Reknowned historian Roger Chartier, one of the most brilliant and productive of the younger generation of French writers and scholars now at work refashioning the Annales tradition, attempts in this book to analyze the causes of the French revolution not simply by investigating its “cultural origins” but by pinpointing the conditions that “made is possible because conceivable.”
Chartier has set himself two important tasks. First, while acknowledging the seminal contribution of Daniel Mornet’s Les origens intellectuelles de la Révolution française (1935), he synthesizes the half-century of scholarship that has created a sociology of culture for Revolutionary France, from education reform through widely circulated printed literature to popular expectations of government and society. Chartier goes beyond Mornet’s work, not be revising that classic text but by raising questions that would not have occurred to its author.
Chartier’s second contribution is to reexamine the conventional wisdom that there is a necessary link between the profound cultural transformation of the eighteenth century (generally characterized as the Enlightenment) and the abrupt Revolutionary rupture of 1789. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution is a major work by one of the leading scholars in the field and is likely to set the intellectual agenda for future work on the subject.
Chartier offers a challenging, authoritative synthesis of both old and new interpretations. Readers will be struck particularly by his recognition of studies done by English-language scholars. Three American historians who have especially influenced Chartier are Keith Baker (who has stressed the emergence of public opinion as a potent force with which the crown had to contend in the 18th century), Robert Darnton (who has shown that the hack writers of Grub Street were just as important as the major Enlightenment figures), and Dale Van Kley (who has demonstrated the significance of the political and religious controversies of the 1750s for the events beginning in 1789). Chartier argues that the Enlightenment was only one element in a wide range of cultural developments contributing to the secularization, the skepticism, and the decline of the crown's esteem in the decades prior to the Revolution. For scholars and specialists.-- Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y.
Chartier, a highly respected young French historian, describes the cultural conditions that made the French Revolution possible by first making it conceivable, and questions the assumed link between the transformations of the 18th century and rupture of the revolution. Translated from the French. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)