The Utopian Thought of Restif de la Bretonne

The Utopian Thought of Restif de la Bretonne

The Utopian Thought of Restif de la Bretonne

The Utopian Thought of Restif de la Bretonne

Excerpt

Besides love, the other dominant activity and value in utopia was work. Restif did not articulate his utopia of love and work as well as the nineteenth-century utopians who followed him, but he did make broad outlines of the ideal.

In the elitist intellectual atmosphere of the Old Regime, Restif was perhaps more qualified than other utopians to plan the ideal organization of work -- he had a varied workingman's background. His youth, in rural Burgundy, provided him with firsthand experience of the routine of the peasant: shepherding, planting and harvesting of crops, and everyday farm chores. After allowing him a short stint of schooling, Restif's father sent him to nearby Auxerre, a sizable town, to learn the craft of printing. He remained a printer, eventually becoming a foreman, until 1767 when his first book was published. The remainder of his life as a novelist and moralist involved him in the intellectual world. Thus Restif was no man of leisure.

In the French utopian tradition, the ideal of the Age of Gold was set against the reality of unending toil. An Edenic, pastoral image where nature's easy bounty made labor minimal enough to be untiring had haunted the French imagination since the seventeenth century. Fénelon's Bétique , one of the two major utopias in Les Aventures de Télémaque , revivified the dream of the Age of Gold and was one of the most popular books of the eighteenth century. In Bétique , wine flowed in the rivers and a benign, cornucopial nature protected man from the necessity of work. Still, for Fénelon work was hardly a blessing, and a mystical life . . .

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