I’ve been fascinated by the Salons of the Enlightenment and later eras as long as I can remember, and have always secretly hoped that some day I’d have a thriving one of my own. But a myriad of things have to be just right for a successful salon to come together. It looks like there are salons happening today, just as have been to some degree ever since they first took place, so there’s hope for me yet! In fact, if you’re unfamiliar with salons or want to get a better feel for them, you should read Why Salons? — written by a group dedicated to hosting modern salons. A salon is different from a coffee house or a dinner party, though it has many things in common with both. They’re places for individuals to gather and hold elevated conversations; dinner parties and salons both usually have a single hostess or host (or salonnière). But the real fun of all three is just the intense banter that can arise at them. The joy of being surrounded by people all eager to listen and participate in the back and forth is something that can’t be replicated by the Internet. But it’s something that many apps and websites are starting to recognize as desirable — and of course, bringing together people has long been the goal of a wide variety of conferences. One detail that’s stuck with me is that some historical salons were held with the hostess actually lounging in bed! While I don’t think that degree of informality is going to be revived, it’s something to think about when trying to decide what is “really” a salon, of all the modern incarnations.
Of course, part of what draws me to salons is their historical connection with women, and how they were a forum for women to take part in and influence society. There seems to be some agreement that the first salon in Paris was held by Catherine de Vivonne, and many other women would follow in her footsteps as hostesses; one of the most famous salons of the 20th century was held by Gertrude Stein. Another particularly intriguing salonnière was Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, whose prominent salon gained her a place among the most influential folks in the Enlightenment. It takes a very special lady (or gentleman) to deftly guide a conversation through the hours of a salon or any similar gathering, and it can’t be denied that the skill involved is a very precious one indeed.
And of course as I researched for this article I found a book that I ordered: The Age of Conversation by Benedetta Craveri. Now I just have to find time to read it!
The Salons — an article on Alpha History
History and Meaning of Salons — by Benet Davetian, on his Sociology website
I’ll occupy this armchair for the salon, thank you!