The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France: Gender, Sociability, and the Uses of Emulation

By Carol E. Harrison | Go to book overview

5
Patronage: Emulation for the Working Class

In 1842 the newspaper of Lons le Saunier published a local emulator's account of a Scientific Congress during which representatives of learned societies from all over France assembled in Lyon to display their erudition and its uses. The author attributed his description of the event to a Lyonnais worker in his Sunday suit, talking to his small son:

In a town like ours, which owes everything to its genius and which can only prosper through progress, we cannot but glorify the sciences and the arts, nor can we sufficiently honour those who cultivate them. These gentlemen have come here . . . to show us how to encourage work, how to perfect the arts, and how to improve the fate of unhappy workers in their old age.1

Probably few, if any, Lyonnais workers thought of the bourgeois scientific assembly in such glowing terms. The description does, however, demonstrate the degree of regard that bourgeois emulators thought they deserved. They expected such esteem, moreover, not only from their peers but also from local workers. The example they set of moral probity and disinterestedness was, after all, directed at the working class.

Reform of the working class--improving the fate of the unhappy worker--functioned as a point of consensus for the reinforcement of male bourgeois solidarity.2 Emulation was the key to reform: workers should adopt bourgeois values and practise them in the setting of a voluntary association. As emulators, workers would validate bourgeois self- definition by demonstrating that the bourgeois example was indeed socially useful and potentially universal in scope. Just as the practice of

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1
La Sentinelle du Jura, 30 Sept. 1842.
2
In contrast with the Anglo-American world, where reform movements of the early nineteenth century were associated with female influence on the state, reform in France was perceived as an affair among men. See, e.g., Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States ( New Haven, 1990); Judith R. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State ( Cambridge, 1980).

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