Critical essay

Journey Through Mlle. De Scudery’s Carte de Tendre: A 17th Century Salon Woman's Dream/Country of Tenderness

Gloria Feman Orenstein. Published in Femspec 3.2

La Carte de Tendre, or the map of the country of Tenderness, made its debut in the first volume of Madeleine de Scudery’s novel Clelie (1654). It is a map of the mythical country of Tenderness, which is also a metaphor for Mlle. De Scudery’s heart and for her salon. As a salon game that soon became the rage in 17th century Parisian salon society, it can be viewed as a precursor of many board games, and, one might also claim that it foreshadows certain contemporary computer games. However, I see it more as a map of Mlle. De Scudery’s desire, and of the emotional geography of the territory of her political ambition and her sexual imagination.

Mapping the domain of love had already been attempted several times before she created her map of the domain of tender friendship. What differentiates her map from the others is that Tendre, the capital city of her country, was also her heart and her salon. However, since she had vowed to remain celibate and unmarried all of her life, her map does not lead to the sexual consummation of love. Indeed, love was banned from her country and her salon. Tendre is the country of intimate friendship for Madeleine de Scudery.

James S. Munro, in his study Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Carte de Tendre (i) places the creation of this salon map game in the tradition of allegorical maps of fantasy countries such as the Carte du Royaume d’Amour, which appeared in 1659 in the first volume of the Recueil de Sercy, and is attributed to Tristan l’Hermite. The destination of Tristan’s pilgrim is Pleasure (Jouissance).. Munro writes: “The allegory transparently represents the development of a particular kind of liason which must have been commonplace at the time; having met in the wood called Belle-Assemblee, “which is a very agreable forest where there are almost always vocal and lute concerts or at least the great Band of violins and often theatre or a Ball,"”("qui est un bois fort agreable ou il y a presque toujours Concerts de Luths & de Voix, ou du moins la grande Bande des violons & souvent la Comedie & le Bal”), “the lovers pass through Received Vistit and Sighs to a town…….and from here, Pleasure (Jouissance) is reached by way of Declared Passion, Protestations, and Undertakings, where, we are told, “there had been, in the past….a mediocrely fortified castle that was called Resistance” (“il y avait autrefois…un chateau mediocrement fortifie, qu’on appellait Resistance;”) “Beyond Pleasure (Jouissance) there lie Satiety and Weak Friendship.” (ii)

Another precursor of La Carte de Tendre is the Abbe D’Aubignac’s NOUVELLE HISTOIRE DU TEMPS OU RELATION VERITABLE DU ROYAUME DE COQUETTERIE, the map of the realm of Coquetry, which appeared in 1654. In this game “one may travel from the capital of the kingdom to the Palace of Good Fortune, where the sovereign of the country, a prince called Coquet Love, holds court; these routes include the Golden Road, the Ford of Chance, the Fort of Enterprise, and the Mountains of Advance. The tourist can also visit a Place of Cajolery and an enclosed arena for the combat of the beautiful skirts. (iii) Both the metaphorical journey in the Realm of Coquetry and in that of Love are games leading to sexual pleasure, whereas Madeleine de Scudery’s Carte de Tendre is an initiation to a land of Tender Friendship from which sexuality, marriage, and love have been banned. However, Tender Friendship represents a very high level of achievement in de Scudery’s estimation. Tenderness represents a complex composed of devotion, nurturance, and emotional intimacy.

La Carte de Tendre bears a dedication to Mme. De Rambouillet, whose salon, called La Chambre Bleue, (The Blue Room) has come to be known as the first official salon. Its clientele was largely aristocratic. Mlle. De Scudery had attended Mme. De Rambouillet’s salon, but her own salon, on the Rue de Beauce, whose reunions were known as Les Samedis (Saturdays), received frequentors largely from the bourgeoisie, since she was not from the aristocracy. However, because she admired Mme. De Rambouillet for her courtly grace, she sought to emulate aristocratic life at her own salon. Depicting 17th century salon society and its psychologically intimate intrigues in her novels, Mlle. De Scudery developed a metaphorical map game which elaborated a method by which the pretendants to her heart as well as to membership in her salon, which she also considered to be a country over which she reigned as Queen, could establish the itinerary that would lead them to find the most rapid route to Tender Friendship. Ascribing various degrees to friendship, Madeleine de Scudery made fine distinctions between her intimate friends, particular friends, close friends, and tender friends. Tender friends was the highest level one could achieve in a relationship with her. It was the category describing the asexual, but psychologically intimate friendship that she bestowed only upon those closest to her, who were her favorites.

