2) City of Light and Revolution


Paris in the Age of Enlightenment

Paris was the centre on enlightenment in the 19th century. The bourgeois lived their life in the public sphere where there were strong patterns of sociability, i.e. people were sharing ideas etc. Coffee houses were a popular place for this activity and were especially on the rise in Paris. Salon culture was also rising which was typically an aristocratic phenomenon, but one the bourgeois began to adopt. Political ideas were discussed and spread in salons. Fashion houses and home improvement was also on the rise and becoming increasingly important.

50 years before the French Revolution, monarchy was sacred. But, as Darnton suggests, monarchy became desacralized during these 50 years. e.g. illicit books concerning the monarchy were published.

Economic concerns are largely agreed to have been the reason for the Revoluton though. e.g. the price of wheat increased radically in 1789 making the poor hungry. The price of sugar was also increasing which increased the price of cake thus affecting the higher classes too.

1 of 3

Paris in the Age of Revolution

The developing culture of the bourgeois began to challenge the aristocracy's right to rule. The general chronology of the French Revolution:

  • 1789-1792: the ‘liberal’ phase
  • 1792-1794: The Terror
  • 1794-c.1800: consolidation
  • 1815: fall of Napoleon
  • Revolutions in 1830, 1848, 1871

Before the summer of 1789, cahiers de doléances (books of complaints) were sent to the monarchy to no avail. During the 'liberal' phase that began with the Fall of the Bastille, moderate revolutionaries tried to ce-exist with the monarchy. But, this phase ended with the Declaration of the First French Republic ending the monarchy. The Terror followed with the worst years of violence during 1793-1794. A sort of consolidation period followed the Terror which lasted until around 1799-1800 when Napoleon became emperor.

The Fall of the Bastille, a royal prison, was very important to Paris, and the 14th July is still celebrated as a kind of Independence Day. The Women's March occured a few months later when the monarchy tried rejecting some of the revolutionary ideas. They wanted the monarchy to understand the feelings of its people and to be in the city to show they cared.

2 of 3

Paris, Radicalism and The Terror

The sans-culottes were the revolultionary crowd, the poor and lower-orders. The Tuileries fell on 10 August 1792 which abolished the monarchy and replaced it with a Republic. The radicals now believed King Louis XVI should be executed. A few months later, Marie Antionette followed suit. Louis XVI was killed on 21 January 1793 in public showing the desacralization.

Lynn Hunt’s ‘The Family Romance of the French Revolution’ (1992) looks at the psychology behind the French Revolution. She states that the nation before the Revolution was considered a body/family with the King as the father. They killed their father, and the public nature of the execution allowed the nation to say goodbye. After the father's death, the focus changed to fraternity and brotherhood, still to be seen today.

3 of 3


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all A History of Paris, c. 1730 to the Present resources »