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About this book

This volume provides a lively and authoritative synthesis of recent work on the social history of France and is now thoroughly updated to cover the 'long nineteenth century' from 1789-1914. Peter McPhee offers both a readable narrative and a distinctive, coherent argument about this remarkable century and explores key themes such as:

- peasant interaction with the environment
- the changing experience of work and leisure
- the nature of crime and protest
- changing demographic patterns and family structures
- the religious practices of workers and peasants
- the ideology and internal repercussions of colonisation.

At the core of this social history is the exercise and experience of 'social relations of power' - not only because in these years there were four periods of protracted upheaval, but also because the history of the workplace, of relations between women and men, adults and children, is all about human interaction.

Stimulating and enjoyable to read, this indispensable introduction to nineteenth-century France will help readers to make sense of the often bewildering story of these years, while giving them a better understanding of what it meant to be an inhabitant of France during that turbulent time.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
When the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral wrote his memoirs at the end of the nineteenth century he recalled how, as a youth in a southern village, he learnt of the blood-stained memories of the French Revolution which continued to divide his family as well as his community. Disillusioned by republicanism, Mistral later sought calm in the eternal rhythms of nature only to be traumatized by the ‘gigantic crabs’ which now mechanically harvested crops ‘in American style, cheerlessly, in haste, without any joy or singing…. That’s progress, that’s the terrible, inevitable harrow against which nothing can be done or said.’ These twin furnaces of change — the French Revolution and later political upheavals, and the mechanization of productive processes — have ever since attracted historians to the period 1789–1914; perhaps no other period of history has been so extensively studied. In recent decades some social historians have suggested that Mistral and other contemporaries were confusing political strife and economic novelty with real social change. Arno Mayer has argued that historians, too, have been preoccupied with change, at the expense of ignoring the continuities in French society. To Mayer, France in this century remained a pre-industrial Old Regime, ‘first and foremost a peasant economy and rural society dominated by hereditary and privileged nobilities’. The French Revolution did not undermine their landed power and control of the Church and State, and, while a democratic republic was finally in place by 1880, France remained a traditional peasant and artisan society. Not until the ‘general crisis’ of the twentieth century, between 1914 and 1945, did the European Old Regime finally die.1
Peter McPhee

1. France in the 1780s

Abstract
On 1 August 1779, Pierre Reynes and his son Mathieu met the royal notary of the small south-western town of Villefranche-de-Lauragais to enter into a contract with the ‘high and powerful seigneur’ the Marquis d’Hautpoul, through his agent, Jacques Maurel.1 The farm the illiterate peasants were renting was a considerable one — about 30 hectares — and produced about a hundred setiers of wheat (20 setiers would feed a family of five) and a wide array of livestock, vegetables and other produce. This was, however, a sharecropping contract: the seigneur took 20 setiers in advance — whatever the volume of the crop — and half of the rest; after setting aside seed for the next year, the Reynes would be left with 15 setiers, less than their family needed. They were rigidly tied to a three-field system (maize and vegetables, wheat, fallow) and, while the proceeds from livestock were also divided, any extra forage had to be provided by them. Similarly, all the farm implements were the lessees’ responsibility. They were to buy young pigs, though the seigneur’s agent was to have half; in addition, they were to provide 108 chickens and capons and 600 eggs yearly. The lease was for one year only; should the Reynes not ‘do everything necessary’ to be good husbandmen (‘bons ménagers et bons pères de famille’), it would not be renewed.
Peter McPhee

2. The Revolutionary Reconstruction of French Society, 1789–1792

Abstract
In September 1788, the English agronomist Arthur Young found himself in the Atlantic port of Nantes just six weeks after Louis XVI had announced the convocation of the Estates-General for 1 May 1789. A keen observer and recorder, Young noted in his journal:
Nantes is as enflammée in the cause of liberty, as any town in France can be; the conversations I witnessed here prove how great a change is effected in the minds of the French, nor do I believe it will be possible for the present government to last half a century longer, unless the clearest and most decided talents be at the helm.1
Peter McPhee