Each pretendant, male or female, would begin the journey to Tendre at New Friendship (Nouvelle Amitie), located at the southern mid-point of the map, and then could follow one of three routes first traveling north towards Tendre. One might follow the route of Esteem, and arrive in Tendre-Sur-Estime or the route of Recognition, and arrive at Tendre-Sur-Reconnaissance, or the route of Inclination, and arrive at Tendre-sur-Inclination. Each of these routes is depicted as a river: Estime, Reconnaissance, and Inclination, so that Mlle. de Scudery’s heart, or the capitol of her country and the location of her salon was a port to and from which immigrants and emigrants flowed on a constant basis. Inclination, however, was the surest and most rapid route to Mlle. De Scudery’s tender affection. While the traveler or salon aspirant might think that the River of Inclination represented his or her desire to reach Tender as rapidly as possible, it also represented Mlle. De Scudery’s inclination, or lack of it, towards the aspirant.

A person might choose the wrong route, an eastern trajectory, for example, and wander into the Lake of Indifference, or into Forgetfulness or Luke Warmth (Tiedeur), or Negligence. On the western side of the map, one might choose more wisely and wander through Submission, Obedience, Sensibility, or Constant Friendship, and find oneself arriving in Tender more rapidly than expected. These towns and villages represented Mlle. De Scudery’s feelings about the ways in which the pretendant to her citadel went about courting her “Tender Friendship”. She, however, was always the one in charge of the narrative. She was the authorial voice, describing the route that had been followed, thus controlling the nature of the friendship she would bestow on the person who sought to win her heart. Both the time and the distance of the journey were determined by Madeleine de Scudery’s narrative, for she could ignore someone for a given period of time, and claim that he had fallen into the Lake of Indifference. The indifference reflected both her feelings as well as those of the pretendant, whose attempts to please her were processed through her own emotional filter.

Mlle. De Scudery, through the allegorical map journey, actually taught the future members of her salon how to earn her affection, how to enter into her fantasy, how to increase her happiness, and how to cater to her desires in the emotional, political, sensual, and literary spheres. Pretendants were taught to enter into her realm, to explore her countryside, to dream her dreams with her, but she did not enter into their dreams. It is Interesting to note that by banishing love and sex from her salon, she endeavored to eliminate jealousy and rivalry as much as possible. Thus, it is not surprising that of all the misguided routes one might take on the road to Tendre through which one might crash into mountains, fall into the sea, or wander endlessly over empty terrain, one never encounters another pilgrim along the way. It was a long, lonely and dangerous journey of desire and commitment. It was similar to a pilgrimage made to a sacred shrine. Indeed, in the tradition of salon women from the 17th to the 20th century, friendship was considered to be so sacred that Natalie Barney (20th cent.) erected a Temple to Friendship on the lawn behind her salon, recognizing the cultic or religious nature of friendship among salon women. Mlle. De Scudery’s heart sought absolute loyalty and devotion from her salon friends at all levels of intimacy.

Above the rivers of Recognition and Esteem, which form a kind of northern boundary, lies The Dangerous Sea. Scholars of salon life have concluded that The Dangerous Sea refers to the zone of sexual love and passion, while the rest of the map describes the subtle regions of the heart that constitutes a zone of heartfelt, intense, intimate, but definitely chaste friendship.

Mlle. De Scudery had declared publicly and privately that she would lead a celibate life, and that she would remain a virgin, which Nicole Aronson in Mlle. De Scudery ou Le Voyage Au Pays de Tendre (iv) maintains that she did until she died at the age of 94. Naturally, she was ridiculed as a “precious woman”, as a “blue stocking”, and as a “vieille fille” (old maid),(v) but her celibacy guaranteed her an independent life of intellectual freedom. She did not need to fear the tyranny of a patriachal marriage of duty for the sake of the family, or the difficulties presented by maternity in the seventeenth century (one out of eight first birth mothers died in 1600). Mlle. De Scudery said that she had been proposed marriage three times, but refused each time insisting always on maintaining her freedom. Although she was celibate and independent, she was a person with a rich social life and with one particular, intimate, most “tender” or best friend. He was Paul Pelisson, a brilliant man who was as devoted to Madeleine as she was to him. She was fifteen years his senior when they began their Tender Friendship. She was then forty-five. The liason lasted over forty years-until the death of Pelisson. She informed him very early in the relationship that he had reached the City of Tender, as soon as his six month period of initiation had ended.

