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The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-Century Spain by Jesús Cruz (review)

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 48, 2013
pp. 132-134 | 10.1353/ang.2013.0000

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In The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-Century Spain, Jesús Cruz challenges the idea that Spain differed from its European neighbors in the development of a strong middle-class culture. Cruz argues that despite the smaller size of the middle class in Spain, its values and cultural practices became hegemonic and laid the groundwork for Spain’s contemporary democratic, consumer society. This was achieved through three main processes: 1) new rules of behavior that were widely disseminated through conduct manuals, 2) the promotion of consumer culture with the dual aims of economic growth and personal contentment, and 3) the establishment of a material culture with specific symbolic components that served as class markers. Cruz makes sure to define his terms and methodologies. Middle class and bourgeoisie are used synonymously to refer to a “diverse social conglomerate situated between the old nobility and the working classes” (10), and culture is defined as “a cluster of conventional models of thought and behavior that include value systems, beliefs, norms of conduct, and even forms of political organization and economic activity” (15). Theoretically Cruz bases much of his study on Norbert Elias’ ideas about the role of courtesy norms in the “civilizing process,” and Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of social field, cultural capital and habitus.

While the issues addressed above are articulated in chapter one, chapter two studies new middle-class behavioral norms through nineteenth-century conduct manuals. Even though polite society (sociedad de buen tono) still consisted mainly of a privileged, educated minority, access was no longer restricted to those of aristocratic birth; it was now open to anyone who could embody the urbanity promoted in the conduct books of the time, making refined conduct a form of cultural capital in and of itself. These books emphasized the emulation of all the things European, especially French, virtuous behavior and an active social life. Conduct manuals also contained a good deal of information on hygiene, physical fitness, and fashion. Although they were written primarily for men, a few books were written specifically for women. While these manuals continued to emphasize women’s pivotal role within the home, they also stressed women’s growing importance in the social sphere. By the end of the century, these new modes of conduct applied to a much wider segment of the population and became the dominant cultural norm.

In chapter three Cruz examines the home as both an ideal (mainly as it is imagined in conduct literature) and as a material reality (through probate inventories from Madrid’s notarial archives.) The interest in improving interior living environments can be linked to an overall rise in importance of domesticity, privacy, and consumerism. Wealth and distinction were conveyed by the location of the family home or piso –the most desirable living spaces were on the lower floors—and by tasteful interior decoration. In the city, most Spaniards lived in urban apartments rather than single-family dwellings. In terms of space and layout, a logical floor plan and clearly delineated spaces for social interaction and private family gatherings were the ideal. Some of the amenities included in the newer homes were gas lighting and heating, and running water and flushing toilets. Another important phenomenon affecting housing was the moving out of Madrid’s historic downtown into new residential areas, the ensanches, such as the Salamanca and Argüelles neighborhoods.

Chapter four explores the rise of consumer culture through the purchasing of textiles and garments, the fashion industry, fashion publications, and changes in retailing practices. Cruz first looks at studies of bridal trousseaus in Catalonia, which indicate an increase in the consumption of textiles (linens, blankets, curtains, clothing, etc.). Cruz attributes this not only to the rise in consumer demand but also to the flourishing Catalonian textile industry that made these fabrics increasingly affordable. The first fashion publication, Correo de las Damas, appeared in Madrid in 1833. Publications like this one combined information and images with an ideology generally supportive of the Catholic values of motherhood and domesticity. Much later in the century advertisements began to appear in the fashion press. Turning his attention to retail, Cruz discusses the rise of the ready-made clothing business, the use of...

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