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De Staël Salon



We see with Germaine de Staël’s salon the way ancien régime salon culture persisted, genealogically, through generations of women. De Staël’s mother, Suzanne Necker (1737 – 1794), hosted one of the more prominent of these salons, attended by Marmontel, Morellet, Grimm, D’Alambert and Diderot. Germaine was in this sense raised and in a significant sense educated in this salon, and was thus an expectant salonnière who could expect to inherit her mother’s guests. But de Staël’s inheritance also included a significant political aspect, from her father, Jacques Necker, whose own career was in many ways mediated by his wife’s elite connections. We see in Germaine, therefore, two strands – perhaps competing – that made up revolutionary salon culture: the routines of ancien régime culture and the claims of contemporary political expedience on those routines, given her father’s singular political position in the early years of the revolution.

This ambivalence marked the character of Germaine’s own salon. She was married in 1786 to a Swedish attaché – then ambassador – to Paris, Staël von Holstein. While her parents fled to Necker’s native Switzerland in 1790, this diplomatic match granted Germaine a certain political immunity. She held her salon in the Swedish embassy building on the rue du Bac. The guests represented a range of political positions and allegiances, from monarchist Feuillants (Barnave, Lameth) to Americans (Jefferson and Gouverneur Morris, who described the salon as 'nearly republican', but also 'too educated' for him), to the Condorcets and Girondin deputies. De Staël made a choice of including both mountain and plain representatives in an effort to forge collaborative consensus. However, De Staël’s own commitments, though in the Enlightenment sense liberal, were for a constitutional monarchy.

De Staël fled Paris for Switzerland herself in 1792 and, with some brief interludes in Paris, spent most of her life before 1816 in European exile, not least in Germany, where she developed relationships with the Schlegel brothers (and hence with Romantic thought). The first phase salon is most pertinent to revolutionary networks. Nonetheless, she resumed her Parisian salon briefly in 1795, attended by Marie-Joseph Chénier, Sièyes, and Boissy D’Anglas; again in 1800, attended by Talleyrand and Bonaparte’s brothers; and then repeatedly throughout the period, following her sporadic, exilic life. Her gatherings from 1805 in Coppet, Switzerland, were famously called “the general headquarters of European thought” by Stendhal. Her salons, in general, reflected her cosmopolitan, exilic life and acquaintance (from French, English, German, and Italian speakers), as well as her ambivalent political position on the boundaries of radical, moderate, and ancien régime cultures.


Laure Junot, La Duchesse d’Abtrantès, 'Histoire des salons de Paris, vol. 2' (Paris, 1837)

Fontana, Biancamaria, 'Germaine de Staël: A Political Portrait' (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016)

Blanc, Olivier, ‘Cercles politiques et « salons » du début de la Révolution (1789-1793)’, Revolutions français (2006)

Goodden, Angelica, 'Madame de Staël: the dangerous exile' (Oxford: OUP, 2008)

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

Winegarten, Renée, 'Germaine de Staël & Benjamin Constant' (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008)