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Salons

SALONS

For almost two centuries, salons hosted by Jewish women were important sites for cultural performances and discussion of music, art, literature, philosophy, and politics. Until recently, such social gatherings had seemed an isolated moment in Jewish history: Emerging in Berlin in the last decades of the 18th century, they had reached their peak around 1800. The Prussian capital saw at least 17 Jewish homes that consistently welcomed guests to open houses, usually for tea. After the Prussian defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1806, the importance of these informal institutions was believed to have diminished. But in fact this was not the end of the story. This model of artistic and intellectual conviviality, persistently arising at a site in urban society connected with the feminine and the Semitic and bringing together individuals of diverse ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds, reappeared after 1815 and continued to be influential throughout the 1820s. Its reverberations survived into the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the emergence of comparable Jewish salons in Paris, London, and Rome. Versions of the salons survived World War ii in cities as far away from Berlin as New York City and Los Angeles.

A 2005 exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City, entitled "Jewish Women and their Salons: The Power of Conversation," represented the entire history of this social and communicative experiment. To the well-known names of early salonnières such as Rahel Levin *Varnhagen and Henriette *Herz of Berlin, Fanny von Arnstein and Caecilie von Eskeles of Vienna, historians now add Geneviève Straus, a friend of Marcel Proust in Paris; Ada Leverson, Oscar Wilde's friend in London; Berta Zuckerkandel of Vienna along with her sister Sophie Clemenceau in Paris; Margherita Sarfatti in Rome; and the American writer Gertrude *Stein who resided most of the time in Paris. In New York City, Florine Stettheimer opened her house to regular cultural gatherings, while in Los Angeles Salka Viertel provided her co-emigrants from Germany and Austria with an environment in which to discuss ideas, creative achievements, and the events of the day. The intellectual, social, artistic, as well as political achievements of these women cannot be overestimated.

bibliography:

M. Susman, Frauen der Romantik (1929; 1996); I. Drewitz, Berliner (1979); D. Hertz, Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (1988); P. Wilhelmy, Der Berliner Salon im 19. Jahrhundert (1989); P. Seibert, Der literarische Salon (1993); H. Schultz (ed.), Salons der Romantik (1997); B. Hahn, The Jewess Pallas Athena. This Too a Theory of Modernity (2005); E. Bilski and E. Braun (eds.), Jewish Women and their Salons (2005).

[Barbara Hahn (2nd ed.)]

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