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Mary Orr

Women in tête-à-tête at the Cuvier Salon: penning the female scientific mind

For French women writers and poets in the 1820s, the salon was vital for the meeting of minds and the development of the female imaginary. Nodier’s salon at the Arsenal is a case in point in the literary formation of Louise Colet or George Sand. What has not been investigated is the perhaps even more essential role of the salon in the making of the early nineteenth-century woman of science. Although women on both sides of the Channel were barred from the male worlds of the laboratory and of course scientific exploration, this paper investigates the instrumental effects of the Cuvier salon on a remarkable English woman of science, Sarah Bowdich.

Sarah’s many parts as natural historian, ethnographer, historian of science, educator in natural science and novelist will first be outlined by examining the achievements of her pen and how they brought recognition in international scientific arenas. Attention can then be focused on the strategic roles of the Cuvier salon regarding the contents and many forms of Sarah’s scientific writing. Of particular note are inspirational international female friendship and her correspondence with Sophie Duvaucel, step-daughter of George Cuvier. Their reciprocal discourses as women and scientists are then perhaps best illustrated in Sarah’s scientific pen. As a creative writer for her life in impersonal, empirical and self-reflective modes, she then richly challenges categorisation of women’s writing of the period, but thanks to her eminent scientific interlocutrice.

SvD, April 2008

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Chawton 2008 > Orr

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