Doll, go grab yourself a nice glass of French chardonnay and let me tell you about my friend, Sophie. [This morsel of historic fun is the first of several we’ll be sprinkling in now and then to celebrate the great salonnieres of the past.]
Sophie de Condorcet, born in 1764 in Meulan, France, was a prominent salonniere in Paris during and after the Reign of Terror, that nasty time in France when everybody was chopping off everybody else’s head. Saying this woman was the bee’s knees is an understatement.
Known as Madame de Condorcet, Sophie was the wife, then widow, of the mathematician and philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet, who died during the Reign of Terror. She was very much her own woman. Even after her husband’s death during the French Revolution, she maintained her own strong identity and was considered one of the most well-connected and influential people in Paris.
You would have loved Sophie. She was fabulous, not just because she was kind, beautiful and welcoming to all, but because she was one smart cookie. Highly educated for her day, Sophie was fluent in French, English and Italian. She was a writer and translator who produced translations of works by the great thinkers, Thomas Paine and Adam Smith. Her translation of, and commentary about, Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” became the standard French translation for the next two centuries.
Sophie’s salon, which was frequented by Thomas Jefferson, the feminist, Olympe de Gouges, and a host of philosophers and aristocrats, was the best ticket in town. One of her favorite guests was Pierre de Beaumarchais, a playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, horticulturalist, arms dealer, satirist, financier and revolutionary (both French and American). Can you imagine? No wonder she loved him! What a fabulous party guest he must have been!
Anyway, Sophie was a real girl’s girl who used her salon to promote and encourage equal rights for women. In fact, the scuttlebutt was that Sophie had the will and intelligence to be the Susan B. Anthony of her time. She just didn’t have the stamina to lead the movement.
One of our favorite salonnieres of all time, Sophie was hosting parties and influencing social commentary until the day she died in Paris on September 8, 1822. What a dame.