The Oxford English Dictionary defines a soiree as an evening party. The term comes to English directly from the French soirée. Over time, soiree has come to imply a gathering of artists or intellectuals in a social setting. In Europe many cultural movements centered around soirees or salons, where members of the intellectual community came together to discuss art, literature and philosophy. Many hostesses, who also functioned as patrons, became reknowned for the extravagance of their gatherings, thus gaining important positions in the movements they helped foster. Carlyle uses this term on the first page of Hudson╣s Statue in order to express biting contempt for the philistines of English society. He most likely considered the idea of soirees to be frivolous in any context, and in using the term hoped to convey the idea of a group of self-absorbed individuals gathered together. In this passage he conjures up the image of the "grandees" of English society fawning over Hudson at a soiree in the hopes that he will in some way provide for them. There exists an irony in using the term soiree to describe a gathering of crass materialists rather than intellectual leaders, just as "grandee" is used ironically in this passage to mock the self-importance of enterprising but empty headed individuals. Another possibility, however, is that Carlyle compares members of society to artists who fawned over aristocrats in order to mock both groups. In either case, soiree is being used in a tongue in cheek manner to belittle aspiring Hudsons in English society.
Last modified 23 October 2002