Madeleine de Scudéry & Salon Culture

I had no idea where to start when Dr. Miller told us to start researching. I like history and my favorite periods of history are the Renaissance and the enlightenment. Thankfully Dr. Miller dropped some books in my laps and told me to start reading. Madeleine de Scudéry caught my eye because she was part of the Salon culture. I didn’t know much about the Salon culture before I started researching but something about the salon has always fascinated me.

Mlle. de Scudéry is in fact a interesting person that shaped writing in French culture and cultivated some interesting movements. I tried to find some of her works on Amazon in English but the only one I could find was The Story of Sappho and the rest are in French. I am sure if I did more looking I could find copies of her works.

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Madeleine de Scudéry was born in 1607, in Le Hâvre, France. Her parents died when she was thirteen, and her and her brother went to live with an uncle in Rouen. She was given a typical education of her girls her age but found ways to elevate herself and perfect her French. De Scudéry became an advocate later in life for the education of women. If it wasn’t for a move to Paris in 1637 with her brother, Madeleine wouldn’t have been introduced to Madame de Rambouillet, the inventor of the famous Paris Salon. It was there in those salons that de Scudéry would find inspiration for her many writings, such as Conversations, and the new and exciting “Petite Post”.

Mlle. de Scudéry did a lot for women through her book Conversations and opened up the social elite of Paris to the rest of the world but what fascinated me the most about her was her and her friends’ contribution to the “Petite Post”. One would think with google just fingertips away that I would find lots of information not the “Petite Post” but I did not. Most of the information I found was from one article written about Mlle. de Scudéry and the petite post. I had hoped to use that article as a stepping stone to further articles but I could not find anything more about the first successful postal system in a major European city, considering the references the article cited were all in French (two years of French in high school did nothing for me).

What I can tell you is this. The Petite Post was the first form of a postal system in Paris, specifically the city. There was a postal system for the nation as a whole but not within cities. If one wanted to send a letter within the city of Paris it either had to be hand delivered or a servant would take it. People were given addresses, little mailing boxes and had to purchase stamps or billets, which had a date, address of recipient and sender. They were either inserted inside the letter or attached to the letter. The mail was collected three times a day and in my opinion that is really convenient for everyone involved. My mailman  usually comes between the hours of 10 and 11 but if weather has delayed him then it could be any time. I just never really know if I should stick my mail outside in the event it never gets picked up. I trust that someone won’t steal my mail but I don’t trust the wind which might blow it away.

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I personally have always enjoyed hand writing a letter, sealing it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it and mailing it. To me it is just more personal than a message on Facebook, or a snapchat, or whatever young kids are doing these days (I really do feel out of the loop of what is considered the newest way of communication). That is what fascinated me so much about Mlle. de Scudéry and her circle of friends fascination with letter writing. It was like instant communication for them and according to Joan DeJean who wrote “(Love) Letters: Madeleine de Scudéry and the Epistolary Impulse” (one of two articles I found on Madeleine de Scudéry):

“In the manner of today’s favourite technologies, it had the capacity to turn letter writing into a game that could be enjoyed by a collective. They realized, for instance, that a public postal system made it possible for the first time for the letter writer to conceal his or her identity; this realization became the springboard for a number of epistolary experiments” (p. 407).

 

When I was a kid my cousin and I would email each other back and forth pretending to be young girls from ancient cultures (my cousin was really obsessed with ancient Roman culture). We were creating ongoing stories with our emails and that is what Mlle. de Scudéry and her friends were doing. Not only were they doing that but they were also keeping a record of how their letters were mailed, how long it took, what they said in their letters in addition to fake letters. These letters were completely anonymous because of the new way of mailing which was a novel concept to Mlle. de Scudéry and her friends. One such example was creating a fake secret admirer for one of her friends.

“These fake letters and postal games also show that, even though we think of the penny post as having been used exclusively for authentic, personal correspondence, Scudéry and her band immediately recognized the new service’s potential for fictionalizing personal letters” (DeJean 408).

Sadly in November of 1653 the Petite Post ceased to exist and letters sent between Mlle. de Scudéry and her friends no longer focused on the art of letter writing nor creating fake identities and fooling their friends. That could be why I couldn’t find any information on the “Petite Poste”. A footnote in the article I read basically said she, the author, couldn’t find any information either on why the postal system ceased to exist only that people just stopped talking about it and no longer were letters delivered through the postal system.

If the post had been kept going one of Mlle. de Scudéry’s books may have taken the epistolary form and actually have been written in a series of letters. It reminds me a lot of how many early Victorian novels were serialized.

Mlle. de Scudéry wrote many novels in her lifetime, advocated for women’s rights, never married but had a close platonic male friend, and held the “Salon le samedi” (Saturday Salon), but what I find most fascinating was her obsession with letter writing and turning it into an art form. Letter writing really is a lost art in todays culture because we have instant communication. It’s ironic to me that to them it was new, fast and efficient way to communicate and now mailing a letter is called snail mail. If you really want to get a hold of someone you call or text them, not mail them a letter. In a world of instant communication where proper grammar doesn’t even matter anymore have we lost the art of writing a decent letter?

-C

Works Cited:
Dejean, Joan. “(Love) Letters: Madeleine de Scudéry and the Epistolary Impulse.” Eighteenth Century Fiction 22.3 (2010): 399-414. Web.

 

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