Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

"The Title of Lawyer Leads Nowhere!": The "Physiology" of the Law Student in Paul Gavarni, Emile De la Bedollierre and George Sand

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

"The Title of Lawyer Leads Nowhere!": The "Physiology" of the Law Student in Paul Gavarni, Emile De la Bedollierre and George Sand

Article excerpt

   Un jeune homme sort du college. Il a passe son examen de bachelier
   es lettres, apres avoir fait ce qu'on appelle ses etudes;
   c'est-a-dire que dix ans de travaux l'ont rendu capable
   d'expliquer, a l'aide de bons dictionnaires, Virgile et les fables
   d'Esope. Son pere et sa mere [...] deliberent sur la destinee
   ulterieure de leur fils unique. "Il faut qu'il fasse son droit
   [...]: le titre d'avocat mene a tout."

So begins one of the most widely circulated portraits of the law student in the 1840s. Jointly sketched by Emile Gigaut de la Bedollierre and Paul Gavarni, published in 1840 in Les Francais peints par eux-memes, the portrait served as a catalyst for George Sand's novel Horace. Gavarni, La Bedollierre and Sand offer a rich and varied range of images of the law student during the July Monarchy. Though a literary cliche, the "type" accurately reflects the historical appeal of law among the educated elites as well as contemporary concern over the role of education and the overcrowding of the legal profession during the July Monarchy. Yet, the three authors maintain an ironic distance from their student portraits that makes the reader part of the satire. The same expansion of liberal education that led to the proliferation of students also created a male readership that could see itself in these critical ),et sympathetic portraits. I argue that, owing to a crisis in education and in employment in the mid-1830s that heightened the awareness of the type and focused social anxieties surrounding social mobility, as I will begin by briefly outlining, the type of the law student develops into a pervasive and enduring cultural topos. The type's effectiveness depends however less on its ability to make an historical situation legible than on its playful appeal to the reader's connivance.

In the 1830s and 40s, more students prepared for law degrees than any other profession, and they enrolled in Parisian rather than provincial law schools. The number of law students in the capital reached a peak in 1830-35, with a lesser reprise in 1845-46 (Caron 45). Historian Jean-Claude Caron suggests that high enrollment at the beginning of the July Monarchy indicated the hope young men and their parents placed in the new liberal society and its increased opportunities for social mobility (45, 108). A degree in law was perceived as a springboard to a career in public service or in politics (Caron 103). The appeal of legal studies among the provincial elites and the centralization of students in Paris lead to widespread concern over the overcrowding of the liberal professions, the glut of students on the job market and the ensuing declassement of the underemployed. (1) Honore de Balzac captures anxieties over student underemployment at the beginning of Melmoth reconcilie (1835) when he describes the government's conscription of the best minds, only to turn them out as subalterns.

The excess of underemployed educated men in Paris in the 1830s also fueled anxiety over the potential threat of student activism. (2) Indeed, radicalized republican students participated in many uprisings during the July Monarchy, notably the insurrection of June 1832, which is discussed in the novels of Victor Hugo and George Sand. The majority of the student body, though, remained faithful to their bourgeois values, especially after 1835. The appeal of legal studies among young men originating from the provinces, the overcrowding of law schools in Paris and the underemployment of jurists were thus historical realities, but the alarm these facts aroused in the early years of the July Monarchy later subsided and enrollments declined after 1835.

Paradoxically, it was then that the type of the law student, both as a visual caricature and a literary cliche, pervaded popular culture, in the satiric social sketches of La Caricature and Le Charivari, the upscale but mainstream "encyclopedia" Les Francais peints par eux-memes, the more socially engaged Le Diable a Paris as well as cheap, popular handbooks known as "physiologies" such as Louis Huart's Physiologie de l'etudiant (1841)--not to mention Balzac's Le Pere Goriot (1835). …

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