Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2016

Published by the University of Chicago Press, 2016

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 model 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 education and inoculation on their own families and advertising their successes in print. Sentimental Savants reveals how sentiment and reason interacted in the eighteenth century to produce new kinds of knowledge and new kinds of families.

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Sentimental Savants allows its readers to peer into the spaces in which the bonds are created and to see their impact on scientific and philosophical advances in Enlightenment-era France. It will be of tremendous interest to those working on eighteenth-century intellectual and cultural history, histories of science and emotions, and, more broadly, to anyone interested in reading about the relational nature of knowledge production.
— Tracy Rutler, H-France
In this well-crafted study, historian Roberts takes a seemingly simple subject (the marriages and family lives of several prominent Enlightenment figures, including Lavoisier, Diderot, Condorcet, and Helvetius) and uses it to illuminate a broad range of topics about the changing role of scholarship and learning in 18th-century France. While the traditional model of the scholar was an isolated, almost monastic figure cut off from the world and devoted only to study and contemplation, the 18th century embraced the new paradigm of the ‘engaged intellectual’ who rejected the contemplative life in favor of active patriotic participation in society and devoted his learning to serving the general welfare. Roberts shows how Enlightenment families publicized their harmonious domestic lives as demonstrations of their civic virtue, rejected stern patriarchy in favor of more egalitarian and affectionate family ties, and lived out their values through collaborative study, support for enlightened practices such as smallpox inoculation, progressive methods of child-rearing, and benevolent and scientific estate management. By connecting the family lives of prominent philosophes to broader intellectual debates of their time, Roberts makes an important contribution to what Robert Darnton has called ‘the social history of ideas.’ Essential.
— D.A. Harvey, Choice
Sentimental Savants est un livre important. Il s’inscrit pleinement dans une nouvelle génération d’études de genre attentive à mettre en valeur les activités des femmes (ou plus largement, des membres de la famille) sans pour autant être dupes des limites que la société patriarcale impose à celles-ci. Il contribue également à l’histoire des sciences en montrant le caractère émotionnel, mais aussi collectif (ici familial) de la fabrique des savoirs. Enfin, même si l’on sait depuis les travaux de Hunt, de Desan, ou de Heuer et de moi-même, que la famille est un élément central de la construction de la citoyenneté à l’époque de la Révolution, l’originalité de Meghan Roberts réside dans l’attention portée aux pratiques collaboratives des familles en général et des époux en particulier, lorsqu’ils et elles se font philosophes, chimistes ou astrologues.
— Anne Verjus, Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française
In her remarkable study, Sentimental Savants, Meghan Roberts . . . provides refreshingly new ways to think about the Age of Enlightenment. She demonstrates, quite convincingly, that a kind of feedback loop existed in the eighteenth century, in which the ideas of learned men and women deeply influenced their family lives, while their familial relationships profoundly affected their philosophical positions.
— Bryant T. Ragan, Jr., French History
Roberts shows the Enlightenment in action and philosophical families’ attempts to fashion themselves in new ways in order to reform society on the eve of the French Revolution. Her nuanced and compelling contribution challenges and complements recent studies of genius and celebrity.
— David Troyansky, The American Historical Review
“Roberts’s book is an important contribution to Enlightenment studies—the rare book that produces fresh insights while drawing on well-trod sources.”
— Alyssa Sepinwall, Journal of Modern History
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.
— Julie Hardwick
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.
— Suzanne Desan
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.
— Jay M. Smith