In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, between the reign of Louis XIII and the Revolution, the French nobility of the ancien regime turned their energies to developing the art of sociability, a refined code of manners, and an ideal of gallant, spirited conversation that became a model for social and intellectual life.
Benedetta Craveri's history of this leisured, worldly society begins in the 1620s with the celebrated Blue Room of the Marquise de Rambouillet, one of the first in a long series of women who resided over conversations among nobles, writers, prelates, and diplomats. The women Craveri profiles played a significant part in the development of new literary forms such as the novel and the maxim, the codification of language, taste, and behavior, and debates over religion, philosophy, and science. Some, like Madame de Lafayette and Madame de Stael, were gifted writers themselves. Some were involved in the major events of their time, like the Grande Mademoiselle and the Duchesse de Longueville during the Fronde rebellion. Later, the Marquise de Lambert, Madeame de Tencin, and Julie de Lespinasse opened their salons to intellectuals such as Fontenelle, Montesquieu, d'Alembert, and Diderot, thus helping to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment.
In demonstrating the diversity of these women's accomplishments, Benedetta Craveri brings to life this brilliant, vanished culture that perfected the pleasure of living. In her pages, the world of La Rochefoucauld, Louis XIV, and Voltaine, of Jansenism, preciosity, Mlle de Scudery's literary portraits, and Mme de Sevigne's letters, appears in all its fascinating complexity.