James S. Munro informs us that: “The precise circumstances surrounding the composition of the Carte de Tendre are given in some detail by Pelisson. In a note, he relates that the composition was inspired by a question from “Acante” (Pelisson himself) to “Sapho” (Mlle. De Scudery) concerning his standing with her: “During a Saturday conversation, Sapho, having made a distinction between her new friends, her particular friends and her tender friends on the subject of friendship, Acante asked on what level he was, and he was told that he was one of her particular friends. He asked if there was very far to go from Particular to Tender, and if a man who would walk with all possible dispatch could hope to reach there from November, where he was at the time, by February, when the six months Sapho had given him for her test would come to an end. He was told that it would depend on the route he would take, because if he would miss the road, he would never arrive. He asked how many routes there were, and he was told that he could go by water, by land or by air, and that he could choose whichever of the routes he wanted. He said that it was the last one that was the shortest, and that he would rather find an invention for flying, upon which he was told by many people that this was not impossible. This gallantry was pushed further along, and it gave birth to La Carte de Tendre.” (vi)

Pelisson was tested for six months, but as soon as his time was up, “In February 1654, “Acante’ “ was notified by ‘Sapho’ that his period of probation had been successfully completed:

Enfin, Acante, il faut se rendre, (Finally Acante, you must surrender)
Votre esprit a charme le mien. (Your spirit has charmed my own)
Je vous fais citoyen de Tendre, (I make you Citizen of Tender)
Mais, de grace, n’en dites rien (Belmont)” But, for pity’s sake, don’t say anything.” (vii)

The reason that Pelisson was forbidden to speak of his reception into Tender was that it would encite rivalry and jealousy among the other friends who still remained at lower levels of intimacy.


Mlle. De Scudery was born on Nov. 15, 1607 in Normandy. Of five children only two survived-Madeleine and her brother, George. By the time she turned thirty, Madeleine had lost both parents. Her father had accumulated many debts, and even engaged in piracy to pay off his debts. Madeleine and her brother set about writing books in order to acquit themselves of the debts, that they inherited. Madeleine was tutored by an uncle who taught her agriculture, gardening, music, writing, languages, painting, dance, medicine making, perfume making, and lute playing. He also imparted to her a taste for fine cuisine and for the preparation of gourmet food. Madeleine’s uncle had lived at the court of three kings, Louis XIII, Henri IV, and Henri III, and through his example and his teachings Madeleine came to believe that one could only learn the manners and politeness of a noble life at court. He taught his niece about the glory of the great women who shined in aristocratic society, and instilled in her an admiration for women of the nobility.

During the time she was being tutored by her uncle, she lived in Rouen. However, after her mother died in 1635, Madeleine de Scudery moved to Paris, to the quartier of the Marais where she lived with her brother, the author, Georges de Scudery. There, they collaborated on the writing of voluminous novels. Madeleine’s name was omitted from authorship in the beginning of their collababoration, but her brother eventually revealed her identity as a co-author, and after he married, and moved out, she went on to write many more volumes on her own. She had, apparently, agreed to having his name only appear as author, because he was a well-known writer, and they were in need of earning the kind of income to pay their debts that his name would attract. Moreover, it seemed more aristocratic to Madeleine not to appear to be working as hard as she did as a writer. Joan de Jean, in Tender Geographies:Women and the Origins of the Novel in France (viii) suggests that a Mlle. De Scudery’s signature on a literary work might even represent a collective group creation of her entire salon membership as co-authors of a work that would be published under the name of the woman who presided over the salon.

It is obvious that Mlle. De Scudery’s court salon is a metaphoric emulation of the aristocratic salon of Mme. De Rambouillet that she had attended, and for whom she had always expressed deep admiration. Since one would have had to be born to an aristocratic lineage in order to obtain membership in that social circle, Madeleine de Scudery, whose salon was frequented by the bourgeoisie, invented a “rite of passage” to the aristocracy. It was her game of La Carte de Tendre, which was a kind of training ground for developing an aristocracy of the spirit and the soul-rather than that of an inherited lineage. The pretentious, aristocratic titles she gave to her salon members created a kind of theatrical mask that the saloniers came to inhabit vicariously, becoming the characters whose parts they played as they imagined that they were, literally, residing at a court, and living the life of the nobility. Her salon was composed of a small group of specifically chosen people who had passed her test via the journey through La Carte de Tendre, and whose aristocracy of merit won them entry to her country, her salon, and her heart. They were among others, Pelisson, Conrart, Isarn, Sarasin, Menage, Chapelain, Rancy, Montausier, and a variety of illustrous women such as La Duchesse de Longueville and Mme. De Saint Simon, “who….went by boat to a rendezvous with Mlle. De Scudery and immediately became her bosom friend.”(ix) Indeed, the Gazette de Tendre, an allegorical newspaper from her salon country, published an item about this friendship that said: “Item: a lady of very high quality has found an island in the river Inclination, and settled down on it. But the island breaks loose and floats down the river, bringing her directly to Tendre.”(x)

Members of the salon enjoyed hearing readings from Madeleine de Scudery’s novels. Her novels were extremely successful, and were translated into Spanish, Italian, German, English, and Arabic. Ibrahim was four volumes long. Cyrus and Clelie were composed of twenty volumes. Conversations Morales was ten volumes long, and after the age of sixty, Madeleine de Scudery published thirteen more volumes. Her last series of works was begun at the age of seventy-three, and completed in her eighties.

