Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914

Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914

Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914

Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914

Excerpt

In 1948, under the arcades of the Odéon Theater, where in those days one could pick up remaindered books for a few francs (or read them on the spot, standing up for hours on end), I bought a copy of Roger Thabault Mon village. The book, now much the worse for wear, is still with me. It was my first intimation (I only read André Siegfried's great dissertation later) that a profound sea-change had taken place in Thabault's little village of Mazières, in the Gâtinais, and in many other villages of the French countryside during the period that his pages covered--1848-1914--and that this change was more than political history as I knew it, though it intertwined with political history.

Thabault traced the evolution of a commune--bourg, villages, hamlets, scattered farms--a commune in which life had followed the same pattern since long before the Revolution and changed only, but then radically, in the half- century before 1914. Material conditions, mentalities, political awareness, all underwent massive alterations, a sort of precipitation process wholly different from the rather gradual evolutions or sporadic changes that accumulate to make what we describe as a period of history. Historical change rushing in headlong carried Mazières not from one historical period to another, but into a new age of mankind--an altogether different form of civilization.

It was all very interesting, but I was then concerned with other things. The story Thabault told colored my view of French history but did not really change it. The history I thought and taught and wrote about went on chiefly in cities; the countryside and the little towns were a mere appendage of that history, following, echoing, or simply standing by to watch what was going on, but scarcely relevant on their own account.

Twenty years later I discovered another book that described in its own way the same profound sea-change. I really do not know how I came by it, for this one was not a historian's work either. Written by a folklorist, Civilisation traditionnelle et genres de vie was almost contemporary to Mon village. On quite . . .

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