3. Republicanism and Counter-Revolution, 1792–1795

Abstract
By overthrowing the monarchy, popular rebellion had effectively issued the ultimate challenge to the whole of Europe; internally, its armed insurrection had dissolved any distinction between ‘active’ and ‘passive’ citizens. The Revolution was now armed, democratic and republican. Within a few weeks it would face its greatest challenge. On 2 September word reached Paris that the great fortress at Verdun, just 250 kilometres from the capital and the last major obstacle to invading armies, had fallen to the Prussians. The news generated an immediate, dramatic surge in popular fear and resolve. Convinced that ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (whether nobles, priests or common-law criminals) in prisons were waiting to break out and welcome the invaders, hastily-convened popular courts sentenced to death about 1,200 of the 2,700 prisoners brought before them. Among them were about 240 priests; their deaths were the final proof for nonjuring clergy that the Revolution had become godless and anarchic. Yet those who ‘tried’ the prisoners were plainly convinced of the necessity and justice of their actions: one of them wrote home on 2 September: ‘necessity has made this execution inevitable…. It is sad to have to go to such lengths, but it is better (as they say) to kill the devil than to let the devil kill you.’ Another was himself put to death for the uncivic act of stealing a handkerchief from a corpse’s clothing.1
Peter McPhee

4. The Consolidation of Post-Revolutionary Society, 1795–1815

Abstract
In the late eighteenth century, Collioure was a small, bustling Catalan town, most of whose 2,300 inhabitants survived from wine-growing, fishing and the coastal trade — whether legal or clandestine — within the Mediterranean. Catalans, like the Flemish, Alsatians, Provençaux and Basques of other frontier regions, had directly felt the shattering impact of the Republic’s desperate struggle for survival. With the local French garrison, the people of Collioure had resisted a Spanish siege from May to December 1793 before succumbing and being occupied until Jacobin armies recaptured the town in May 1794. In January 1795, the mayor wrote to the Convention of the effects of occupation: ‘whether by our brave brothers in arms or by the slaves of the tyrant of Castille. The fury that the latter demonstrated against the poor inhabitants during their six months’ stay in the commune was carried to the limit, their countryside ruined, their crops torn out, their houses pillaged or destroyed.’1 His urgent plea captured the nationwide longing for a politics of reconstruction and, above all, for an end to the exactions of war; he hoped, too, for a resolution of the deadly schism in the Church (Collioure’s ten priests and monks had emigrated) and of the problem of the émigrés (84 Colliourencs had fled to Spain in May 1794), and perhaps also for the implementation of the Jacobin Constitution of 1793 which had been translated into Catalan and enthusiastically received during the siege.
Peter McPhee

5. The Social Consequences of the Revolution

Abstract
From the point of view of the working people of town and country, how ‘revolutionary’ had been the experience of 25 years of Revolution and Empire? To be sure, French people had experienced years of political upheaval and uncertainty but, in the end, was this just a time of dashed hopes and massive sacrifices, whether for national military security or, after 1795, for the territorial dreams of the Directory and Napoleon? Well over one million French people — not to mention those from other countries — had died in internal and external wars between 1792 and 1815: when the bloodshed finally abated, could the survivors only hope to reconstitute the essentials of daily life as they had been in the 1780s?
Peter McPhee

