literary salon

Seven enlightenments

1. You are in the dark. You steal someone else’s light bulb. You are briefly enlightened to the pain and suffering of the world. Then some bastard cuts your electricity supply.
2. You are in the dark. You pay a rogue time traveller a large but unspecified sum to import a literary salon from the 1750s to enlighten yourself. A philosopher escapes from the salon and causes an episode of epistemic havoc in your home town. You are banned from the local corner store. The sun comes up the next morning, as usual.
3. You eat a book on photonic flummery. Your digestive system is enlightened. The unsettling light of a distant, alien sun shines from your arsehole for evermore. It is surprisingly useful when visiting the bathroom at night, but the constant hunt for opaque undergarments is tiring.
4. You are in the dark. That light is an oncoming train. You catch the train and ride it to the end of the line, out to where the rails spool loose out into space and anyone with a skateboard can ride onwards from the depot into the endless, relativistic night. You are not only enlightened but become light, all m-c-squared of it. You dance until the end of the Universe.
5. You are in the dark with a single black rose and a net veil, dangling a glass of absinthe from a rowan twig in the hope of ensnaring an approaching poet. The poet offers you enlightenment but you refuse, because light is terrible for your complexion. You offer the poet endarkenment. The poet accepts.
6. You are not really in the dark. Nevertheless, you decide to dive your spaceship into the Sun, thereby first achieving enlightenment, then achieving on-fire-ment, and then laying the groundwork for next year’s Darwin award for over-literalism.
7. You are in the dark. You have been cursing the darkness for some twenty years. You are now quite good at it. You are approached by a recruiter for a startup aimed at outsourcing the swearing needs of busy executives, and accept a very generous offer. They throw in a branded anglepoise lamp for free. You are enlightened, but lose all inspiration.

georgia douglas johnson (1880-1966) was a prominent figure in the harlem renaissance as well as a celebrated poet and one of the earliest known black female playwrights in the united states. she was a key advocate in the anti-lynching movement and many of her plays dealt with racial violence. she had difficulty getting her plays performed because of her race and gender, as well as the fact that she refused to give her plays happy endings because she felt it was disingenuous and unrealistic. 

she was born in georgia and later moved to washington, dc with her husband, a successful attorney who did not support her writing career. after her husband’s death in 1925, johnson began hosting weekly literary salons which continued for 40 years and were attended by people like langston hughes, angelina weld grimké and anne spencer. 

johnson’s poetry explored female sexuality and her personal correspondence with angelina grimké revealed an intense love relationship between the two women which went on for at least seven years. her correspondence also reveals an affair with w.e.b. dubois. 

Caterina Sagredo Barbarigo as Berenice (c.1741). Rosalba Carriera (Venetian, 1675-1757). Pastel on gray-blue laid paper, mounted onto thin canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts.

Barbarigo was a Venetian aristocrat and somewhat notorious salon holder. She was famous for her beauty and intellectual pursuits, was described as a skillful rider and became known for her travels. She hosted a literary salon counted among the most notable in contemporary Venice, and supported the inoculator Domeniceti.

(Happy early Mother’s Day, B&tB fandom - have some headcanons - )

Belle’s mother:
- her name was Heloise
- from her earliest days she was a beautiful child, but goodness was she willful
- “willful” was indeed how she was often described, the most complimentary way to put it
- she learned how to dance and walk and speak with poise and ride a horse and comport herself with a proper woman’s grace, never once did she look down upon the act of being a lady
- but she scoffed at the idea she had to confine herself to it
- her family was well-to-do, not of noble blood but truly respected in society; she was presented at court once or twice in her youth though of course she was nowhere near important enough to interact with the royalty
- the older she got the less restricted she became: outspoken, seeking out every literary salon, never bothering with a hat when she was in a hurry, riding too fast down the street and sometimes not even sidesaddle
- the other girls teased and giggled and whispered
- she heard them and never cared
- she was like a pirate queen in a romantic novel, the kind of woman easily pictured wearing men’s trousers and brandishing a pistol to defend herself
- eventually came the day when boys became young men and the willful beauty with the flashing eyes who dominated every literary debate in Paris was all that they could think about
- then suddenly those giggling whispering girls did their best to be more like her
- but it’s hard to imitate such a genuine article
- her family knew well what type of young woman she had become, so when she fell in love with an artist they merely threw up their hands in resignation
- her life with Maurice was very different from her wealthy childhood and youth
- but she never missed what she didn’t have, never complained and never cared
- despite the pain and fear and sorrow at her passing she felt no regret for the life she had chosen, no regret at the end, for she died in love and having known the happiness of loving
- no regret, that is, save one: that she would never see her baby grow up to become a young woman

