Skip to main content

“To Triumph before Feminine Taste”: Bourgeois Women's Consumption and Hand Methods of Production in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Paris

  • Whitney Walton (a1)

In this article Professor Walton examines the influence of bourgeois women on industrial production in nineteenth-century Paris. She argues that women, as arbiters of taste and consumers for the family, sought art and originality in manufactured goods, and that their demands in turn fostered handicraft and less skilled hand methods of manufacturing as the best means of providing such goods. By establishing the connections between women's roles and bourgeois demand, and between bourgeois demand and hand manufacturing, this study offers a new perspective on the persistence of hand production in France.

Hide All

1 Audiganne, Armand, La Lutte industrielle des peuples (Paris, 1868), 187, 186.

2 The lack of attention to feminine consumption is all the more surprising, given that the economist Thorstein Veblen analyzed its significance as early as 1899. Veblen, Thorstein, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions (New York, 1899), esp. 8085.

3 Gilboy, Elizabeth Waterman, “Demand as a Factor in the Industrial Revolution,” in Facts and Factors in Economic History: Articles by Former Students of Edwin Francis Cay (Cambridge, Mass., 1932).

4 McKendrick, Neil,“Home Demand and Economic Growth: A New View of the Role of Women and Children in the Industrial Revolution,” in Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society, ed. McKendrick, Neil (London, 1974), 152210. Also by McKendrick and relevant to the subject of consumption is his “Commercialization and the Economy” and “Commercialization of Fashion,” in McKendrick, Neil, Brewer, John, and Plumb, J. H., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Bloomington, Ind., 1982), 9194.

5 O'Brien, Patrick and Keyder, Caglar, Economic Growth in Britain and France, 1780–1914: Two Paths to the Twentieth Century (London, 1978), 160–68, 162. See also Minchinton, Walter, “Patterns of Demand 1750–1914,” in The Industrial Revolution, 1700–1914, ed. Cipolla, Carlo M. (vol. 3 of the Fontana Economic History of Europe) (Hassocks, England, 1976), 77186.

6 Zeldin, Theodore, Taste and Corruption, vol. 4 of France, 1848–1945 (Oxford, England, 1980), 7282.

7 Williams, Rosalind H., Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley, Calif., 1982), 49–50, 108–10.

8 Welter, Barbara, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18 (1966); 151–74. Since Welter's pioneering article appeared, historians have found that the domestic ideal applied to women in France and England, as well as in the United States, in the Victorian era. The literature on feminine domesticity in Western Europe is too vast for citation here. Works particularly relevant to this study are: Smith, Bonnie G., Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, N.J., 1981); Hellerstein, Erna Olafson, Hume, Leslie Parker, and Offen, Karen M., eds., Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women's Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France, and the United States (Stanford, Calif., 1981); Darrow, Margaret H., “French Noble-women and the New Domesticity, 1750–1850,” Feminist Studies 5 (1979): 4165; Branca, Patricia, Silent Sisterhood: Middle-Class Women in the Victorian Home (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1975).

9 Hellerstein, et al., Victorian Women, 273–74; Branca, Silent Sisterhood, 6–7; Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class, 3–4; Tilly, Louise A. and Scott, Joan W., Women, Work, and Family (New York, 1978), 63.

10 Le Conseiller des Dames 1 (18471848): 194.

11 La Gazette des Femmes 3, 88 (11 fev. 1843). This passage first appeared in Flora Tristan's Promenades dans Londres, which has recently heen translated into English. See Flora Tristan's London Journal, 1840, trans. Palmer, Dennis and Pincetl, Giselle (Charlestown, Mass., 1980), 195–97. To some extent Branca's research on English women of the Victorian era confirms Tristan's observation. Branca writes: “Because the middle-class woman was given little responsibility for administering or organizing in the family, she was often considered untrustworthy.” Branca, Silent Sisterhood, 8.

12 A few examples from the feminine press of the financial control and household authority granted to bourgeois women are: It is by the active intelligence of the homemaker, by her attentive and welldirected supervision that modest fortunes are augmented, and large fortunes preserved.” Le Foyer Domestique 1 (1e juin 1850): 418; It must be understood that domestic economy means not the reduction, but the intelligent and fruitful distribution, of the household budget. The mistress of the home, like the finance minister of a great state, has capital to apportion.” Le Conseiller des Dames 1 (18471848): 98. See also Daumard, Adeline, La Bourgeoisie parisienne de 1815 à 1848 (Paris, 1963), 370–71.

13 Veuillot, L., “L'Honnête femme,” Le Correspondent 1 (1843): 234.

14 La Gazette des Femmes 3, 4 (2 nov. 1844): 15; Pariset, Mme, Nouveau manuel complet de la maîtresse de maison (Paris, 1852), 10; Le Conseiller des Dames 4 (Jan. 1851): 92; Les Modes Parisiennes 424 (22 mars 1851): 3009; Le Foyer Domestique 1 (le juin 1850): 418.

15 Janet, Paul, “La Famille,” Grand Dictionnaire universelle du XIXe siècle (Paris, 18661890), 8:75. These ideas were elaborated in Janet, Paul, La Famille (Paris, 1873).

16 France, Commission français'e sur l'lndustrie des Nations, Exposition universelle de 1851. Travaux de la Commission française sur l'lndustrie des Nations (Paris, 1855), 7:523.

