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There were many other extraordinary salonnières, some of whom made names for themselves as writers and artists but most of whom sublimated their own ambitions in those of their male protégés. A new movie implies that little has changed by the mid-20th century. In The Wife, Glenn Close plays the wife of a Nobel literary laureate. Both are writers but she is the one with the “golden touch”. Early on in her career, she is told that she will never gain the attention of “the men — who review books, own publishers and edit magazines”, so she makes a life-changing decision. Another new film, Colette, starring Keira Knightley, tells the story of the French novelist, whose husband took the credit for her early work, but who was eventually recognised as one of France’s finest writers.

The composers Alma Schindler and Gustav Mahler met at Zuckerkandl’s salon. After their wedding, Gustav told Alma that there couldn’t be two composers in the family. “The role of composer, the worker’s role, falls to me, yours is that of a loving companion and understanding partner.” Their marriage didn’t last.

Many salonnières faced rigid gender expectations. Those who did not want to get married were quickly given a misogynistic diagnosis of hysteria. One woman who couldn’t flourish herself although she was a talented writer was Anna von Lieben. She fell into depression and ended up as one of Freud’s first patients (known as Cäcilie M). Freud said she helped him develop his therapeutic methods: “Frau Cäcilie, who was a highly intelligent woman, to whom I am indebted, for much help in gaining an understanding of hysterical symptoms.” And so, psychoanalysis too is indebted to the salonnières of Vienna.

There is one other space that is associated with the cultured world of Europe in the 19th century: the coffee house. How were the cafés of Vienna different from the salons? As Stefan Zweig famously wrote in the World of Yesterday, the Viennese coffee house was an institution unlike any other: “It is really a sort of democratic club, and anyone can join it for the price of a cheap cup of coffee. Every guest, in return for that small expenditure, can sit there for hours on end, talking, writing, playing cards, receiving post, and above all reading an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.”

Looking back with deep sentimentality to the Austria of his childhood he was forced to flee, Zweig captures the intellectual exchanges and the cosmopolitan nature of the coffee house: “Perhaps nothing contributed so much to the intellectual mobility and international orientation of Austrians as the fact that they could inform themselves so exclusively at the coffee house of all that was going on in the world, and at the same time discuss it with a circle of their friends.” The literary café in the district of Leopoldstadt was an emancipatory force for the intellectual middle class.

In her book The Viennese Cafe and Fin-de-siècle Culture, Charlotte Ashby estimates that at the turn of the century, around one-fifth of all Viennese cafés were listed under the names of female owners. But on the whole, women were less likely to frequent cafés than salons. That’s because a woman who was seen in a public, smoke-filled place would still risk her reputation.  Coffee houses had heavy curtains and were meant to seclude their visitors from the outside. So women chose more public spaces instead. Alma Mahler, for instance, preferred to meet her friends at patisseries, replacing smoke with pastries.
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