Adam’s mother:
- her name was…rather long, quite the mouthful as she was a noblewoman
- but you may call her Apolline, good sir or madam, and it please you
- she was always a quiet girl, a quiet woman, dutiful but intelligent
- she did flawless embroidery and read books of poetry and paid careful attention to her servants and carried herself overall with a queen’s grace
- when she did speak her voice was always calm and firm, when she spoke she always had something important to say
- and men and women without fail listened
- her husband was a not a good man, but then she had never expected to marry one; her heart had always been resigned and practical
- she left him to do what he would, she respected him for the fact that he kept out of her way, that they as good as had separate households within the castle
- once she bore him their son she asked that he come to her bed no more, and to her inner relief he listened
- she did not meddle in how he dealt with his subjects, it was not her place and she knew it would do no good to speak out or try 
- but silently where she could she tried to offset his behaviors by distributing alms and charity
- she was a good Christian woman as became a noble wife, said her prayers every night and visited her confessor regularly, though she did not know in all honesty if she believed in a God that was always looking out for his children
- the closest she ever became to being fierce when was it came to her son
- she kept him near and oversaw most of his education herself, and when her husband tried to take the boy away, the only time in their marriage she resisted
- and he who scoffed at so much she otherwise said and cared about, saw something in her eyes that made him back away silently
- her illness was a long and wasting one, she knew her end was coming well before it arrived
- her greatest fear was not where she was going but what she left behind
- she worried what might happen to her son, and she prayed that someone would come along after her to love and to protect him

LeFou’s mother:
- her name was Felicite
- alas she was well named, she was from the start a doe-eyed girl, a dreamer
- not the kind of dreamer that leads to curiosity and adventure, the kind that sits all day looking at clouds and gathering flowers and humming little songs while the cows go un-milked and the eggs un-gathered
- she was always happy but it was an empty type of happiness, telling stories to escape, so cheered by those stories she was mindless to the possibility of anything better
- her parents and her elder sister tried to toughen her up, tried to protect her, but she remained naive
- the young man who came to town wasn’t all that handsome and had no money, but he was charming and a good singer and it was too easy to be-spell a bright-eyed farmer’s daughter who still wore her hair in braids
- she was lucky enough to have family to intervene, they made him at least marry her first
- after the wedding night he was gone, left town and traveled far away
- she thought not of it, he’d told her he was a merchant
- for five years she repeated that story with a happy smile: her husband was a merchant, he had to travel far and work so hard, but someday soon his travels would bring him near, he would come home again
- when he did he would kiss her tenderly, he loved and missed her so, her darling Jacques
- when he did he would finally meet his son, the little boy she had named after his father
- she never got out of the habit of dreaming, never really learned to work hard, and though she loved him she was too absentminded to mother her son properly
- she had to stay with her elder sister, already married and widowed, and her sister’s children, by living together they made something of a household
- every few months her husband would bother writing a letter and she’d sigh over it fondly
- she would get one of her nephews to tell her what it said, repeat all the sweet words and reassurances, for she never learned to read
- no one was surprised when she caught a chill one year and wasted away, it was as if her dreams had finally taken her
- her last words were “Jacques, my love” but everyone knew she meant her absent husband; in truth her thoughts lingered rarely on her child

Gaston’s mother:
- her name was Athalie
- to call her so would have left her flustered, she most her life was “Madame Bûcher”; what name to her but as her husband’s wife
- she did not have many friends anyway, even when young she was shy, head down when addressed, speaking softly
- the woodsman made for them a little house on the farthest side of town, practically among the trees
- her world was to keep this house clean, keep her husband fed, mend his clothes, rub his back when he came home from a long day’s work; she did this well and it made her happy
- they wanted children and they tried for many years
- then they gave up, content with each other despite their silent sadness
- then when she was old, and he older, they had so unexpected the healthiest, most beautiful baby boy one had ever seen
- a boy who grew bigger and stronger, despite that she was small and frail, and her husband though stout and strong was otherwise average
- they knew not where he came from, this blessing they had so longed for, and they marveled over and adored him
- she was a faithful woman, superstitious, rosary always with her, despite her meekness insisting every Sunday her family make the journey into town to sit for mass, anything less was unthinkable
- she called her son, born to her so late in life, her “miracle from God”
- she marked his jumps in height against the front door’s frame, she went hungry so he would have everything he wanted to eat
- every time he left the house she would stop him, wipe off any speck of dirt and smooth his hair, admonish him never to hide such a handsome face
- she would send her boy to town with a list she made with symbols on a scrap of paper, praise him when he carried back the shopping one-handed
- her greatest happiness was to watch him grow, her fondest dream for the day he became a man, took a wife, started his own family
- her son’s fourteenth summer a fever swept the countryside; he was off hunting
- her husband fell ill, as she did her best to nurse him she too succumbed; together they died the same way they’d done so much else in life, unremarked and quietly

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قَصيدةُ رام الله للشاعر أحمد بخيت

صالون ميس الأدبي. جلسة القاهرة. مايو ٢٠١٢

“ مِن أجمل ماقِيلَ في فلسطين ”

Ramallah poem, Ahmad Bakheet.

Maison’s literary Salon. Cairo. May 2012.

“ Best sayings of Palestine ”

Milady’s options

Only tangentially related to Milady, really, and triggered by something I saw in a post about how Milady’s only options as a 17th century woman would be menial jobs, prostitution or marriage. (But then, the show has been written by people who assume that “slave trader” was a reasonable option for a woman from Paris and that “assassin” was a job description on the payroll of the queen’s household, so.)

Even if Milady was a 17th century woman and not a fictional character written by 21st century writers in a very much non-17th century setting, she would have had plenty of choices what to do with her life. If the show had not been written by idiots, and if the writers had not been perpetuating the stereotype that “historical accuracy” means that women never had normal jobs and never contributed to societal and economic developments before the Suffragette movement rolled along.

Okay, so let’s say “menial jobs” are beneath Milady, such as seamstress, embroider, lace-maker, weaver (NB, not all of France is Paris; Tours was the centre of the silk industry, go to Tours, you stupid woman, and get a job there), milliner, shopkeeper, landlady of an inn/hotel, baker/confectioner, a merchantess running her own business (marry a merchant, off him after the wedding, you great big assassin, and inherit his business), etc. 

Let’s assume that Milady is intelligent (as most people appear to see her), ambitious, capable, and a quick learner. She was a count’s wife and the king’s mistress, so she must have some useful social and marketable skills. If there was a job she wanted, what should have stopped her?

Oh, right. Idiotic writing. And the idiotic belief that Women In The Past didn’t have jobs.

Copiously quoted from the “Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance”:

Despite the legacy of a misogyny deeply embedded in classical and medieval literature, fifteenth-century humanism provided a gateway for women into the literary and cultural mainstream. The new humanist curriculum introduced a roster of studies that appealed to both women and men. The new humanist curriculum produced women who published works in every literary genre, served unofficially as their husbands’ foreign ministers, acted as regents and coregents of their states, directed their children’s educations, practiced medicine, wrote treatises on every branch of knowledge, and became abbesses and nuns who taught in convent schools.

[…] In the cities and the courts, a few women worked as painters, miniaturists, composers, musicians, singers, and printers. Many such women worked in the ateliers and shops of their fathers. Other women plied their trades as artists and composers under the auspices of a convent.

What is this? Female professions that go beyond “wife”, “sex worker” or “assassin”? Who would’ve thought it!

Misogyny and sexism in the professional sphere does not mean that women didn’t have jobs. It means that their work was not as highly valued and highly paid as men’s, and that their contributions often weren’t recorded.

If menial jobs are beneath her, have some more glamorous ones:

Alchemist - Because there was no formal training in alchemy in universities, guilds, or colleges, women could access alchemical knowledge in the same way that most men did: by cobbling together an alchemical education from a few vernacular texts, by learning techniques from other practitioners, or perhaps by buying a recipe from another peddler of alchemical secrets. Women could also draw on their experience with traditional activities that utilized similar techniques, such as distilling water and cooking. Marie Meurdrac’s “Accessible and Easy Chemistry for Women” was published in 1666.