6. The World of Notables and Bourgeois, 1815–1845

Abstract
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was the consummate survivor of the pre-revolutionary nobility. Bishop of Autun before 1789, then a prime mover in the nationalization of church property and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; ambassador to London in 1792, then an émigré before becoming Foreign Minister under the Directory; a key organizer of Napoleon’s coup in 1799 and again Foreign Minister until 1807, Talleyrand then played a central role in the negotiations of 1814–15 which brought Louis XVIII to the throne. Despite his chequered political career, Talleyrand remained a great landowner. The village of Limanton, in the south-east of the department of the Nièvre, where he owned 450 hectares, furnishes an example of the disproportionate control of rural wealth which was the basis of élite power.1 While as many as 240 of the 777 inhabitants of Limanton in 1820 owned some land, 98 of these individuals possessed a combined total of 42 hectares; in contrast, the seven largest proprietors owned 2,851 hectares between them. The largest landowner was the marquis Bruneau de Vitry; however, most of the large proprietors were bourgeois, whether local men or from nearby Moulins-Engilbert. Nobles and bourgeois leased their holdings to other rural bourgeois who in turn leased the land to tenants in substantial farms of 30–60 hectares. These sharecroppers, many in the large multiple families (communautés) characteristic of the Morvan region of the Nièvre, furnished half their crops as rent, as well as paying rent for farm buildings and the State’s land taxes.
Peter McPhee

7. The World of Urban Working People, 1815–1845

Abstract
This report by the Minister of the Interior on the harvest failure of 1816 and the food rioting which subsequently erupted in many cities and towns could have been written in similar terms during earlier crises, in 1775 or even 1709. In refusing to accept high prices, working people in Toulouse were manifesting age-old hostility to merchants and revealing the primacy of food prices in matters of survival. Similarly, the regime’s responses to the crisis — prohibiting exports and making large purchases overseas — were of a long-established type. Louis exhibited ‘his continual goodness and his truly fatherly concern for his subjects’ by dispensing charity in Lyon and placing a special order for silk for royal palaces. His officials also employed the ancien-régime tactic of using police agents to identify troublesome workers, supplemented by legislation from the Revolution and Empire prohibiting strikes and ‘coalitions’.
Peter McPhee

8. Rural Change and Continuity, 1815–1845

Abstract
The census-compilers of the nineteenth century decided that rural communities were those with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants: in 1831, some 26.35 million people (81 per cent of the total). Such a measure included many people whose occupations were not agricultural (such as artisans, teachers and priests); conversely, many larger places included people who directly worked the land in the surrounding countryside. A more useful, if still arbitrary, measure of ‘rural’ would be communities of up to 10,000 people. While some small towns were essentially industrial, most were directly dependent on the rural economy. About one-tenth of the national population lived in these country towns. France was essentially a rural society.1
Peter McPhee

9. The Mid-Century Crisis, 1846–1852

Abstract
In the summer of 1846 Horace Vernet received 25,000 francs from the king to paint ‘Louis-Philippe and his sons riding out from the château of Versailles’. Eschewing earlier Orléanist iconography connecting the regime to the Revolutions of 1789 and 1830, and even to Napoleon, Vernet now deliberately linked the idea of a stable dynasty to images of Versailles, the Bourbon fleur-de-lis and a statue of Louis XIV. The serene power of Vernet’s imagery was a direct response to — but in sharp contrast with — the social and political context of 1846–7.1
Peter McPhee

10. The Transformation of Urban France, 1852–1880

Abstract
Until the 1840s Argenteuil had been a rural village nine kilometres from Paris, combining agriculture with local crafts such as the production of plaster of Paris; other people lived from inn-keeping, ferrying goods and people across the Seine, and looking after towpath horses. By the 1870s the tentacular arms of Paris had incorporated it as an industrial outer suburb, with factories, docks and a skyline dominated by a huge railway bridge. Just fifteen minutes from the new Gare Saint-Lazare, Argenteuil’s broad reach of the Seine was also an ideal place for a leisurely Sunday, with boating clubs and rentable villas. Among those it attracted was Claude Monet, who lived there from 1872 to 1878, and whose paintings were a personal response to the extraordinary spread of urban, industrial life.1
Peter McPhee

