GRE Reading Comprehension
In eighteenth-century France and England, reformers rallied around egalitarian ideals, but few reformers advocated higher education for women. Although the public decried women's lack of education, it did not encourage learning for its own sake for women. In spite of the general prejudice against learned women, there was one place where women could exhibit their erudition: the literary salon. Many writers have defined the woman's role in the salon as that of an intelligent hostess, but the salon had more than a social function for women. It was an informal university, too, where women exchanged ideas with educated persons, read their own works and heard those of others, and received and gave criticism.
In the 1750's, when salons were firmly established in France, some English women, who called themselves "Blue- stocking," followed the example of the salonnieres (French salon hostesses) and formed their own salons. Most Bluestockings did not wish to mirror the salonnieres; they simply desired to adapt a proven formula to their own purpose—the elevation of women's status through moral and intellectual training.Differences in social orientation and background can account perhaps for differences in the nature of French and English salons. The French salon incorporated aristocratic attitudes that exalted courtly pleasure and emphasized artistic accomplishments. The English Bluestockings, originating from a more modest background,emphasized learning and work over pleasure. Accustomed to the regimented life of court circles, salonnieres tended toward formality in their salons. The English women, though somewhat puritanical, were more casual in their approach.
At first, the Bluestockings did imitate the saonnieres by including men in their circles. However, as they gained cohesion, the Bluestockings came to regard themselves as a women's group and to possess a sense of female solidarity lacking in the salonnieres, who remained isolated from one another by the primacy each held in her own salon. In an atmosphere of mutual support, the Bluestockings went beyond the salon experience. They traveled, studied, worked, wrote for publication, and by their activities challenged the stereotype of the passive woman. Although the salonnieres were aware of sexual inequality, the narrow boundaries of their world kept their intellectual pursuits within conventional limits. Many salonnieres, in fact, camouflaged their nontraditional activities behind the role of hostess and deferred to men in public.
Though the Bluestockings were trailblazers when compared with the salonnieres, they were not feminists. They were too traditional, too hemmed in by their generation to demand social and political rights. Nonetheless, in their desire for education, their willingness to go beyond the confines of the salon in pursuing their interests, and their championing of unity among women, the Bluestockings began the process of questioning women's role in society.
Which of the following best states the central idea of the passage?
- A The establishment of literary salons was a response to reformers' demands for social rights for women.
- B Literary salons were originally intended to be a meeting ground for intellectuals of both sexes, but eventually became social gatherings with little educational value.
- C In England, as in France, the general prejudice against higher education for women limited women's function in literary salons to a primarily social one.
- D The literary salons provided a sounding board for French and English women who called for access to all the educational institutions in their societies on an equal basis with men.
- E For women, who did not have access to higher education as men did, literary salons provided an alternate route to learning and a challenge to some of society's basic assumptions about women.
Correct Answer: E