Nun (in a convent of her choice) – Convents provided protection for women, as well as an education, albeit limited, and they offered nuns a certain autonomy of action not possible for most women in the secular world. Their sphere of action was not limited to the private world of their community, since convent women lived off income from properties they owned, money they lent, and the sale of produce and handicrafts. Convent education and freedom from family responsibilities offered nuns the opportunity to study and to write. In many convents a recorder was appointed to keep account books or to document the history of their foundation and the events of their lives. […] Special convents were founded for reformed prostitutes and for poor girls in danger of turning to such a life. Beginning in the early sixteenth century new orders were founded that were dedicated to educating young women outside convent walls;

Writer – Women had an honored place in literary society by the end of the sixteenth century. A lineage of writers and translators, associated with virtuous household academies and represented as paragons of “learned virtue,” had proved to the intellectual elite that education made women not domestic liabilities but instead positive contributors to family honor and literary culture.

Salonnière (because women who ran salons were not habitually burnt at the stake OMG and Milady actually proved in-universe that she could move around in a salon environment) - In literary contexts, the term “salon” is most often associated with the women of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in France, such as Catherine de Vivonne (1588–1665), the marquise de Rambouillet, renowned for her chambre bleue, her salon for the intellectuals and courtiers who frequented the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701), famous for her samedis, or the Saturday meetings of her salon circle, and also author or the longest novel ever published (Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus).

Makeup, cosmetics, perfume maker - Although the craft of cosmetic enhancement was known to women from the ancient times, it is in the Renaissance that its use became increasingly widespread. Perfumes were an expensive and highly sought-after commodity; create a good perfume recipe and off you go.

Medical professional - Women made important contributions to medical practice and theory during the Renaissance in Europe. Their work encompassed a broad range of areas of medical expertise, from nutrition and hygiene to gynecology and obstetrics. Moreover, outside of the health care fields, which were seen as “women’s domain,” they also participated in spheres where both men and women worked as medical providers, such as in surgery and optometry.

In the early seventeenth century, the celebrated surgeon and midwife Maria Colinetia, the wife of a surgeon, traveled throughout Germany demonstrating procedures and is credited with the technique of removing iron splinters from the eye with a magnet. Mary Trye, who trained under her father, published in 1675 one of the first medical manuals for women, her “Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician”.

In Catholic France, hospital governance transferred from ecclesiastical authorities to lay municipal administrators, but the everyday health care work of women continued to underpin medical services. In some towns, the nuns remained the nursing personnel, but in other cities they were replaced by laywomen. In France, the first licensing regulations were established for Parisian midwives in 1560. [Contraception methods included] medical techniques such as inserting vaginal pessaries of rue and ground lily root combined with castoreum, administering douches designed to cool the womb, and using barrier methods.

Pharmacist - A large number of laywomen were experts in the concoction of medical remedies. Like learned physicians, women used their medications to treat a wide variety of illnesses, including dysentery, ague, fevers, headaches, toothaches, and epilepsy.

Printer - For centuries, scholars have placed women at the margins of the early modern book industry, this in sharp contrast to their contributions as illuminators and scribes in late medieval manuscript production. Knowledge of women’s roles in the early book industry is hampered by scattered and incomplete sources. Chief among these are the books themselves. Even when she published a book, only rarely would a woman sign her name in the colophon.

A printer’s business - even that of a modest typographer - was not usually limited to one shop but rather included multiple shops (for the storage of supplies or purposes of accounting) attached to his place of residence. It was a printing house where business and family often overlapped. Thus, though she might be barred from the printing shop itself, the wife or daughter of a printer could learn other facets of his business, such as bookkeeping, binding books, and preparing paper for printing. Marry a printer, you great accomplished seductress, off him after the wedding, and inherit his business, sorted!

Theatre actress, manager, playwright - European women of the fifteenth through early seventeenth centuries participated in both public and private theatrical activities not only as audience members, but also as playwrights, translators, actresses, patrons, shareholders, employees of theaters, and leaders of acting troupes.

Records of professional French actresses began to appear at the end of the sixteenth century in conjunction with the famous actor Valleran le Conte and his acting troupe. By the latter part of the seventeenth century, Frenchwomen performed regularly both at court and in the public theaters. They also served as theater professionals of another kind: as costumers, ushers, and box office managers. More important, talented actresses earned a share or quarter share in companies and therefore gained a voice and a percentage of the profit.