La Carte de Tendre, which first appeared in Clelie, was adopted by Parisian society as a kind of amusing shorthand for defining emotional relationships. However, as we have observed, it not only measured psychological intimacy, but it also measured perseverance as well as many other qualities involved in executing a winning strategy for gaining entrance to her citadel. The cities through which one might pass on one’s journey to the court salon embody the qualities, both positive and negative, that play a role in the life of a noble person. One might falter at such sins as Pride, Indiscretion or Perfidy, but one might also follow the virtuous routes of Great Heart, Exactitude and Obedience.

The appeal of La Carte de Tendre was that it provided a type of instruction manual by which those in the middle class could be introduced to the qualities that would eventually permit them to experience themselves, vicariously, as members of the Aristocracy, who possessed all the noble virtues displayed on the map. It also permitted Madeleine de Scudery to describe her feelings about her friends without insulting them. Rather than informing them that they simply bored her, she could say that they had fallen into the Lake of Indifference. There was a certain courtesy and politeness involved in a game such as this. The role-playing and experimenting with virtual lives of nobles that went on in her salon reminds us of some of today’s games such as Dungeons and Dragons as well as contemporary video games in which one actually enters into a fictional world, takes on a fictional personality, and acts out the appropriate part in a spontaneously invented game-narrative with others, who act out other roles in the same fantasy world. Sometimes the participants in these games continue to interact with these roles in life, outside of the parameters of the video game. Similarly, those frequenting Mlle. De Scudery’s salon inhabited her fictional artistocratic world, bringing to it such a realism that they often convinced themselves of their true nobility.

Munro writes that: “The Pays de Tendre had its own archives, records of major events in the country’s history, which have been preserved in the Gazette de Tendre. The Pays de Tendre was organized, not unnaturally, along the lines of a monarchy, with ‘Sapho’, Mlle. De Scudery, herself, as Queen. In an initial period after the founding of Tendre, the monarchy appears to have been an absolute one; Sapho issued decrees in which she styled herself ‘reine de Tendre, princesse d’Estime, dame de Reconnaissance, Inclination et terres adjacentes’. (xi) (queen of Tendre, princess of Esteem, Lady of Recognition, Inclination and adjacent lands’).

The Gazette de Tendre relates that a political rebellion eventually occurred over the way in which the Queen accepted newcomers into her salon. The original members did not feel that they had enough of a voice in the decision making process-enough seniority in her tender realm. Thus, eventually, the Queen ceded a part of her authority, thereby transforming her absolute monarchy into a semi-constitutional monarchy. Furthermore, Mlle. De Scudery was very strict about keeping the country free from what she considered to be the contagious illness of sexual love. Those seeking a sexual liason had to apply to her as Monarch for a leave of absence, which she would grant them for a given length of time so that sexual relations would play no part in her salon friendships. Obviously, there could be no future salon member who would become a citizen of her country through birth or who would acquire access to her favors through a royal or inherited lineage. All members and citizens had to merit their place in her world.

Mlle. De Scudery’s example can be understood as a lesson to women of her era that they did not have to submit to official forms of marriage, but that they could choose their own types of relationships. They could define the terms and the emotional nature of the intimate relationships they entertained with others, thereby taking back power over their personal lives.

Naming herself Queen, the reigning Monarch of Tender, a country whose officials bore titles indicating their prestige and status in her royal officialdom, may also have been a way to place her salon in the tradition of the 16th century salons that were held at court like the salon of Marguerite de Navarre, author of the Heptameron, for Marguerite de Navarre was a role model for a salon woman who is both a Queen and a writer. Thus, as a political metaphor as well as a metaphor of female sexuality, Mlle. De Scudery took over the reign/reins of the kind of control and power she had admired in her French salon matrilineage. By sacrificing an active sexual life, she gained the freedom to lead the literary and social life of a prolific writer and to mingle with the most important socialites and intellectuals of her century. By creating a mythic country according to her fantasy, she could also enact the role of a noble (a Queen), and a court philosopher.

Here, in the City of Tendre, Mlle. De Scudery, as supreme Monarch, formed her own governmental Council composed of the magus of Sidon (Godeau), who became the Magus of Tendre, of the Sage Theodamas (Conrart), of the generous Megabate (Montausier), and of the illustrious Aristhee (Chapelain). She alone presided over the council of her realm, which published its own Almanach as well as the Gazette de Tendre, circulating the news of the citizenry and of the new immigrants. In the City of Tendre there was only one month of the year, the month of May, because of its flowers and sunshine. Sapho, as Mlle de Scudery was known, often composed royal letters to her council in the manner of Louis the XIV.

