The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris

The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris

The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris

The Stonemasons of Creuse in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Synopsis

The stonemasons were well-known for their skills, and their seasonal migration from central France, but especially for their role in rebellion. This book places the masons' story within the larger history of nineteenth-century Paris. The coverage spans the long nineteenth century, starting before 1789 and ending near 1914.

Excerpt

In 1859, Louis Bandy de Nalèche, a notable from the Department of Creuse in central France, published a book with the straightforward title of The Stonemasons of Creuse (Les Maçons de la Creuse). Among the purposes the author had in mind was to describe, and thereby to help demystify, the migrant stonemasons whom Bandy de Nalèche considered to be his countrymen. the subject of the book would have been well-known not only to Creusois, but to Parisians, since the masons were familiar figures, having worked seasonally in the city’s construction industry seemingly forever. Indeed at the time Bandy de Nalèche’s book was published, the masons were more numerous than ever, drawn by jobs generated by the great building project then going on under Prefect of the Seine Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. At the same time that the Creusois were performing this useful and important labor, they were also burdened with a persistent and unenviable reputation that linked them directly to Paris’s tumultuous history as a place of rebellion and revolution. Bandy de Nalèche regarded the stonemasons as worthy citizens and hardworking, familyoriented types who wanted nothing more from a career of conscientious labor and thrifty habits than to save enough money to retire comfortably. in this regard, his opinions have mostly mirrored those of historians who have since his day studied the masons. Nineteenth-century Parisians, on the other hand, and especially the police and bourgeois opinion, tended to lump the migrants together with other “nomads” and “barbarians” from the “dangerous classes”—a social category that, particularly in the first half of the century, appeared to many to be overwhelming the city.

The Stonemasons of Creuse was partly designed to address what Bandy de Nalèche considered an unfair gap between the image and the reality represented in the lives of these migrant workers. the book itself was arranged as a description of the origins and rhythm of their seasonal migration, and their living and working habits, but with a subtext clearly intended to illustrate the human side of this otherwise largely anonymous group caught partway between city and countryside. Throughout, the author emphasized the essential simplicity and stability of his subjects’ lives. Yet, Bandy de . . .

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