Editorial note: This reply is posted on behalf of the book's author, Antoine Lilti.
High Society and Worldliness: A rejoinder to J. Pekacz
I am grateful to the editors of H-Urban for having invited me to answer Jolanta Pekacz’s review of my book. I could hardly expect Professor Pekacz to be fully convinced by my interpretations, since she herself has written on a similar topic from a different perspective. I am grateful that she has acknowledged some of my book’s merits, but I would like to address a number of her criticisms.
Pekacz finds it contradictory that I use the term “salon” to designate venues of elite sociability in the 18th century, after having demonstrated that this use of the word was unknown before 1800. This raises a classic problem faced by historians: can they make use of a notion or concept that did not belong to the period they study? I assume that they can, as long as they define their terms precisely and use them exclusively as historiographical categories, and not as autochthonous notions. In The World of the Salons, I show how the idea of a “literary salon” was invented during the 19th and 20th centuries and helped create several durable myths (that the “salonnière” received writers and artists; that salons were formed in opposition to the royal court; that conversation and literary games held supremacy in the salons over other activities). I then propose to define the salon as the central institution of Old Regime “mondanité” – worldliness. That is why the first chapter of the book studies at length the codified practices of hospitality on which these social gatherings were based. Of course, “salons” existed, even though they were mostly called “societies” until the end of the 18th century, when “salon” was increasingly employed as the dominant term to describe these gatherings. Nonetheless, if we want to understand them correctly, we have to study them as part of the monde (the world), a central notion in eighteenth-century vocabulary and social thought. Hence the importance of mondanité (a word difficult to translate in English — Lydia Cochrane, the translator of my book, has chosen “worldliness”) in the intellectual economy of my study.
Pekacz also contends that I overstate the originality of my conclusions. She affirms that the Habermasian framework of interpretation, in which the salons are seen as part of an Enlightenment public sphere based on intellectual and egalitarian exchange, has already been questioned by other scholars – most notably, by herself. It is true that Pekacz criticized Dena Goodman’s book before I published mine, and I credited her for that, already in the French version Le Monde des salons and in many articles . However, Goodman’s and Daniel Gordon’s interpretation, which was also based on a Habermasian narrative of the public, were still predominant in the field when Le Monde des salons was published, and, in many ways, they still are . Things have only begun to change during the last decade, and I dare to think that my book, along with Pekacz’s and that of Steven Kale, have played a role in this evolution. Therefore, I find it surprising, and quite ironic, to read the following in Pekacz’s review: “The gap of ten years between the 2005 French book and its present abbreviated English translation further weakens Lilti’s claims to originality and adds to the sense that he is storming a door that has already been opened ». To be sure, the book is much less original than it was ten years ago, especially because the French version has been read by many historians of France since then This is rather good news, after all.
But there is more than that. For although Pekacz’s book questioned the Habermasian narrative, it was based on normative texts about politesse and civility, which led her to conclusions very different from my own. Writing in the perspective of women’s studies and musical history, Pekacz concluded that « salon women » were part of a « conservative tradition » regarding both ideology and taste. Yet, such an opposition between a « progressive » interpretation of salons and a “conservative” one is misleading for it fails to address the central question of why the philosophes were so eager to attend the salons of Parisian high society in the first place. What is at stake here is the relationship between the Enlightenment and Old-Regime elites. Because her book did not even raise this question, it did little to weaken the predominance of the public sphere interpretation.
My book, by contrast, is based on historical sociology, and influenced by the work of Norbert Elias, along with that of social historians of culture such as Daniel Roche, Roger Chartier and Robert Darnton. The long Chapter 3, “Men of letters and Worldly sociability,” which stands at the heart of the book, studies the relationships of protection and friendship inside the salons, examining how writers and philosophes came to see the salons as a venue which they had to attend in order to be considered hommes de lettres and hommes du monde.
Because she does not appear to have grasped this aspect of The World of the Salons, Pekacz concludes that in my book, salons seem “unattractive, vain and boring”. I confess that I am somewhat disappointed if this is indeed the impression she received, for my aim was not to write critic (and still less, eulogy). It was rather to understand why the judgments about salons had such an importance in French culture in the eighteenth century and since. I never tried to judge the salons, nor the women who ruled them, but to understand the specific relations that governed interactions in these urban venues between French elites and the intellectual world.
We can, at least, agree on one thing. Pekacz declares that “The World of the Salons is unlikely to be the last word on the topic.” I certainly hope so. I didn’t write this book to have the last word—what curious scholar would?—but to propose findings and interpretations that would stimulate new research and discussion.