In 1656 Madeleine de Scudery published the first volume of Clelie with the famous Carte de Tendre, which, until then, had remained a group secret. No sooner did it fall into the hands of those who turn everything visionary to ridicule, then she becaame the victim of attacks by cynics, misogynists, materialists, and sexists, who said things like: ‘the best road (to Tendre) and the most certain of all is to pass directly through Jewels’.

As eccentric as it may appear to us today, Mlle de Scudery’s realm of Tendre was really a kind of feminist utopia, and the Carte de Tendre was a map showing how one could merit citizenship in her feminist utopia. As a utopian vision, Sapho proposed a matriarchy. Her salon-state, although ruled by a council of legislators, had a benevolent female monarch at its head, so that she could insure respect for female dignity and intellectual freedom and protect her own sex from slander. Through her pursuit of refined conversation, psychological analyses, and literary creation, through the idealized portraits of saloniers that appeared in her novels, and through her cultivation of high spiritual values, Mlle. De Scudery enriched and embellished the culture of her day, giving women confidence in their abililty to have an impact on the world around them. Her thousands of pages of analysis of the problems of the human heart certainly paved the way for the development of the psychological novel in France. Her nostalgia for the aristocratic salon, where conversation became a fine art at the court turned an innocent parlor game into a poignant metaphor for women’s aspirations to achieve social, political, and cultural prestige. Whether her salon was experienced as a refuge from the rigid patriarchal society of 17th century France, or whether it was a model for a future world, her salon was definitely a miniature model of unrealized proto-feminist dreams for women under the guise of benign social gatherings. Sapho, even in her symbolic choice of a literary penname, expressed a lifelong devotion to the cause of women and a deep and “tender’ affection for those of her own sex. In fact, in a series of Heroic Harangues by Illustrious Women, Madeleine de Scudery wielded her most persuasive rhetorical talents in order to convince women that their virtues and glories should not be restricted to beauty alone, but should be extended to include their accomplishments in all fields of mental and physical endeavor. Using the names of famous women from Antiquity to give credit to her own message, she created mentor figures whose moral advice to young women of Antiquity was intended as an object lesson for the women of her own day. Her Harangues, composed like a bouquet for the harmony and contrast of their tones, were considered to be like a set of medals or an Arch of Triumph to the glory of her sex.


In the Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (xii) Carolyn Merchant argues that the development of science, technology and mathematics in the sixteenth and seventeenth century led to the loss of an organic cosmos, and the rise of a mechanistic description of the world. “The mechanists transformed the body of the world and its female soul, source of activity in the organic cosmos, into a mechanism of inert matter in motion, translated the world spirit into a corpuscular ether, purged individual spirits from nature, and transformed sympathies and antipathies into efficient causes.”(xiii) For Descartes, mathematics was the language in which the universe could be apprehended. The new order of the cosmos was mechanical, and Descartes removed the soul from animals and from all of non-human nature. Merchant writes that “Under the rationalizing tendencies emerging in the governments of strong nation-states such as France and England, nature came to be viewed as a resource to be subjected to control with human beings as her earthly managers.”(xiv)

It was during this transformation from an organic cosmos to a mechanistic, inert view of nature that Madeleine de Scudery’s Carte de Tendre became popular. One might see the image of pretendants to the Salon-Country conquering the terrain of the earth as a gesture made in conformity with the new mechanistic view of nature as inert, and subject to human exploitation. Thus, conforming to the new science, those making their journey to the City of Tendre would imagine that as future nobles, they were superior to non-human nature, and could subdue and conquer the earth, thus easily gaining access to Tendre. However, what the game teaches them is precisely to what degree this description of nature as inert is misguided. Madeleine de Scudery’s narratives prove that Mother Nature has a will of her own, that the earth has a soul. Through this game the mind of the earth, the will of the earth, and the soul of the earth prove to be more powerful than the strategies of the adventurers. As Madeleine de Scudery describes the dangers encountered on a particular route, she is imbuing the earth with a mind of its own, and metaphorically reasserting the pre-Cartesian description of the world and the cosmos, imbuing matter with spirit. As the representation of a woman's body, it also taught those seeking her friendship that women were not to be conquered--that both women and nature had independent wills that did not conform to a mechanistic model of simple conquest or intrepid modes of domination.

Apparently, Madeleine de Scudery took issue with Descartes’ philosophy. “Mlle. de Scudery aimait bien les animaux et, au contraire de Descartes, croyait a leur intelligence.” (Mlle. de Scudery liked animals very much, and to the contrary of Descartes, believed in their intelligence.)(xv). “In a letter to Huet she wrote: “Il y a longtemps que je me suis declaree hautement contre certaines machines cartesiennes”(For a long time I have boldly declared myself against certain cartesian machines.)(xvi) Thus, the game of La Carte de Tendre was also a way to keep the soul of the earth alive, and to convert the future citizens of Tendre to an organic world view, one that recognized what has come to be known as the Gaian principle today-that the earth and women have their own agency and intelligence.


