Modern Intellectual History

Articles

A FEMINIST VOICE IN THE ENLIGHTENMENT SALON: MADAME DE LAMBERT ON TASTE, SENSIBILITY, AND THE FEMININE MIND*

KATHARINE J. HAMERTONa1

a1 Department of Humanities, History and Social Sciences, Columbia College, Chicago E-mail: khamerton@colum.edu

Abstract

This essay demonstrates how the early Enlightenment salonnière madame de Lambert advanced a novel feminist intellectual synthesis favoring women's taste and cognition, which hybridized Cartesian (specifically Malebranchian) and honnête thought. Disputing recent interpretations of Enlightenment salonnières that emphasize the constraints of honnêteté on their thought, and those that see Lambert's feminism as misguided in emphasizing gendered sensibility, I analyze Lambert's approach as best serving her needs as an aristocratic woman within elite salon society, and show through contextualized analysis how she deployed honnêteté towards feminist ends. Additionally, the analysis of Malebranche's, Poulain de la Barre's, and Lambert's arguments about the female mind's gendered embodiment illustrates that misrepresenting Cartesianism as necessarily liberatory for women, by reducing it to a rigid substance dualism, erases from view its more complex implications for gender politics in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, especially in the honnête environment of the salons.

Footnotes

* For their comments on this and earlier versions, I thank the three anonymous MIH reviewers, Naomi Andrews, Stephen Asma, Robert Beachy, Katherine Chavigny, Jan Goldstein, Elizabeth Heath, Steven Kale, Anthony La Vopa, Carolyn Lougee, Lynn Mollenauer, Jennifer Palmer, J. B. Shank, and the Modern France Workshop at the University of Chicago.