Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2010
In the Paris of the 1700s, leading figures of the French Enlightenment would gather to discuss important topics of the day in the salon of Madame Geoffrin.
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Lead: In the Paris of the 1700s, leading figures of the French Enlightenment would gather to discuss important topics of the day in the salon of Madame Geoffrin.
Tag: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: In the years before mass media captured--some would say numbed--people's minds and imagination, often great pleasure was derived from simple conversation. Groups would gather, either on small-town front porches or in more sophisticated surroundings, and talk to each other. The examination of new ideas, the cultivation of wit, and the clever turn of phrase demonstrated that a person was civilized, cultured, and intelligent. In the years prior to the French Revolution, such discussion groups would often gather in the parlor or salon of a socially-prominent hostess. There the ideas of men and women such as Isaac Newton, Rousseau, Mary Wolstonecraft, Voltaire and his mistress Madame du Chatelet, were tossed about and discussed. And in the salons of Paris, some said, there was hatched a revolution.
Marie-Therese Geoffrin was the daughter of a valet. She married a rich manufacturer and though she lacked a formal education, Madame Geoffrin was naturally intelligent and an excellent listener. Her husband's money allowed her to entertain and, from 1749 to her death in 1777, like a mother hen she gathered to their living room in the Hotel de Rambouillet a glittering array of artists and literary figures. On Monday evenings she would host a group of artists such as Francois Boucher, and she was among the first to recognize the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On Wednesdays it was writers, and often Voltaire would hold forth with the likes of the English writer Horace Walpole. Marie Geoffrin and the other hostesses of the Paris' salons helped tie together manners, appreciation of art, and the intellect in a more leisurely age, and they stimulated the spread of ideas that have shaped the our world.
Research assistance for this program has been provided by Laura Nazimek. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.