As I contemplated the map of the Country of Tenderness I not only saw it as a rough version of the map of France with Tendre, Madeleine’s heart, located approximately in the region of Paris, and as the map of a feminist matriarchal utopia, but, more importantly, I began to see this map as representing the figure of the female body depicted from just above the sexual center to the neck. The river route of Inclination goes straight up the front of the torso from right above the sexual center to the heart. The head is located beyond the Dangerous Sea in the area known as Unknown Lands. Perhaps this represents the fact that a woman’s mind was very much an unknown land in the time of Mlle. de Scudery. It is interesting to note that those who sought citizenship in her country not only had no access to her sexuality, but they were also barred from entry to her mind. While it has been suggested that her notion of friendship was one that stressed sensibility and emotion, and rejected the domination of a mental approach, one might also see this unique geography as a form of protection of her mind-keeping it from from invasion or colonization; from control by others over her often original and unusual “feminocentric”, (to borrow a word from Joan de Jean) ideas.

The pretendant to a prestigious place in Mlle. de Scudery’s heart made a journey up her body, away from the sexual center, towards her heart, but never veering off towards the dangerous sea of passion or the unknown lands of the female mind. With all the criticism that women received if they were either “precious women” or “femmes savantes” (learned women -considered to be too learned, or flaunting their knowledge), it is not surprising that the realm of the mind would be set off limits. Here one might imagine that Mlle. de Scudery declared women’s minds off limits to attack of any kind, for she would not tolerate criticism or ridicule of her intellectuality or of her support for women’s mental development and education.

It is, however, striking that the Lake of Indifference is featured so prominently on this map. It is to the East of Tender, and where, perhaps, the left breast would be located. The breast, a symbol of nurtance, is here a zone of indifference. Mlle. de Scudery, having declared that she would remain celibate, was obviously indifferent to bearing and nursing children. Thus, we have a map of the Earth Mother as a symbol of the rejection of fertility. Mlle. de Scudery sees herself, then, in rebellion against procreation, against fertility, and also as a Queen. A Queen, represented as an Earth/nonMother who refuses fertility bears a symbolic kinship with the Demeter mythologem, for Demeter was an Earth Mother who denied fertility to the earth in protest against the rape of her daughter, Persephone. I see Mlle. de Scudery’s embrace of celibacy, and her rejection of marriage and procreation as an equivalent gesture of refusal, particularly given the consequences of marriage in the 17th century, where women (17th century Persephones) were married in their teens, and gave birth to many children, several of whom were destined to die young, either from disease or while at war, by the time their mothers were in their late thirties.

As a game played by numerous suitors, future tender friends, and pretendants to citizenship and salon membership, I see this map as an image of Mlle. de Scudery's nude body, exposed to and welcoming all newcomers, providing them with a rite of initiation to her fantasy life, to her sensual and emotional imagination, to her values-her nude body reclining, offering itself openly to visitation, but not to penetration by all interested in attaining the rank of tender friendship. Mlle. de Scudery’s body has metaphorically become a land with travelers literally crawling all over it, one at a time, all the time, who, almost orgy-like, explore each and every crevice, each nook and cranny of her female terrain, in what must obviously have been a compensatory, vicarious sexual experience. Mlle de Scudery might be said to be enjoying a very full sexual life in her century's form of virtual reality by inviting anyone interested in her salon, country, or friendship to peruse her body in extreme detail, and then requiring them to explore her hills and valleys over and over again for periods of six months at a time.

In dedicating La Carte de Tendre to Mme. De Rambouillet, I see a message of subversive virtual sexuality directed to remedy a specific problem experienced by her aristocratic friend. It seems that Mme. De Rambouillet had a certain mysterious disease known as Boiling Blood. Whenever she would go out in the sun or sit by a fire, she would expire from the heat. Thus, in her salon, she constructed an alcove that was far removed from the fire, and in fact was so cold that in order for her to stay there she had to be wrapped in layers of blankets. However, it was wrapped in many blankets that she received her guests at each salon over a period of many years--alone in her alcove. Scholars have sought to understand the nature of her disease of Boiling Blood to no avail. It began when she was 35, so Gynecologists who were consulted have said that she was too young to be entering the Menopause. Recently, Dorothy Anne Liot Backer, in her book Precious Women, has written: “Her illness had several practical uses: it was a form of unconscious birth control, for it put a distance between her and her loving husband. The premature menopausal nature of the symptoms give us the clue. She became accustomed to this illness, and the symptoms stayed. Despite all the discomfort the illness caused, it was more convenient to be sick, to stay indoors, to stay in bed, and have the world approach reverently, in small groups, as they would a sybil in her grotto, than to be well and have to move about and dress and visit-and go on breeding.” (xvii) Mme. De Rambouillet had given birth to seven children by the age of thirty-five. However, she was not seriously ill, because she lived to the age of seventy-seven with her disease of Boiling Blood. It is known that she once confided to a friend that if she were to do her life over, she would never have married at all.

