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University of California Press
The Making of Revolutionary Paris / Edition 1

The Making of Revolutionary Paris / Edition 1

by David Garrioch
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The sights, sounds, and smells of life on the streets and in the houses of eighteenth-century Paris rise from the pages of this marvelously anecdotal chronicle of a perpetually alluring city during one hundred years of extraordinary social and cultural change. An excellent general history as well as an innovative synthesis of new research, The Making of Revolutionary Paris combines vivid portraits of individual lives, accounts of social trends, and analyses of significant events as it explores the evolution of Parisian society during the eighteenth century and reveals the city's pivotal role in shaping the French Revolution.

David Garrioch rewrites the origins of the Parisian Revolution as the story of an urban metamorphosis stimulated by factors such as the spread of the Enlightenment, the growth of consumerism, and new ideas about urban space. With an eye on the broad social trends emerging during the century, he focuses his narrative on such humble but fascinating aspects of daily life as traffic congestion, a controversy over the renumbering of houses, and the ever-present dilemma of where to bury the dead. He describes changes in family life and women's social status, in religion, in the literary imagination, and in politics.

Paris played a significant role in sparking the French Revolution, and in turn, the Revolution changed the city, not only its political structures but also its social organization, gender ideologies, and cultural practices. This book is the first to look comprehensively at the effect of the Revolution on city life. Based on the author's own research in Paris and on the most current scholarship, this absorbing book takes French history in new directions, providing a new understanding of the Parisian and the European past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520243279
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 08/16/2004
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 396
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Garrioch is Associate Professor of History at Monash University, Australia, and author of The Formation of the Parisian Bourgeoisie, 1690-1830 (1996) and Neighborhood and Community in Paris, 1740-1790 (1986).

Read an Excerpt

The Making of Revolutionary Paris

By David Garrioch

University of California

Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-23253-4


For hundreds of thousands of weary eighteenth-century travelers, the first glimpse of Paris came from one of the low hills on the city's perimeter. In still, cold weather, a gray haze masked the city, mixing wood smoke and mist-a contemporary likened it to the city's breath in the cool air. In summer the whitewashed walls and pale stone reflected the light back into the sky. Some found Paris beautiful, exceeding their expectations; others were disappointed. But almost all were struck by its sheer size: 810 streets (not including 88 culs-de-sac) and 23,019 houses, according to one popular description. Unless the traveler was a blasé Londoner, accustomed to the bustle of an even larger metropolis, the scale of Paris came as a shock even to those who had read about it. From the North Sea to the Mediterranean, there was no human settlement so large, although no one knew exactly how large. Guesses at the number of inhabitants ranged from 500,000 to over a million.

Threading their way through the ribbon of suburbs and into the maze of the center, newcomers lost all sense of direction. Most came from small towns and villages, and they searched in vain for landmarks amid the profusion of spires, the long lines of tall whitewashed houses, and the stone-faced public buildings. The average traveler was overwhelmed-many of them recorded these first impressions-by the din, the confusion of traffic, animals, cries, the crowds of people, the labyrinth of streets winding interminably in every direction. In provincial cities, even during Carnival, there was nothing to compare with this.

But that was merely the beginning of the city's wonders. At night the streets were lit by thousands of tallow candles, later by oil lamps, a wonder to eighteenth-century eyes accustomed to the pitch-darkness of overcast nights. By the end of the century the luxury shops for which Paris was famous boasted painted decors, mirrors, and elaborate window displays to delight the eye and-in the case of food shops-make the mouth water. Inside the great noble houses were riches untold, burnished interiors that shone in the living light of a hundred pure wax candles. Silk and satin, velvet, gilt, and silver were the stuff of life for the wealthy. The huge central market was another amazement, street after street of stalls laden with every kind of produce, even if a significant part of the population could not afford to buy it. Magnificent public buildings lined the bustling riverbank.

