The following essay is excerpted from “The Intellectual Situation,” Issue 12: Conversion Experience.

Someone who wanted to know how we live might ask how we talk. Madame de Rambouillet talked in bed, stretched out on a mattress, draped in furs, while her visitors remained standing. Blue velvet lined the walls of the room, which became known as “the French Parnassus”: a model for the 17th- and 18th-century salons, where aristocratic women led male philosophes in polite and lively discussion.

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