Both Mme. De Rambouillet and Mlle. de Scudery discovered imaginative and inventive forms of birth control in order to avoid the pitfalls of childbirth at a time when they wanted to enjoy the freedom of the literary and intellectual life of a salon woman. Perhaps the dedication of La Carte de Tendre to Mme. De Rambouillet was Madeleine de Scudery’s way of offering her friend a more joyful subterfuge as a bizarre strategy of birth control-that of the vicarious sexuality afforded one who instead of blanketing herself up alone in an alcove, offers her body to virtual sexual exploration by those noble souls who, paradoxically, vow never to touch it in reality.


When I first began to study La Carte de Tendre, I thought of it as a precursor to a computer game I had once been shown. In that game a traveler journeys through a landscape only to encounter a series of obstacles that must be avoided. As the voyager progresses, he is promoted to higher and higher levels of achievement. I immediately intuited a connection between this computer game and la Carte de Tendre, and began to construct an analogy in which this innocent map game of 17th century French salon society seemed to be related to certain computer games of today. However, as I began to reflect upon La Carte de Tendre, it was more and more as if I had actually undertaken my own journey through the map in order to come to an understanding of Mlle. de Scudery’s values and desires. I soon realized that I, too, could easily crash against the mountains of misinterpretation or I could sail freely towards the capitol of her country depending upon which route I chose to travel. And so, guided by my own inclination, I decided to follow a feminist path of interpretation. It soon began to appear to me that this simple map was, in fact, the antithesis of a computer game, for it was only to be played once by each player. Most games may be played over and over again by the same person, but this was a game one played only once in a lifetime. It was certainly not a game whose obstacles were generated by any mathematical formulae, mechanical processes, by any patterns that one could come to figure out in order to succeed. It was, therefore, not like a game at all. One could hardly get a handle on how to play it, because in Mlle. de Scudery’s psychology, one might come closer to winning her heart if one had almost crashed-or, one might, on the other hand, sail directly up the River of Inclination, and land in Tender in one day, as did her friend Mme. De St. Simon, if Mlle de Scudery so desired it. Thus, I came to understand that her map game subverted the entire idea of mechanization, and, in fact, was a rebellion against the concept of nature as a mechanism, as lacking a soul, as inert, as yielding, or as subject to facile conquest.

I began to wonder if La Carte de Tendre was even a map at all, because, in principle, one can use a map more than once when the correct route has been identified. However, the routes on this map could not instruct you about what route you might recommend to another person, because the correct route did not have anything to do with the map, but had everything to do with Mlle. de Scudery’s feelings about the person making the journey. Either she would decide that she enjoyed your presence, and would bring you close to her as quickly as possibly-or she would decide to keep you at bay for a prolonged period of time. The Carte de Tendre did not provide the player with any of the joys of a game or with any of the benefits of a map.

If it was neither a game nor a map, what was it, and why was I so attracted to it and to Mlle. de Scudery-indeed, why had I been attracted to her and her map since 1975?

As I approached the conclusion of my paper I realized this: La Carte de Tendre, for me, was beginning to function more like a mirror or a portrait than like a computer game or a map. It seemed to trace the journey of my own life as reflected in the mirror of her life. Why? Suddenly I knew something that should have been obvious to me ever since I began my journey, but had simply eluded me all the time. What I had temporarily forgotten, or actually repressed, was the fact that I, too, had been a feminist salon woman with a nostalgia for the court salons of literary queens and other femmes savantes reigning over the literary world of 17th century France. I had co-created a Feminist Salon for Literature in the early seventies in New York City, that took its direct inspiration from the French salon tradition. In our salon we also sought to transmit a philosophy that would express our feminist desire for a world in which literary women would regain control over their own voices, sexual lives, artistic lives, and over the narratives of their/our own culture. As I stared in La Carte de Tendre, I saw myself from 1975-1985, and so I will conclude by offering some photos of The New York Woman’s Salon for Literature to the public. It was inspired by the examples of Mlle de Scudery, Mme. de Rambouillet, and their descendants, ranging from the 18th century salon women who presided over the French Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment ( Mme. Geoffrin and Mme. du Deffand) to the twentieth century American salon women, Gertrude Stein and Natalie Clifford Barney---The Woman’s Salon for Literature that I co-created with writers Erika Duncan and Karen Malpede in the Fall of 1975 in New York City.

