The Age of Conversation


Now in paperback, an award-winning look at French salons and the women who presided over them

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, between the reign of Louis XIII and the Revolution, French aristocratic society developed an art of living based on a refined code of good manners.

Conversation, which began as a way of passing time, eventually became the central ritual of social life. In the salons, freed from the rigidity of court life, it...

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Now in paperback, an award-winning look at French salons and the women who presided over them

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, between the reign of Louis XIII and the Revolution, French aristocratic society developed an art of living based on a refined code of good manners.

Conversation, which began as a way of passing time, eventually became the central ritual of social life. In the salons, freed from the rigidity of court life, it was women who dictated the rules and presided over exchanges among socialites, writers, theologians, and statesmen. They contributed decisively to the development of the modern French language, new literary forms, and debates over philosophical and scientific ideas.

With a cast of characters both famous and unknown, ranging from the Marquise de Rambouillet to Madame de Sta‘l, and including figures like Ninon de Lenclos, the Marquise de Sevigne, and Madame de Lafayette, as well as Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Diderot, and Voltaire, Benedetta Craveri traces the history of this worldly society that carried the art of sociability to its supreme perfection–and ultimately helped bring on the Revolution that swept it all away.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Craveri, an Italian professor of French literature, argues that the Marquise de Rambouillet fomented a revolution when she offered her famed salon as a place for the French nobility to gather in the early 17th century. This entertaining book explores a golden age of conversation in France (from 1610 to 1789), in which the aristocracy established a new order, away from the strictures of the royal court." --The New York Times Book Review

“Craveri argues that when, in the sixteen-twenties, the Marquise de Rambouillet offered her home as a place for the French nobility to gather she was unwittingly fermenting a revolution. The next century and a half constituted the golden age of conversation, which allowed the aristocracy to establish a new order, based not on the strictures of church or crown but on manners. Craveri’s narrative paints a series of brilliant portraits of those (mostly women) who presided over the new sphere.”–The New Yorker

“Benedetta Craveri's The Age of Conversation is a well-researched study of the French salon…the book offers shrewd portraits of intellectual society's leading ladies, or salonnières, and of the world they created…[Craveri's] book is essential for understanding the world of the salon and the reasons for its appeal to so many writers and statesmen.”–The Wall Street Journal

“In her thoughtful book, Craveri...draws effectively on the vast range of recent scholarship in this field, which is listed and discussed in a substantial and extremely useful bibliographical essay. But the main part of the book is not so much a study as an attractive story, written in a style ‘unburdened by academic language.’”–The New York Review of Books

“Craveri has resurrected in tantalizing, inviting detail the supreme age of talk embodied in the great salons of Paris…and the fascinating women at the center of those salons…With an effortless grasp of the complex period that starts with the reign of Louis XIV and ends with the murder of Louis XVI in the Revolution, Craveri easily insinuates us into this world and its compelling figures.”–The Los Angeles Times

"Entertaining…Craveri, an Italian professor of French literature, helpfully highlights the most influential, literate and scandalous of these irrepressible women.”–The New York Times

“Craveri’s summary essay on the seduction, deception, and power of the spoken word shows how this movement among France’s noble classes laid groundwork for the coming revolution.”–Booklist

Publishers Weekly
Craveri's account of the French aristocratic circles in which conversation emerged as an art offers a rich blend of personalities, anecdotes, scandal and genuinely amusing letters to flesh out an intellectual argument leading from early 17th-century aristocratic entertainment to the Enlightenment salon. Craveri, a contributor to the New York Review of Books, develops her theme by examining the careers of several prominent women who carved social and intellectual space for themselves in their homes and served as models for successive generations. The Marquise de Rambouillet set the stage when she retreated from Louis XIII's inhospitable court to build her famed Blue Room, designed specifically for refined entertainment. Even in this early phase, says Craveri, an emphasis on style and wit led to some blurring of class distinctions. A generation of women who had gathered under Rambouillet's roof continued the fashion, shaped by literary interests, religion, delicately and passionately expressed tastes, love affairs and female friendships and rivalries. By the next century, the British identified wit and elegance, developed in the salons, as the quintessential French quality that allowed all manner of ideas to be expressed. This intriguing book is peppered with untranslatable words that miraculously don't weigh it down. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590172148
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Pages: 508
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

BENEDETTA CRAVERI is a professor of French literature at the University of Tuscia, Viterbo, and the Istituto Universitario Suor Orsola Benincasa, Naples. She regularly contributes to The New York Review of Books and to the cultural pages of the Italian newspaper La Republica. Her books include Madame du Deffand and Her World, La Vie privee du Marechal de Richelieu, and Amanti e regine: Il potere delle donne.
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Table of Contents

1 A way of life 1
2 Daughters of Eve 9
3 The blue room 27
4 Vincent Voiture : the Ame du Rond 45
5 La Guirlande de Julie 65
6 Madame de Longueville : a perfect transformation 71
7 The Duchesse de Montbazon and the reformer of La Trappe 89
8 The Marquise de Sable : the salon in the convent 97
9 La Grande Mademoiselle 137
10 Madame de Sevigne and Madame de Lafayette : a lasting friendship 175
11 Madame de la Sabliere : pure sentiment 209
12 Madame de Maintenon and Ninon de Lenclos : the importance of reputation 219
13 L'Esprit de Societe 231
14 The Marquise de Lambert : the ideal of the Honnete Femme 263
15 Madame de Tencin : the enlightenment adventuress 277
16 Emulation 295
17 The age of conversation 337
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