Translator (Milady presumably speaks English) - The importance of translation in the Renaissance cannot be overestimated. It brought the newly discovered classical texts to a wider audience; it helped circulate the currents of religious debate throughout the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; and it made vernacular works available to a new readership.

Of the approximately one hundred early modern French women writers whose works we know, over 10 percent published translations of ancient or modern vernacular texts, either in manuscript or printed editions. […] Although they were excluded from the colleges, universities, and academies, where translation was a standard part of the curriculum, the works of these women translators reflect the various approaches to translation current in Renaissance France. Such women writers as Anne de Graville, Marie de Cotteblanche, Claudine Scève, Anne de Marquets, Marguerite de Cambis, and Marie de Romieu translated popular Italian and English works into French.


Post brought to you by my ongoing irritation with showrunners and audiences alike who persistently claim that the only jobs available to Women In The Past were “wife”, “domestic servant” or “fallen woman”. Not every “Past” is set in the Jane Austen pastoral English province or Dickensian Victorian London.

Post dedicated to Marie de Gournay (1565–1645), professional writer in Paris, moral philosopher, polemicist for the equality of women, novelist, philologist, and husbandless all her life.

Le salon de Madame Récamier à l'Abbaye-aux-Bois (1826). François-Louis Dejuinne (French, 1786-1844). Oil on wood. Musée du Louvre.

Juliette Récamier was a woman of letters and held a literary salon in an apartment of the Abbaye-aux-Bois rue de Sèvres in Paris, rented 7 April 1820. She moved into this religious establishment with her niece in October the same year.

Zenobia (240 - c. 275)

Queen of the Palmyrene Empire following her husband’s death in 267, expanding the empire by conquering Egypt

Claimed to be related Cleopatra, spoke ancient Egyptian but signed her name in the Aramaic form: Bat-Zabbaito

Well-educated, spoke several languages fluently and is said to have hosted literary salons featuring poets and philosophers

Eventually captured by the Roman Empire and forced to appear in gold chains in Rome

Some sources say she died soon after this while others claim she was freed due to her beauty and dignity and became a prominent philosopher and socialite in modern-day Tivoli, Italy

Professor John Mullan: 200 years on, why Jane Austen is still Britain’s greatest novelist

Imagine Jane Austen had not died on this day 200 years ago, aged only 41. Imagine that she’d had another decade or two of life (her sister, after all, lived into her 70s, her mother into her late 80s). She would have written — what, six more novels? Ten? For those, like myself, who regard her as the greatest novelist in the English language, it hardly bears thinking about. In the seven years before her death she completed six novels, of which four (at least) are among the most brilliant ever written. What could she have done with a little more time?

She would have achieved the literary celebrity that she just missed out on. She would have been feted in London literary salons, and met Wordsworth and Scott and Coleridge, and left us her copious correspondence with great authors of the day. There would be no challenging the weight of her achievement. For her problem in some people’s eyes is that she is just too light, too deft, too funny — her sentences come too beautifully and easily. A clever 13-year-old can enjoy and understand her fiction. Can she be that good?

Yes, she can. Anyone suffering from Austen-fatigue has perhaps seen too many film and TV versions of her stories. Forget them and go to the books again. For the screen adaptations keep on coming, not merely because of our love of Regency costume drama but because Austen was the greatest writer of novelistic dialogue. Try the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice, where, after those famous opening sentences, Austen just lets Mr and Mrs Bennet talk to each other for a couple of pages — and at the end of it we have a whole picture of a particular marriage.

Her novels crackle with life not because of what she writes about but because of how she writes. She is mostly absent from her books; she gives them over to her characters. Think of any memorable scene — Mrs Elton’s hilarious first visit to Emma’s house, Fanny Price watching Mary Crawford manipulate Edmund into taking part in the amateur dramatics, Anne Elliot’s bewildering meeting with Captain Wentworth after eight years’ separation — and what counts is not Austen’s understanding of what is going on but the heroine’s.

Or the heroine’s lack of understanding, for Austen is the laureate of self-delusion. She needs ingenious readers, who can work out the possible truth. One of her novels, Emma, is narrated so much through the consciousness of its self-deceived heroine that the reader too keeps being deceived. It has to be read at least twice. But then, more than any other novelist, she rewards re-reading with the discovery of new tricks and intricacies. Inexhaustibly.

Professor John Mullan is the author of What Matters in Janes Austen?, published by Bloomsbury, £9.99.

