnêteté as a conversational and intellectual ideal?
An activist career
Born in the Protestant Principality of Sedan in about 1584 to recently ennobled parents, Des Loges owed the rapid ascension of her family to her father Sébastien Bruneau (d. 1615), whose merchant wealth allowed him to purchase the office of Secrétaire du Roy.9 He served both Henri de Bourbon...