Even the longtime Paris resident was hard-put to encapsulate this reality. Eighteenth-century writers strained for the right metaphors. Instinctively, many reached for organic ones: Paris was the swollen head on the body of France; it was the heart of the kingdom; a mouth that devoured innumerable immigrants; a stomach consuming the wealth and the products of the provinces. Increasingly, commentators drew on contrasts as a way of describing the city. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's best-selling novel La nouvelle Héloïse, written in the late 1750s, the hero, Saint-Preux, spoke of Paris as a place "dominated simultaneously by the most sumptuous opulence and the most deplorable misery." Twenty-five years later Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who loved his native city, nevertheless painted his vast Tableau de Paris in similarly contrasting colors, luxury and plenty juxtaposed with poverty and dearth. The same theme was taken up by many lesser figures: the now-forgotten novelist Contant d'Orville had his heroine exclaim, "What a contrast between these immense and magnificent residences, which reflect the greatness, luxury, and corruption of their masters, and those humble forests inhabited by misery, and sometimes despair!" This was also how many visitors saw Paris. "I doubt," wrote a Sicilian visitor to Paris in 1749, "that there can exist anywhere on earth a hell more terrible than to be poor in Paris." For a German tourist, "Here was certainly not the new Jerusalem I had finally arrived in, but rather had I fallen into hell." In 1759 Louis-Charles Fougeret de Montbron published a biting critique of Paris and subtitled it "the new Babylon." Images of hell and of heaven, of Eden, Babylon, and the new Jerusalem sprang more readily to the early modern mind than to ours and had far more concrete meaning. Literary contrasts provided a convenient way of summing up a labyrinthine reality. Yet too often they have been taken at face value and endowed with a kind of explanatory force: excessive luxury and extremes of wealth and poverty inevitably produced bitterness, social tension, and revolt, turning the City of Light into the City of Revolution. This is the Dickensian picture, one influenced by nineteenth-century fears of a bitterly divided society, and it retains a superficial appeal to a post-Cold War world. The real Paris, like today's Rio or Bombay, was indeed a place of contrasts; but there is more to the story. As in some of today's megalopoli the city's extremes and contradictions were crucial to its economy. The flourishing industries that made Paris the capital of eighteenth-century European fashion, luxury, and culture reposed on a large informal sector, on the immense unpaid labor of women, children, and the elderly. The Parisian economy depended on the conspicuous consumption of the nobility and on the city's status as the capital of an absolutist state. So too did the Enlightenment. Around the royal court, government ministries, and the attendant cluster of religious institutions and law courts, lived a large, educated, and affluent population that provided the critical mass indispensable for a brilliant intellectual and cultural life. Eighteenth-century Paris was the home, usually physically but always intellectually, of most of the philosophes: Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Holbach, d'Alembert, Helvétius, Condorcet, and many others, most of them dependent-directly or indirectly-on the very disparities of wealth and political practices that some of their work brought into question.

Yet the existence of extremes and paradoxes did not make Paris a jungle or create a society perpetually on the brink of disintegration. Life may have been fragile, but most Parisians were bound to their city by powerful affective ties and by bonds of community and moral obligation. The city created its own networks, to some degree reproducing those of the villages and small towns from which two-thirds of the population came, yet imposing distinctive patterns of its own.

Recent research has placed far less emphasis on the extremes in Parisian society. It has revealed the existence of a large and growing consumer market. Despite widespread poverty, eighteenth-century Paris was a dynamic and expanding society built on thriving trade and industry. Even servants and other working people were beginning to buy consumer items in the second half of the eighteenth century, and many of them were materially better off than the previous generation. The gap between rich and poor was widening, yet the "middling sort" were growing in numbers and prosperity. Their expansion and wealth helped make Paris unique in France, and as the work of two generations of historians has shown, these were the very people who led the Parisian Revolution after 1789.

Thus an old paradox remains. How could Paris have produced the revolution that took place there? (I refer to the revolution in this city, not the French Revolution as a whole.) How could a metropolis with low rates of violence and apparent political passivity have led an upheaval that would transform Europe? Where did the energy come from, the motivation for enormous sacrifices of time, effort, and money by thousands of people-even of their lives, in the case of thousands of Parisian men who volunteered to serve in the revolutionary armies? Where did they draw the inspiration, the heroism, the faith? If some of it came from the Enlightenment, then how could the city of Enlightenment, with its growing material prosperity, growing religious toleration and humanitarianism, its exceptionally high rates of literacy and education, and its extraordinary confidence in the perfectibility of humanity, have become the scene of revolutionary violence, of extremism, persecution, and bloodshed? These questions haunt all writing on eighteenth-century Paris and they are one of the central preoccupations of this book.

To address them we need to go back at least to the beginning of the century and to strive for a long-term view of the city's development. Too much writing on the French Revolution, even on its causes, begins with the 1770s or at best the 1750s. The "Old Regime" becomes simply the status quo ante: the political and social system that existed before 1789, static, "traditional," and unchanging. It is true that the revolutionaries, who first used the term ancien régime, portrayed it this way. It was in their interest to do so, since the idea of a new departure, a regeneration of debased and corrupt Babylon, was the whole justification for their enterprise. The prerevolutionary monarchy also portrayed itself as static: again it had to, because tradition, precedent, and stability were its sources of legitimacy. Yet Old Regime Parisian society was far from static. It was changing rapidly, and particularly after the middle of the eighteenth century, when demographic and economic expansion and the Enlightenment began to have a major impact.