A Valentine

  For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
      Brightly expressive as the twins of Loeda,
  Shall find her own sweet name, that, nestling lies
      Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
  Search narrowly the lines!—they hold a treasure
      Divine—a talisman—an amulet
  That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure—
      The words—the syllables! Do not forget
  The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor!
      And yet there is in this no Gordian knot


  Which one might not undo without a sabre,
      If one could merely comprehend the plot.
  Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
      Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
  Three eloquent words oft uttered in the hearing
      Of poets, by poets—as the name is a poet’s, too.
  Its letters, although naturally lying
      Like the knight Pinto—Mendez Ferdinando—
  Still form a synonym for Truth—Cease trying!
      You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.

  Edgar Allan Poe — 1846.

Keep reading

Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo (exh.1779). Richard Samuel (English, fl. 1770 -1786). Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery.

Samuel celebrated nine of Britain’s artistic and intellectual women. He depicted them as Muses, ancient Greek goddesses who personified the arts and sciences. All except the literary critic and salon hostess Elizabeth Montagu earned a living from their work. The singer Elizabeth Ann Sheridan is in the centre, holding a lyre. The artist Angelica Kauffman sits at an easel. Other women include the historian Catharine Macaulay, the playwright and anti-slavery campaigner Hannah More and the classicist Elizabeth Carter.

Women in the Renaissance

For procrastination and research purposes, I’ve returned to the 17th century salon, because I need to write some fix-it scenes to deal with my The Rebellious Woman trauma. When The Musketeers originally aired, I actually gave up and stopped watching by the time The Rebellious Woman came on, because I couldn’t deal with the unsubtlety and heavy-handedness of it. I know the show is a silly historical romp with hot guys in leather. I know that it’s not accurate. But The Rebellious Woman was so full of stereotypes, it made me weep and despair. And so I did the mature thing and wrote porn and analysed my feelings, and came to the conclusion that it annoyed me so much, because it disregarded the real and important role women did play during a pivotal era in European history.

And because I know that other fans are likewise interested in historical research and also because it’s important to realise that feminism did not suddenly appear as a fully-formed concept when the Suffragettes began their campaigns in the late 19th century, I compiled the following (with the caveat that I am aware that women in Europe were denied many rights until quite recently and that their lives were very much governed by men):

I’m using the Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance by Diana Robin, Anne Larsen and Carole Levin (editors) as reference. It focuses on the period between roughly 1350 and 1700 and includes contributions from scholars who have studied the varied roles of Renaissance women since about the 1980s (before 1980 women had been pretty much written out of Renaissance history).

Here’s what the Encyclopedia has to say [emphases mine]:

“Predicated on the absolute equality of women and men, contemporary feminism has deep roots in late medieval and early modern social and political thought. Renaissance feminism has been defined variously as the product of the late medieval querelles des femmes (the debate on women), as the emergence of a new voice of protest in Europe, and as the rise of a new female consciousness, articulated for the first time in the writings of early modern women. Renaissance feminist works praised women’s contributions to civilization throughout history in the spheres of government, science, literature, theater, art, music, and war, while they protested the barring of women from access to higher education, the universities, lawmaking, state politics, property ownership, and the workplace.”

Among the early modern feminists were both men and women. They wrote in a wide range of genres, including treatises, dialogues, letters, dramas, poetry, biographies, histories, and romances.”

 “In France from 1540 to 1640, outspoken advocates of female autonomy brought feminism and the querelles des femmes to the salons of Paris and Poitiers. Such feminist writers as Hélisenne de Crenne, Madeleine Neveu des Roches and her daughter Catherine Fradonnet des Roches, and Marie le Jars de Gournay (1565–1645) insisted on the importance of independence for women and represented marriage as an institution deeply perilous to that autonomy.”

 “While the majority of participants in academic and salon society during the Renaissance were men, learned women from a variety of social strata, from noblewomen to courtesans, also took part in such groups, although women from such diverse classes were apparently seldom, if ever, in contact with each other.”

 “In literary contexts, the term “salon” is most often associated with the women of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in France, such as Catherine de Vivonne (1588–1665), the marquise de Rambouillet, renowned for her chambre bleue, her salon for the intellectuals and courtiers who frequented the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701), famous for her samedis, or the Saturday meetings of her salon circle. The tradition of women writers hosting and taking part in learned gatherings, however, may be seen much earlier. The foremothers of Vivonne and Scudéry may be found in Renaissance courts and literary circles across the Continent and in England.”