17 Flaubert, Gustave, Madame Bovary, trans. Marx-Aveling, Eleanor ([1857]; New York, 1930), 74.

18 Daumard, Bourgeoisie, 362–63, 366.

19 Faucon, Emma, Voyage d'une jeune fille autour de sa chambre. Nouvelle morale et instructive (Paris, 1860), 2223.

20 T. J. Markovitch calculates that nearly 60 percent of all French industrial production as late as 1860 was handicraft in nature, occurring in homes or small workshops where artisan manufacturers worked alongside fewer than ten employees. T. J. Markovitch, “Le revenu industriel et artisanal sous la Monarchie de Juillet et le Second Empire,” Economies et sociétés série AF-8 (avril 1967): 85–86.

21 Aminzade, Ronald, Class, Politics and Early Industrial Capitalism: A Study of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Toulouse, France (Albany, N.Y., 1981); Hanagan, Michael P., The Logic of Solidarity: Artisans and Industrial Workers in Three French Towns, 1871–1914 (Urbana, Ill., 1980); Sewell, William H. Jr,Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848 (New York, 1980); Merriman, John M., ed., Consciousness and Class Experience in Nineteenth-Century Europe (New York, 1979); Johnson, Christopher H., “Economic Change and Artisan Discontent: The Tailors' History, 1800–1848,” in Revolution and Reaction: 1848 and the Second French Republic, ed. Price, Roger (London, 1975), 87114. A rather different approach to the issue of proletarianization is Reddy, William M., The Rise of Market Culture: The Textile Trade and French Society, 1750–1900 (New York, 1984).

22 The literature on this subject is vast and covers about three decades of contributions and debate. For a critical review, see Roehl, Richard, “French Industrialization: A Reconsideration,” Explorations in Economic History 13 (1976): 233–81.

23 Lévy-Leboyer, Maurice, Les banques européennes et l'industrialisation Internationale dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle (Paris, 1964), 74ff.; O'Brien and Keyder, Economic Growth, 160–68; Sewell, Work and Revolution, 151–54.

24 Pariset, Nouveau manuel, 15, 18; Les Modes Parisiennes 424 (22 mars 1851): 3010; Le Conseiller des Dames 2 (18481849): 68; Archives départementales de la Seine, D 4U1 91, 171, 172. Jugements, le arrondissement, 1831 and 1851. Minutier Central, Inventaires après décès, XLIV 917, 918, 919 (1830) and XXIX 1128, 1129, 1130, 1131, 1133 (1850). Daumard also finds that Parisian bourgeois households were almost uniformly furnished with mahogany pieces. Daumard, Bourgeoisie, 136; Paris, Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie, Statistique de l'Industrie à Paris 1847–1848 (Paris, 1851), 107; L'Illustration 3, 65 (25 mai 1844): 202.

25 La Gazette des Salons 62 (7 nov. 1838): 984; Le Conseiller des Dames et Demoiselles 6 (sept. 1853): 348–49; Le Musée des Families 19 (oct. 1851): 31.

26 Paris, Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie. Letter to Prefect of the Seine, 6 avril 1850, in Correspondence, 9 avril 1846 au 18 juin 1850, 249.

27 Le Foyer Domestique 1 (1e juin 1850): 421. See also Le Conseiller des Dames 3 (mai 1850): 220 and (juin 1850): 250.

28 France, Commission française, Exposition, 7:7.

29 Weissbach, Lee Shai, “Artisanal Responses to Artistic Decline: The Cabinetmakers of Paris in the Era of Industrialization,” Journal of Social History 16 (1982): 6781.

30 France, Commission française, Exposition, 7:7; La Gazette des Salons 31 (10 juin 1838): 505.

31 France, Commission française, Exposition, 7:13–14.

32 Ibid., 6:124; Bouilhet, Henry, L'Orfèvrerie française aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Paris, 1910), 243; La Gazette des Femmes, 4, 21 (le mars 1845): 16. If consumers needed further proof of the tastefulness of electromagnetically metal-plated goods, surely the cachet of Empress Eugenie was sufficient: she commissioned an entire table service of silver plate using the electromagnetic process. The Second Empire, 1852–1870: Art in France under Napoleon III (Philadelphia, Pa., 1978), 12.

33 Vanier, Henriette, La Mode et ses métiers: Frivolités et luttes des classes 1830–1870 (Paris, 1960); Johnson, “Economic Change”; Christopher H. Johnson, “Patterns of Proletarianization: Parisian Tailors and Lodeve Woolens Workers,” in Merrinian, Consciousness and Class Experience, 65–84; Perrot, Philippe, Les Dessus et les dessous de la bourgeoisie (Paris, 1981).

34 Le Petit Messager des Modes 2, 13 (1e juillet 1843); 97.

35 La Gazette des Femmes 3, 4 (2 nov. 1844): 15.

36 Paris, Chambre de Commerce, Statistique 1847–48, 38, 39.

37 Ibid., 39, 38.

38 Paris, Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie, Statistique de l'industrie à Paris de l'enquête faite par la Chambre de Commerce pour l'année 1860 (Paris, 1864), xlv–xlvi.

39 Gaillard, Jeanne, Paris, la ville 1852–1870 (Paris, 1977), 380–85.

40 Roehl, “French Industrialization”; O'Brien and Keydor, Economic Growth.

41 Williams, Dream Worlds, 108–11, 9–10.

42 Flamant-Paparatti, Danielle, Bien-pensantes, cocodettes et bas-bleus: La femme bourgeoise à travers la presse féminine et familiale (1873–1887) (Paris, 1984).

43 Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class, 7. See also Branca, Silent Sisterhood, for a treatment of bourgeois women in the context of industrialization (or modernization, in Branca's terms).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Business History Review
  • ISSN: 0007-6805
  • EISSN: 2044-768X
  • URL: /core/journals/business-history-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *