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Helen Maria Williams Salon



“I was at Helen’s last night; I believe she has a party almost every night – 30 or 40 or 50, chiefly English” (Joel Barlow, in Bour, 2013)

Helen Maria Williams hosted a salon which functioned as an important meeting point of Parisian Girondins and visiting British radicals between 1792 and 1793 – the latter signifying the advent of both a Jacobin disfavouring of salon culture and Williams’s exile from France. In that year, however, the salon hosted numerous republican leaders, French or international – including, for example, Francisco de Miranda and Jérôme Pétion. Hosting with her lover and fellow publisher at the ‘English Press’ at rue de Vaugiraud, John Hurford Stone, the salon also had significant publishing and networking functions for British and American writers. Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, visited Williams early upon her arrival to Paris, and described meeting ‘french company at her house’. We see in this way anglophone politically committed writers being introduced both to the cosmopolitan revolutionary elite and to one another as they arrive in Paris. The salon is notable for thus introducing willing translators to local radical networks, and it could therefore be seen as both an axis of Anglo-French radicalism in the early 1790s, and, because so directly connected to the ‘English Press’, as a social wing of the radical publishing networks which often paralleled it.

The salon represents an interesting, 'revolutionary' variation on the ancien regime form: non-aristocractic, but centred on female sociability; cultural, but also decidedly political in character.

See: Madeleine B. Stern, ‘The English Press and Its Successors: 1793-1815’, in The Bibliographical Society of America 74:4 (1980), pp. 307-359, 315-17

Mary A. Favret, ‘Spectatrice as Spectacle: Helen Maria Williams at Home in the Revolution’, in Studies in Romanticism 32:2 (1993), pp. 273-295

Isabelle Bour, 'A New Wollstonecraft: The Reception of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman and of The Wrongs of Woman in Revolutionary France', in Journal for 18th Century Studies, vol.36, no.4 (Nov 2013), pp.575-587.