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De Condorcet, Sophie de Grouchy Salon



The Condorcets’ (Nicolas de Caritat and Sophie de Grouchy) salon included many members of the cercle d'Auteuil, centred around Anne-Catherine Helvétius, wife of philosophe Claude-Adrien Helvétius, of which Condorcet was a member. Indeed, Helvétius and Condorcet were neighbours in Auteuil. Like the cercle d'Auteuil, the salon was home to the 'idéologues' group (Cabanis, principally), with a membership roster overlapping closely with the neuf sœurs lodge. This tendency to representing liberal philosophes, however, was influenced by Condorcet's increasingly political concerns, leading to the salon assuming an increasingly political character.

The Condorcets married in 1786 and took up residence at the Hôtel des Monnaies on the quai de Conti, which was appointed to Condorcet as part of his role as inspector general of the mint, until Condorcet was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1791. Initially an intellectual and cultural grouping in the tradition of the eighteenth-century bureau d'esprit – Dupaty, Suard, La Harpe – from spring 1791 the salon included political actors associated with Condorcet, Girondins and liberal constitutionalists. The salon hosted numerous international actors (Jefferson, Adam Smith, Anarcharsis Cloots, Beccaria), but was most significantly affected by Thomas Paine. This alignment meant that, by September 1792 and the advent of the Republic, the salon was – according to salon-memoirist duchesse d'Abtrantès – 'decimated'. With Condorcet's subsequent arrest and death in 1793-94, Sophie de Grouchy returned to Auteuil, and the salon resumed a second life in the directorate as, again, a home to the idéologues (Destutt de Tracy, for example).

This composition and timeline is in one sense typical of the transition of the salon from ancien régime cultural séance to liberal-aristocratic forum for political discussion, and its ascent and demise from 1788 to 1792 both reflects and enacts the political developments of the early 1790s. The centrality of literary, intellectual, and cultural figures such as Dupaty, Cabanis, and Marmontel in the early phase transitions to that of political figures such as Beaumarchais and Chamfort later. But it is perhaps useful to think of the salon as a space of mediating this transition, rather than of displacement of one group by the other (Lafayette, for example, as political figure was also witness at the Condorcets’ wedding). Yet the tension between a cultural and a political grouping around 1791 is indicative of this development, and reflects a tension between the Condorcets' social and intellectual commitments. This tension should not be overplayed, however (witness the Condorcets’ joint intellectual and political projects), nor should membership of the salon, as with all salons, be seen as consistent. Indeed, mediating this 'productive' tension might be read as typical of the adaptation of the salon form of sociability and cultural discussion to political organisation in the early phases of the revolution.



Blanc, Olivier, ‘Cercles politiques et « salons » du début de la Révolution (1789-1793)’, Revolutions français (2006), https://journals.openedition.org/ahrf/5983?lang=en

Guillois, Antoine, La Marquise de Condorcet: Sa Famille, son Salon, ses Amis, 1764-1822 (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1897), 68, 75-76

Kale, Steven, French Salons: High Society and Political Sociability from the Old Regime to the Revolution of 1848 (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 54-55

Valentino, Henri, Madame de Condorcet: Ses Amis et ses Amours (1764-1822), (Paris: Libraire Académique Perrin, 1950), 43-49