I must add a coda. In a poisonous footnote, Pekacz suggests that my analysis of the shifting terminology of sociability in the eighteenth and nineteenth century might have been inspired by a lecture she gave in Paris in 2004. This is wrong, defamatory, and frankly wishful thinking on her part. The entire chapter of my book on this question (“L’invention du salon”) is identical to the chapter in my PhD thesis, which was deposed and defended in 2003, one year before Pekacz’s lecture, as is easy to verify. Even the single precise example she mentions (the fact that Lemonnier’s painting is reproduced on the H-France website) can be found in my dissertation, p. 34. As for the general considerations of Lemonnier’s painting, I « borrowed » them, indeed, as Pekacz herself did, from John Lough’s classic article of 1992, which I duly credited in my footnotes. Moreover, I had already used this reference in an article published in 2001, three years before Pekacz’s short talk in a FHS panel. Intellectual debates are always welcomed, but scholarly good faith is required .
 The historiographical discussion has been strongly reduced in the English version of the book , but as Pekacz knows, it takes 58 pages in the original version, in which I clearly state my position with respect to the existing scolarship. See also, « Sociabilité et mondanité : les hommes de lettres dans les salons parisiens au XVIIIe siècle », French Historical Studies, vol. 28, n° 3, juillet-septembre 2005, pp. 415-445.
 See for exemple, Tuomas Tikanoja, Transgressing Boundaries: Worldly Conversation, Politeness and Sociability in Ancien Regime France, 1660-1789, Helsinki, Unigrafia Oy, 2013, that Pekacz does not mention.
 Antoine Lilti, « Le Monde des salons. La sociabilité mondaine à Paris dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle », Thèse de doctorat soutenue le 23 juin 2003, Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, 805 pp. The volume is available for consultation at the Sorbonne Library and has been reproduced by ANRT (Atelier national de reproduction des thèses). Antoine Lilti, «Le salon de Mme Geoffrin, salon philosophique ou sociabilité mondaine ?», in Roger Marchal (ed.), Vie des salons et activités littéraires, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 2001, pp. 135-154. John Lough, «A propos d’un tableau de Lemonnier : une soirée chez Mme Geoffrin en 1755», Recherches sur Diderot et sur l’Encyclopédie, 1992, n° 12, pp. 4-18.
Editorial note: This reply is posted on behalf of the reviewer, Jolanta Pekacz.
Jolanta Pekacz: Response to Antoine Lilti
Antoine Lilti quite unnecessarily engages in explaining how his book differs from mine, and what he had in mind in writing it. It is a reviewer’s prerogative to judge the book solely on its merits. It is also a reviewer’s prerogative to assess the book’s contribution to the field. Lilti’s inflated claims to originality result from his sidelining scholarship relevant to his own work, including scholarship that undermined the usefulness of the Habermasian conceptual framework for the study of salons, published before his own work, such as the substantial criticism by Steven D. Kale published in 2002 . A sketchy and superficial account of salon historiography in the Introduction creates the impression that he is breaking new ground; at the same time, conclusions of other authors appear throughout the book unacknowledged. For example, the statement in the Conclusion (p. 236) of the limited cultural role of salon women due to the conservative control of the norms of female honnêteté is the Leitmotif of my 1999 book on salon women, not Lilti’s conclusion; the statement on the centrality and the civilizing role of female conversation in salons (p. 236) is the theme of Dena Goodman’s publications.
There is nothing “ironic” about my remark that Lilti is storming a door that has already been opened. The Habermas-inspired interpretation of salons was proven untenable on scholarly grounds long ago; it persists in the scholarship because it serves useful political ends and sustains politically-motivated interpretations typically immune to the persuasive power of scholarly analyses.
My footnote that the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Lilti’s book contain material identical with the paper “The Invention of the Salon in Post-Revolutionary France” I gave at the French Historical Studies conference in Paris in 2004, is a statement of fact. Contrary to Lilti’s claim to priority, however, this paper existed in the public domain before his dissertation did: I presented an earlier version of it at a Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies conference at Florida State University in 2003. It was submitted in response to the call for papers issued in November 2002, accepted in early 2003, and an abstract posted on the conference website was available in the public domain since March 2003. It is a fact that the title of my paper, the concept of the invention of the salon, and the discussion on the terminology of sociability, are also present in Lilti’s dissertation and in his subsequent books based on it. It is my prerogative as a reviewer to notice these similarities and try to explain them. It is in this spirit that I provided the chronology and the details of public dissemination of my work.
 Steven D. Kale, Women, the Public Sphere, and the Persistence of Salons,” French Historical Studies 25/1 (2002), 115-148.
Jolanta T. Pekacz