These are the names of some of the foremothers:

“The flourishing literary salons and coteries in Paris, Lyons, and Poitiers also spawned the cultivation of such prose narrative genres as the short tale, or conte (Jeanne Flore), the novel (Helisenne de Crenne, Marie de Gournay), the epic romance (Anne de Graville), the moral essay (Madeleine de L’Aubespine, Marie Le Gendre, Marie de Gournay), and the memoir (Charlotte Arbaleste Duplessis Mornay, Jeanne d’Albret, Marguerite de Valois). Experimentation in such prose forms led to the development of the novel in the seventeenth century, a genre increasingly associated with women.”

“In Paris, Antoinette de Loynes (1505–1567), Madeleine de L’Aubespine (1546–1596), and Claude-Catherine de Clermont (1543–1603) held literary salons in their homes that were counterparts to the Académie de poésie et de musique and the Académie du palais at the French court during the sixteenth century. These women were the recipients of numerous poetic addresses by the writers who frequented their salons, including the Pléiade poets, and they and their family members composed poetry, practiced translation, and generally participated in the perpetuation of humanist literary trends.”

 “The traditions of these sixteenth-century Parisian salons were carried into the early seventeenth century by Marguerite de Valois (1553–1615), when she returned from exile in Auvergne. French salon society, however, flourished in the provinces as well as in Paris.”

 And then there’s this:

 “1641: Marie de Gournay publishes her feminist essay, L’Egalité des hommes et des femmes (The Equality of Men and Women) in Paris.

 Seriously, everyone look up Marie de Gournay.

 I didn’t edit out their names to cut for length, because I think it’s important to see how many individuals there were who contributed to the advancement of arts and literature and culture. 

It was women like them who paved the way for us to spend endless hours writing explicit buggery on the Internet. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

The Musketeers treats Ninon’s salon like an aberration, which it would not have been. Having a noblewoman burnt as a witch for “spiriting away young women to her boudoir” in 17th century France is really stretching it a bit. Her salon would have been one of many, educated and outspoken women did very much exist, see the Précieuses. (On a side note: whilst witch trials still happened in France at that point, they were more or less fizzling out, unlike in for example Germany.)

In conclusion: it annoyed me how jumbled ideas of “the past” were thrown together to create cheap drama, as if “the past” had been a monolithic block of uniform oppression. Some nuances would have been nice. In Paris in 1630, it was more likely to be accused and put to death for being a heretic or a conspirator or perhaps a spy rather than a witch. They could have made Ninon a spy and have her exiled (as happened with the real Madame de Chevreuse). That would’ve been more accurate for the time period and it would have given her character more agency, instead of perpetuating stereotypes by making her the innocently accused victim of a witch hunt that was unlikely to happen that way and the distressed damsel tied to the pyre in her shift.

Of course, then we might not have got the wonderful cross exchange scenes with Aramis.

(I manage to squeeze in Aramis everywhere, even into a text on Renaissance feminism.)

A Simple Question

Where is the fire burning and how do we pour gasoline on it?

The match varies:
Groups of artists and writers and musicians, groups of freaks and outcasts, sex and drug addicts and those morally pristine footnotes been rubbed raw on the inside. I want the passionately unfit, the distressingly honest, those aroused by the pleasure or suffering of complete strangers.

Those willing to lose everything for a good story. They are always willing to strike the flame.

Are you still out there? I know you once were. If you are, to start, let’s read a book or watch a movie at the same time for something more than entertainment, and engage about it later. Let’s look at one anothers work and find something worth saying that isn’t about good or bad.

The times in my life that have resembled this I have loved and all the others have been a prison (pleasant or otherwise).

I’ll use the old platforms to start organizing if this goes anywhere.

Where is the fire burning and how do we pour gasoline on it? Which one of you is the gasoline?

Isabella Teotochi Marini (1792). Élisabeth–Louise Vigée-Le Brun (French, 1755-1842). Oil on paper mounted on canvas. Toledo Museum of Art.

Vigée-Lebrun was court painter and close friend to Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. Because of her association with the Queen, even though she herself was not noble (she was the daughter of an artist), she was forced to flee Paris during the Revolution. She painted this portrait of Isabella Teotochi Marini, hostess of a literary salon and toast of Venetian society, while she was in exile in Venice.