11. The Peak of Rural Civilization, 1852–1880

Abstract
At the same time that Claude Monet had gone north of Paris to Argenteuil to seek to capture on canvas the discordant movements of an industrializing village, Jean-François Millet was completing a lifetime’s work south of Paris, near Fontainebleau.1 Millet settled in Barbizon after the Revolution of 1848 and until his death in 1875 devoted himself to painting and drawing rural life. Describing himself as ‘an out-and-out peasant’, this son of devout, comfortable landholders from near Cherbourg in Normandy left a rich and evocative legacy of images of labour, landscape and family life. The peasant household’s routines of spinning, caring for livestock, harvesting, baking bread, and carting water and wood are captured in images which resonate with respect for rural toil. Above all, Millet’s paintings suggest the continuity of the routines of rural life and are in sharp contrast to the images of changing, bustling and fractious urban centres left by Monet. Millet insisted that his desire was to ‘paint nothing that was not the result of an impression directly received from nature’; however, apart from periods in the Auvergne and Normandy, almost all of these decades were spent in Barbizon, where he painted from memory. The central problem in the complex relationship between art and society is in his case especially acute: did Millet simply detail the rural world around him, or did this deeply religious and increasingly conservative man construct an imaginary world, rural France as he wished it to remain?
Peter McPhee

12. The Social History of Ideas, 1850–1880: ‘The Moralization of the Masses?’

Abstract
In 1861 the schoolteachers of lower Normandy declared that ‘the population should read more: it should be diverted from certain immoral, revolutionary and socialist books which are passed from hand to hand’. Theirs was thus a double campaign: to encourage the reading of books and, at the same time, to ensure that the right books were being read.1 All over France, teachers were having marked success in instructing children, especially boys, how to read: the number of totally illiterate conscripts declined from about 40 per cent in 1850 to 18 per cent in 1875, although as many again remained functionally illiterate. The issue was increasingly what people should read, and the teachers’ zeal was matched by associations such as the Société Franklin and the Ligue d’enseignement, which together urged the creation of school and public libraries. By 1870, 15,000 primary schools had tiny libraries of 50–100 books, paralleled by the remarkable surge in public libraries in these decades. Whereas in 1851 there had been 2,428 libraries outside Paris, by 1878 there were 5,086; apart from Brittany and the Massif Central, there was at least one library for every 7,500 people.
Peter McPhee

13. The Republican Triumph and its Challenges, 1877–1914

Abstract
The leadership of the Third Republic was determined to distance itself from the memories of 1793 and 1848. Instead, the new Republic appealed to patriotism and social unity rather than to a radical programme, symbolized in the choice of 14 July (1789) rather than 10 August (1792) as the national day. In the aftermath of the victory of 1876–7, Grévy, Ferry, Gambetta and other leaders of the Third Republic successfully constructed a constituency of small property-owners — artisans, shopkeepers and small farmers, dubbed by Gambetta the ‘nouvelles couches sociales’ — against both old landed élites and socialist militants.1 By representing industrial growth and colonial expansion as patriotic endeavours in the aftermath of the national defeat of 1870, they were able to generate wide support for a programme of state investment in infrastructure such as railways, for example through the Freycinet Plan of 1878. Underpinning this economic endeavour was the belief that one reason for the defeat had been industrial weakness; other bodies, such as the Academy of Medicine, instead blamed alcoholism and declining birth-rates.
Peter McPhee

Conclusion — Plus ça change?

Abstract
The ‘long nineteenth century’ from the French Revolution to World War I has often been described as the ‘century of revolution’. Implicit in such a trope is a world of change. In stark contrast, Arno Mayer has emphasized the continuities of social history: France remained ‘first and foremost a peasant economy and rural society dominated by hereditary and privileged nobilities’. Mayer’s view has found a nuanced echo in that of David Higgs, who has argued that, although the number of ancien-régime nobles had declined from about 125,000 before 1789 to fewer than 40,000 after 1870, French society remained dominated by landed wealth and the aristocratic values it underpinned. As late as 1893, 56 per cent of deputies were nobles and wealthy bourgeois. The latter were from the wealthiest 3,000 families in France, with incomes above 100,000 francs.1
Peter McPhee
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