Our first salon event was a slide presentation of the art of The Women of Surrealism, which I had launched as an article in The Feminist Art Journal in 1973. As I reflect upon this history, I realize that, indeed, La Carte de Tendre, was actually a precursor of the group surrealist games played at their gatherings-of collective creations such as the Cadavre Exquis.

Mlle. de Scudery’s Carte de Tendre was the kind of magical mirror that one could pierce through in order to travel to the other side. There her tender friends would find a world that was only represented by the sign, Tendre, on the map. It was on the other side of the mirror, or when they had completed their map journey, that they would take their virtual places in the virtual fantasy world of a feminist, matriarchal utopia, where I assume they would also create their own mirrors reflective of their own desires, mirrors laden with hidden treasure maps that would permit still other selected pretendants to other capitols to pierce through to the other side of more magical mirrors in which still more hidden worlds would be revealed.

La Carte de Tendre was also a kind of psychic self-portrait or a psychic reading, for it revealed the inner life of the traveler, whose journey reflected his or her emotional itinerary deployed in the service of courtship. It was both a kind of psychic reading of the voyager’s hopes, dreams and failures, as well as a psychic reading of Mlle. de Scudery’s emotional needs and desires. As she would trace the failed or successful journey of the voyager on her map, she would also be revealing the psychic self-portrait of her own desire-displaying in detail her deepest emotional responses to the tender strategies of the pretendant who sought to win her heart. Her narrative of their journey revealed her own sensibility, and was a mirror of her heart’s innermost desires. It was only when the two mirrors merged so that both the desire of the Queen and that of her chosen citizen/salon member/tender friend were aligned in a mutual fantasy enacted in the world beyond the mirror, that the city of Tendre could come to life, and that its inhabitants’ innermost ambitions-political, social, sensual, and emotional could be both enacted and preserved in the many literary creations issuing forth from her pen and her salon. Perhaps La Carte de Tendre is then a literary passport for gaining entrance to the land of collective “feminocentric” fantasy and creativity both in literature and in life.

i. Munro, James S. Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Carte de Tendre. (Durham: University of Durham, 1986). Pp. 40-41.
ii. Ibid p. 41. Translations by Gloria Orenstein
iii. Ibid. P. 42-43. Translations by Gloria Orenstein
iv. Aronson, Nicole. Mlle. de Scudery ou Le Voyage Au Pays de Tendre. (Paris: Librairie Fayard), 1986.
v. “vieille fille” refers to a spinster.
vi. Munro, James S. Ibid. Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Carte de Tendre. P.22. Translation by Gloria Orenstein. “En une conversation du samedi, Sapho ayant fait sur le sujet de l’amitie une distinction entre ses nouveaux amis, ses particuliers amis et ses tendres amis, Acante demanda de quel rang il etait, et on lui dit qu’il etait des particuliers. Il s’avisa de demander s’il y avait bien loin de Particulier a Tendre, et si un homme qu marcherait toujours en diligence pourrait esperer d’y arriver depuis le mois de novembre ou on etait jusques au mois de fevrier qui etait celui ou finaissaient les six mois que Sapho avis pris pour l’eprouver. I lui fut repondu que ce serait suivant la route qu’il tiendrait, parce que si’il manquait le chemin, il n’y arriverait jamais. Il demanda combien il y avait de routes: on lui dit qu’on y pouvait aller par eau, par terre et par air et qu’il choisirait laquelle des trois il voulait. Il dit que c’etait la derniere comme la plus courte, et qu’il trouverait plutot l’invention de voler. Sur quoi il fut parle de plusiers personnes qui avaient cru que cela n’etait pas impossible…Cette galanterie, au reste, etant poussee plus avant, donna naissance a la CARTE DE TENDRE (L. Belmont “Documents Inedits sur la Societe et la Litterature Precieuses: Extraits de la Chronique du Samedi publies d’apres le registre original de Pelisson (1652-7).
vii. Ibid.
viii. de Jean, Joan. Tender Geographies: Women and The Origins of the Novel in France. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.
ix. Backer, Dorothy Anne Liot. Precious Women: A Feminist Phenomenon in the Age of Louis XIV. (New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 197.
x. Ibid. p. 197.
xi. Ibid. p.27.
xii. Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and The Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980).
xiii. Ibid. p195.
xiv. Ibid. p.205
xv. Krajewska, Barbara. Du Coeur a L’Esprit.(Paris: Editions Kime, 1993) p.25.
xvi. Ibid. p.27.
xvii. Backer, Dorothy Anne Liot Op. Cit. Precious Women. P.69.