A great many books have been written about Paris. Yet a few years ago when I taught a course on the history of Paris I was astonished to find that there was no readily available general history of the city in the eighteenth century. Certainly, some aspects of Parisian life have been exhaustively researched, and much of that work is available to English readers. Students of literature have pursued novelists and philosophes into the salons and the libraries of the city. Robert Darnton and others have written wonderful accounts of some of the journalists, printers, and booksellers for whom the Enlightenment was a means of livelihood. Architectural historians have traced ideas about building styles from blueprint to completed edifice. Higher education and the medical world have been comprehensively explored by Lawrence Brockliss and Colin Jones. A number of studies focus on politics in Paris, and much work about France as a whole inevitably contains much on the capital. There are also a great many books and articles dealing with particular institutions and those who peopled them: hospitals, theaters, the courts. Our understanding of the Paris trades has recently been revolutionized by Steven Kaplan and Michael Sonenscher. There are some partial social histories available in English, such as Arlette Farge's Fragile Lives and my own work on neighborhood communities and on the Paris middle classes. Other books deal in an anecdotal way with daily life in the city, usually primarily with the social elites, and some of them make good reading.

Yet in the last thirty years, only two works available in English can claim to be general introductions to the social and economic history of eighteenth-century Paris. Jeffry Kaplow's marvelously evocative work The Names of Kings, although focusing on the laboring poor, is a rich source for the social and economic geography of the city, and for elite as well as popular ideas and attitudes. Kaplow drew attention to the importance of the dissident religious movement known as Jansenism, to the significance of the city's floating population, and to the relevance of medical thought to the program of late-eighteenth-century urban reformers. He found and used sources hitherto neglected. But The Names of Kings came out in 1972 and has been superseded by a large quantity of new work. We now know far more about the economy and politics of the city, and about both the popular and the middle classes. Furthermore, the conceptual and historiographical framework of Kaplow's book is now dated-its quest for an eighteenth-century Marxist-style proletariat and its organizing notion of a "culture of poverty." Since the 1970s, too, feminist history and the "new cultural history" have transformed our approaches to social relationships and to social change.

The second general introductory work on eighteenth-century Paris, available in an excellent English translation, is Daniel Roche's enormously rich People of Paris, first published in 1981. It is informed by an innovative approach to material culture that Roche has subsequently developed in other work and that has inspired many other historians. The People of Paris focuses on wage earners but sheds some light on other social groups. It too contains a superb survey of the social and economic geography of Paris and more thoroughly explores the social composition of the popular classes. It employs new sources and methods and, unlike Kaplow's book, has much to say about changes across the century, in living conditions, patterns of consumption, and manners.

Yet both of these books deal primarily with the popular classes and therefore offer only hints of some of the wider changes that were taking place in the city. Neither has much to say about politics or gender. Both are organized thematically, and it is not easy to get a sense of how the city operated at any one moment. Nor does either author take the story into the revolutionary years or explore the ways in which changes during the eighteenth century help us understand the Parisian experience of revolution. Kaplow, in the end, finds little evidence of change in the politics of the laboring poor, and Roche does not attempt to link the evolution of material culture to the mentality and politics of revolution.

My purpose is to explore how the city and the lives of its people changed between 1700 and 1800. My primary focus has been on social relationships, not institutions or occupations. I have tried to show how the transformation of material life, the appearance of new ideas and social practices, demographic shifts, and far-reaching religious, political, and institutional change all had a profound long-term effect on Parisian society and on the ways of thinking of the population. Obviously, not every aspect of life or every social group can be included. There are some we as yet know only a little about: Jews and Protestants, much of the foreign-born population, the ordinary clergy of the parishes, homosexuals. Some of the key sources-the parish registers, the tax records, and the archives of the trades corporations-have disappeared. These misfortunes leave the economic and demographic history of Paris little known, while huge areas of religious and lay sociability remain mysterious to us.

This also is a local history, not a national or even a regional one.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


1. The Patterns of Urban Life
2. The Poor You Have with You Always
3. Not Servants but Workers
4. Each According to His Station

5. Bread, Police, and Protest
6. Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: Religion and Politics

7. Affaires du Temps
8. Secularization
9. Urbanism or Despotism?
10. The Integration of the City
11. Plebeian Culture, Metropolitan Culture
12. The City and the Revolution

Epilogue The New Paris
Selected Reading


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