There was a time when a person of breeding and wit could find his or her match at court. But while society gathers there, and some princes and duchesses hold daily gatherings, the pomp and nonsense make true conversation impossible. The only solution is one’s own salon, a place where society women, intellectuals, business men and ministers of state can meet on equal footing and talk about something other than the ribbons in the queen’s hair.
Preparing a guest list. A guest list is essential. Intellectuals have many things to say and almost no one to say them to. They will love the chance to speak and their topics will seem daring and fresh, since, quite frankly, who has heard of such things before? Society women with a bit of wit will love access to such scientists and philosophers and will attend tout de suite. Middle class men on the rise will also spread the word about your fetes, an essential feat in a world before phone, FourSquare and Twitter. Note that if you are middle class yourself, your guests cannot be from the nobility. They will look down their long noble noses at your provincial antics. Be realistic about your standing and choose guests who are just slightly better than yourself (a goal for any social interaction, really).
Be Protestant. Yes, Catholics were the ruling majority in France, but then as now, not everyone was devout. Since there were no restaurants in this day, one of the only places to get a proper duck or chicken was at a Protestant’s house, saving guests from the monotony of another fish Friday.
Dream big. Mme. Necker knew that truly fashionable women of the era at least corresponded with Voltaire, the great poet and witticist. Mme. Necker decided a statue should erected of the poet and announced the idea at her salon. Voltaire quickly got in touch with Mme. Necker.
Appropriate guests: Select at least one person from the following categories.
Witty People: Philosopher Denis Diderot, writer and philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire
Smart people: Historian Charles-jean Francois Henault; social commentator Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu; Mathematician physicist and philosopher D’Alembert; historian and encyclopediste Jean-Francois Marmontel; Creators of the Enlightenment (whomever you can find)
Influential people: Ministers of state and ranked soldiers.
Pretty people: Certain working ladies held very popular salons. Also, Mme. de Vintimille, Louis XV’s mistress, attended a salon regularly to find tidbits to amuse the king).
Discussions at salons. Fashionable people gather in these drawing rooms throughout Paris to share information and happen upon the right opinions. Be careful never to be too informed about any one topic – history, politics, literature. One does not want to know so much on a subject that one becomes passionate and might (gasp) hold forth. Know just enough for your words to be pleasing, flowing, clever and artful. This is not a place for convincing or arguing, but for being interesting. Dullness is your death.
Standing out. In France, great speech is crucial and valued highly. So, if you think for one moment that you cannot hold your own, say nothing at all. Stay silent. Monsieur Necker, whose wife held her own well-regarded salon, never spoke and was regarded as a great genius. Mostly because his wife told them to think that, but also because it seemed he “was concerned with matters so deep that he couldn’t bother coming down to the level of ordinary conversation.”