Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2016

Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2016

sentimental savants

Philosophical Families in enlightenment france

Sentimental Savants examines how the thinkers of the age attempted to live the Enlightenment. It is a story that starts at home. The Enlightenment was not an austere age of reason but rather a time when logic and emotion, science and sensibility, public and private, went neatly hand in hand. Rather than shuttering themselves in their studies, the sentimental savants of Enlightenment France imagined themselves to be a new sort of public figure: learned men and women whose happy home lives enabled, rather than constrained, their intellectual work. Eager to establish themselves as individuals of virtue and sentiment, philosophers flaunted their seemingly idyllic family lives. They collaborated with their spouses and children, showcasing the family home as a productive intellectual space. They even practiced an intimate brand of empiricism, testing ideas about inoculation and education on their own families and advertising their successes in print. Sentimental Savants delves into the lives and work of such major figures as Denis Diderot, Émilie du Châtelet, the Marquis de Condorcet, Antoine Lavoisier, and Jérôme Lalande to reveal how sentiment and reason interacted in the eighteenth century to produce not only new kinds of knowledge but new kinds of families as well.  Read the introduction here.


Praise for Sentimental savants

Julie Hardwick, University of Texas at Austin

“An elegantly written, ambitious, and pioneering book. Roberts persuasively—indeed brilliantly—situates family as central to the Enlightenment in terms of lived experience, self-fashioning, potent discursive metaphor, and production of knowledge. By paying close attention to the lives of philosophes as well as their writings, Sentimental Savants utterly transforms our understanding of pivotal dynamics that produced the Enlightenment.”

Suzanne Desan, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Sentimental Savants is an intriguing and original interpretation of the Enlightenment. By probing the private lives of Enlightenment authors, Roberts explores how they transformed their own families into sites of inspiration and experimentation as they redefined social ideals and crafted their own personae. She vividly demonstrates the pivotal role of emotion and intimacy in generating the Enlightenment as a powerful collective movement.”

Jay M. Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Sentimental Savants is a gracefully written, ambitious, deeply researched book that makes excellent contributions to the study of the Enlightenment, the social experience of the philosophes, the culture of intellectual life in the eighteenth century, the history of the family, and the early modern process of self-fashioning. Roberts constructively engages secondary literature on all of these topics and offers many new, brilliant insights. Her argument is subtle, the evidence contextualized and intellectually situated, and her thesis undeniably persuasive. The book is thorough, written with a lively and engaging style, and broken into digestible bits that go down easily. Anyone interested in the history of the Enlightenment, French studies, and the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the eighteenth century will be intrigued by Sentimental Savants.”