The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 50 (2):402-402 (1996)
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In this book, Goodman has made a major contribution to the study of the social and political currents of the French Enlightenment. Previous histories of the period tended to gloss over, or ignore downright, some of the most important people and institutions involved in the gradual extension of literacy and public debate that would culminate in the upheavals of the French Revolution. In particular, the central role of the Parisian salon and the work of its presiding genius, the salonnière, have not received the attention they merit. It is Goodman's thesis that the salon was chief home to the adventuresome forays of the philosophes, providing a fertile context for the development and communication of ideas essential to the eighteenth-century vision of encyclopedic and humanistic learning. Without the weekly salon meetings, without the tireless epistolary and conversational efforts of their female governors, the "work of enlightenment" would not have materialized, let alone evolve as it did.



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