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Books in English about France in the Nineteenth Century

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

When I read La France à la Belle Epoque by Michel Winock, some of you regretted that this book wasn’t translated into English.

When I read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, that wonderful book about everyday life in the nineteenth century England, I said I’d like to read one about France. As I’m rather persistent when I want something –some might even say stubborn– I dropped by the Musée Carnavalet in Paris in order to check the books they could have about everyday life in France in the nineteenth century. It turns out that I didn’t find anything interesting in French but I discovered three books in English you might want to investigate:

– The Pride of Place. Local memories and political culture in nineteenth century France by Stéphane GersonThis one seemed interesting as it develops everything about politics and as the 19thC was a troubled period in our history, it could be useful.

– The World of the Paris Café. Sociability Among the French Working Class. 1789-1914 by W. Scott Haine. I browsed through this one and it takes cafés as a pretext to explain French way of living. I might be worth reading too.

– To Be a Citizen. The Political Culture of the Early French Third Republic by James R Lehning. This one overlaps with the Winock I’ve read. I saw chapters about the role of teachers and school in transforming any child into a French citizen. I mentioned it in my review here.

I checked out, they’re all available on Amazon. Of course, I haven’t read them, so I can’t be sure they’re good. But I think you’re all grown up and perfectly able to decide whether you want to read a book or not.



  1. January 20, 2012 at 1:30 am

    I suppose the most recent big book in this genre was Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France, which combines his own bicycle tour with a lot of regional history and detail.

    The New York Times had an excerpt that was so strange it makes me wonder about the book (some stuff about peasants hibernating), but people mostly seem to like it a lot.


    • January 20, 2012 at 9:40 am

      Hello Tom,

      I wonder why your comment was in the spam box.
      I haven’t heard of that book and I didn’t see it in the museum bookstore. (never heard of peasant hibernating either)


      • January 20, 2012 at 7:44 pm

        The hibernating peasants are an authentic detail found in the published writings of a 19th century Parisian traveler to the French Alps.

        The NYT excerpt made it sound as if Robb believed the traveler’s fanciful account. But Robb probably knows how to use evidence better than that (he’s written biographies of Hugo, Balzac, and Rimbaud).

        The book is in French now (Une histoire buissonnière de la France). Worth thumbing through at the bookstore, at least.


        • January 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm

          Thanks for the explanation.
          I’ll look for it and you just gave me a great idea for a birthday gift.


        • leroyhunter
          January 20, 2012 at 11:06 pm

          Robb’s Rimbaud biography is well worth anyone’s time. Have you read it Tom?


          • January 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm

            I have only read articles (long book reviews) by Robb. Always good – knowledgeable, clearly written.


  2. January 20, 2012 at 5:59 am

    I think the Winock book sounds the best of these – although I’m more likely to browse Wikipedia (or the net in general) to find information than read a non-fiction book.

    In fact, I’d probably be a lot more likely to read some fiction instead 🙂


    • January 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

      The Winock is excellent, it’s full of literary references and the language isn’t difficult. It’s made of short chapters, so it’s easy to read.

      I’m not a great reader of non-fiction but these kind of books are great to put together all the pieces of information you gather when you read fiction.


  3. January 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Ooh the world of the Paris cafe sounds just up my street. Plus AR reminds me that Graham Robb is an excellent commenter on French matters (if you haven’t read him, you might consider him). Plus, I could read the Michael Winnock, couldn’t I? So lots of interesting possibilities there – thank you very much!


    • January 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

      I really recommend the Winock. I have another of his books at home, Les voix de la liberté. Les écrivains engagés au XIXème siècle.
      It’s a chunker but it seems really intesting.
      I’d rather read in French if I am to read about French history.


  4. January 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    ‘The World of the Paris Café’ looks quite interesting. The period it covers is also more than a century and so I would love to read this book. Thanks for introducing us to three wonderful books, Emma. Hope you are able to find a book on everyday life in 19th century France, that you were looking for.


    • January 21, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Hi Vishy, thanks for dropping by.
      I hope you’ll like the book.


  5. January 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I really enjoyed Balzac’s Omelette by Anka Muhlstein. It gave a lot of details about the restaurants in Balzac’s novels and argued that Balzac’s choice of settings was no accident, so I’d probably like the Paris Cafe book.


    • January 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      I remember your review about Balzac’s omelette, I’d like to read it.
      It’s hard to recommend a book you haven’t read –though I’m pretty sure that some undelicate critics do it– but it seemed interesting.


  6. January 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    The Discovery of France was the one I thought of. I own it but haven’t read it yet.

    Apparently, though I can’t vouch for this, the French roleplaying game (jeu de rôle) Les Malefices has extremely good notes on 19th Century French life. It’s a historical game so the notes are there to help players understand and evoke the period. Similarly the game Te Deum Pour un Massacre apparently has remarkably good detail on life in Renaissance period France.

    These three books sound quite interesting. Will you read any of them do you think?


    • January 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      I’m afraid I know nothing about roleplaying games, sorry.

      I’m not going to read these books, I’d rather read in French in that case.

      I have Winock’s Les voix de la liberté. Les écrivains engagés au XIXème siècle. (Literally: The voices of liberty. Politically engaged writers in the 19thC) It sounds really interesting.


  1. February 4, 2012 at 1:10 am

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