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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 153-155
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Eighteenth-Century Life in France
Samia I. Spencer
Christine Adams, Jack R. Censer, and Lisa Jane Graham, eds. Visions and Revisions of Eighteenth-Century France (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997). Pp. viii + 214. $50 cloth, $ 18.95 paper.
Jeremy D. Popkin, ed. Panorama of Paris. Selections from Le Tableau de Paris by Louis Sébastien Mercier, based on the translation by Helen Simpson (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999). Pp. 225. $50 cloth, $16.95 paper.
Recently, the Pennsylvania State University Press presented eighteenth-century scholars with two volumes that will contribute to their understanding of French people, culture, and institutions in the Age of Enlightenment. The first to appear, Visions and Revisions of Eighteenth-Century France, consists of eight essays of varying length (9 to 45 pages) divided into three parts: "The Social World of the Ancien Régime," "The Political Culture of Eighteenth-Century France," and "Conceptions of the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century France." The second, Panorama of Paris, includes English translations of 100 of the 1050 articles published between 1781 and 1789 by that sharp observer of Paris and its inhabitants, Mercier. Together, these volumes cover a wide range of topics and offer a broad perspective on the French, especially Parisians, as they went about their daily lives--both public and private.
In a tightly written Introduction, the editors of the first anthology clearly outline their stance, explain their goals, comment on the content and importance of the essays to follow, and attempt to link the chapters. At the outset, they refute the idea that the French Revolution is the "political event that cuts French national history in two" (1). Instead, they prefer "to view the period from 1715 to 1815 as a continuum, within which the French Revolution occupies an important but by no means exclusive position" (2). Their main purpose is to introduce the reader to current trends and various approaches to historical research and scholarship; thus, works by Chartier, Darnton, Furet, Goodman, Habermas, Hunt, and Landes, among others, are often cited and discussed at some length. However, the attempt to link the articles is a more difficult task, and claims that "continuities in political attitudes and discourse [presumably before and after the Revolution, or throughout some/most of the period] are identified by all of the authors in Parts II and III [my emphasis]" (5) prove to be less than accurate. For example, in "The Public Divided. How Contemporaries Understood Politics in Eighteenth-Century France" (Part III), the author focuses on news concerning "the very important national events of the first five months of 1776" (192)--a very specific and narrow period of time. "Policing the Public in Eighteenth-Century Paris" (Part II) covers police cases brought against various individuals only during the reign of Louis XV.
However, once past these pitfalls, the reader will discover a wealth of information, resulting from creative research on unusual topics. For example, in "Marketing the Counter-Reformation. Religious Objects and Consumerism in Early Modern France," Cissie Fairchilds meticulously studies inventories of estates in four different locations (Paris, Toulouse, Aube, and Bouches-du-Rhône), in order to determine variations in religious beliefs and consumer habits within the country between the early (1711-1729) and later (1771-1789) parts of the [End Page 153] century. In "Devoted Companions or Surrogate Spouses? Sibling Relations in Eighteenth-Century France," Christine Adams focuses on the Lamothe family, where "affection and loyalty within [the] family were so intense that [...] children were not educated for a life outside the natal family" (76). Several Lamothe children refused to marry, preferring, instead, to live with a sibling who fulfilled the role of "surrogate" or "substitute" spouse. Although readers are assured that this was not a "typical" (76) situation, they are not told how common it was. Several questions come to mind, as one reads this intriguing essay. Are there documents indicating similar attitudes within other families? If...