Paris at the turn of the twentieth century was a creative hub for writers and artists who were drawn to the city for the freedom of expression fostered there. There were many public spaces in modernist Paris where they gathered, such as the well-known cafés on the Boulevard Saint- Germain. But there were also public spaces in private settings – the famous salons conducted by women in their homes, such as those of Gertrude Stein and Natalie Barney. These modernist salons followed in the tradition established in seventeenth-century Paris in salons such as those held by Italian-born Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet. For although the Marquise received her guests reclined on a lit de repos in the private sanctum of her bed-sitting room, the chambre bleue, the connections made and conversations had were on public mat- ters both cultural and political. It was from these at once both public and private social gatherings that the literary genre of the roman à clef first developed. It was later taken up for its particular characteristics as a form of discursive fiction and lifewriting by the women who frequented early twentieth-century salons. The discrete – and discreet – circles of the modernist salons were a pivotal social space where non-conforming sexual subjectivities were enacted or performed, relationships formed and broken, artistic ideas proposed. When they wrote about their lives, the roman à clef and its coded conventions presented itself as the ideal genre.
- roman à clef,
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