Cover image for The myth of the French bourgeoisie : an essay on the social imaginary, 1750-1850
The myth of the French bourgeoisie : an essay on the social imaginary, 1750-1850
Maza, Sarah C., 1953-
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2003.
Physical Description:
x, 255 pages ; 25 cm
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HT690.F8 M39 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Who exactly were the French bourgeoisie? Unlike the Anglo-Americans, who widely embraced middle-class ideals and values, the French - even the most affluent and conservative - have always rejected and maligned bourgeois values and identity.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

As a historian, Maza (Northwestern Univ.) delves into the nebulous realm of perception (see, for instance, her Private Lives and Public Affairs). Here she explores French perceptions of the middling classes from pre-revolutionary times until the rise of Louis-Philippe. Through the analysis of literature, memoirs, and scholarly works, she concludes that the French middle classes never congealed into a cohesive class-conscious force that obtained real political power. In fact, it was the demonization of bourgeois values (self-interest, private wealth, etc.) that sustained political forces on both the Right and the Left. Perhaps this dominant strain of anti-bourgeoisie sentiment goes a long way toward explaining the often bloody struggles for governing power in France. The French bourgeoisie is a well-plowed field of study (see, e.g., Elinor Barber's The Bourgeoisie in 18th Century France), but Maza's work offers a fresh perspective and should serve as grist for further debate. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Maza (Northwestern Univ.) argues that the French bourgeoisie did not exist; that is to say, that the caricatures of the period 1750 to 1850 express not an empirical reality, but a negatively constructed Other--a greedy, self-serving upstart who was counterposed to the altruistic, public-minded citizen of the republic of virtue. Maza notes that middle-class identity has never formed the political rallying point in France that it has in the US and attributes the difference to the course of French historical development. Under the Old Regime, middle-class burghers threatened to destabilize the hierarchical world of lords and peasants, while after the Revolution, French civic identity was defined as universal and indivisible, so that the bourgeois pursuit of private material gain appeared suspect and class-based claims to political power illegitimate. Maza raises some interesting points that will likely inspire debate for some time to come, but readers will have to decide whether she has proven her case. Her statement that "classes only exist if they are aware of their own existence," a reaction to economic determinism, appears to make collective identities entirely subjective and divorced from social structure. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. D. A. Harvey New College of Florida

Table of Contents

Introduction: Is There a Class in This Text?
1 The Social Imaginary in Prerevolutionary France
2 Commerce, Luxury, and Family Love
3 Revolutionary Brotherhood and the War against Aristocracy
4 The Social World after Thermidor
5 The Political Birth of the Bourgeoisie, 1815-1830
6 The Failure of ""Bourgeoisie Monarchy""
Conclusion: The Bourgeois, the Jew, and the American