- Libertines and Liberty:State Justice and Changing Regimes in Eighteenth-Century France
The relationship between the individual and the state is one of the most important themes in the history of eighteenth-century France. Resentment of the often arbitrary nature of state justice was one of the prime movers of the Enlightenment, which in turn inspired a series of revolutions at century's end that defined the modern world. These two books, while very different in subject and perspective, contribute to our understanding of the inner workings and changing ideologies of authority in France at the end of the ancien régime.
In From Rogue to Everyman: A Foundling's Journey to the Bastille, Laurence L. Bongie, professor emeritus of French at the University of British Columbia, presents a richly detailed biography of Charles de Julie, a young libertine and petty criminal who lived in Paris during the reign of Louis XV and spent a two-year stint in the Bastille. Using de Julie's brief life as a starting point, the author takes us through the seamy underworld of mid-eighteenth-century Paris, which teemed with gamblers, child prostitutes, swindlers, and gossip journalists, all of whom operated under the surveillance of the most intricate policing network of its time. What is most striking about this world is how blurry the line often was between the criminal and the legitimate. Many of the criminals we meet were also working as police spies, while police officials often indulged in the same vices they were charged with regulating. It quickly becomes evident that power and connections, not actual behavior, determined what side of the law people found themselves on in early modern Paris.
Born as one of Paris's countless foundlings and lacking the family connections that might have helped him make his way in the world, de Julie began life [End Page 664] at a great disadvantage, yet his path to the Bastille was not inevitable. A wealthy and charitable widow provided an education and arranged a post for him in the prestigious Gendarmes Écossois regiment of the Royal Guard. If de Julie had been better at staying out of trouble this position would have assured a bright future for him; however, he was soon dismissed for "roguery." With the help of his patroness he was admitted as a volunteer to the slightly less prestigious Hussards Bretons, but was soon arrested in a brothel for impersonating an officer. By the time he was arrested again, this time for fraud, he had exhausted his options and much of the goodwill of his patroness. After a period of imprisonment in the For l'Évêque, a relatively mild punishment considering that he could have been branded and sent to the galleys, he was compelled to join the navy. While he was away, his sponsor died in 1749, leaving our protagonist without a protector.
It was after his first arrest that de Julie then came to the attention of Nicolas-René Berryer de Ravenoville, the newly appointed lieutenant général de police who would later rise to become secretary of the navy and garde des sceaux. Berryer would determine much of de Julie's future and become a sort of surrogate paternal figure during his stay in prison. Upon returning to Paris, de Julie made an apparently sincere attempt to steer his life in a more legitimate direction. While he kept the same questionable company, he began to work as a police informant, and with the help of friends he made among the police he purchased the office of exempt de robe courte, a minor police functionary with great potential for social advancement. However, de Julie's attempts at rehabilitation were ultimately frustrated by Berryer, who had not forgiven his earlier indiscretions. Berryer refused to assign de Julie any cases, which essentially stalled his career. In debt for the purchase of his...