The Bon Marche

The Bon Marche: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store, 1869-1920

Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    The Bon Marche
    Book Description:

    In this comprehensive social history of the Bon Marche, the Parisian department store that was the largest in the world before 1914, Michael Miller explores the bourgeois identities, ambitions, and anxieties that the new emporia so vividly dramatized. Through an original interpretation of paternalism, public images, and family-firm relationships, he shows how this new business enterprise succeeded in reconciling traditional values with the coming of an age of mass consumption and bureaucracy.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5611-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    The Parisian department store of the late nineteenth century stood as a monument to the bourgeois culture that built it, sustained it, marvelled at it, found its image in it. In its inspiration it captured that culture’s entrepreneurial drive to master and organize the material world to its advantage. In its architecture it brought together the culture’s commitment to functionalize its environment and the culture’s irrepressible need to secure solidity and respectability for its works. In its values it flaunted the culture’s identification with appearances and material possessions, reaffirmed the culture’s dedication to productivity, personified the culture’s pretensions to an...

  6. Part One:: Revolution in Retailing
      (pp. 19-47)

      In the late Parisian summer of 1869 several men, and one woman, gathered near the junction of the sixth and seventh arrondissements to witness the laying of a cornerstone. It is unlikely they had come a great distance that particularly warm day, since many Parisians, including the well-to-do, still lived in or near their shops, workshops, or offices. Yet if some had come a certain distance, even from the opposite right bank, their journey could not have been a difficult one. No longer was Paris an impassable maze of streets and alleyways, too narrow to accommodate the traffic of a...

      (pp. 48-72)

      If we wish to regard the Bon Marché as standing at a crossroads of bourgeois culture, we must first see in what directions the conceptual signposts were pointing. The concepts—mass society, bureaucratization, rationalization—need to be made tangible, to be translated into the workings of thegrand magasinthat the Bon Marché had now become. In what way was the Bon Marché a mass marketplace? How did the machiné work? How was the strategy of mass retailing converted into the structure of a rationalized operation? The answers to these questions may be found by looking first at the merchandise...

  7. Part Two: Internal Relations
      (pp. 75-129)

      Few stereotypes are as evocative of nineteenth-century French bourgeois culture as the French bourgeois family, bastion of respectability, bearer of status, instrument of social exchange and ambitions. It was through family values, allegiances, and relationships that the bourgeois engaged in and found meaning in his daily milieu. The family was a veritable institution, the ultimate arbiter of success or failure. It stood at the very center of the nineteenth-century frame of mind, and as such it penetrated another institution equally a foundation of nineteenth-century bourgeois society—the French business house.

      Traditionally the two were inextricably intertwined in that rudimentary form...

      (pp. 130-162)

      The two and a half decades following Madame Boucicaut’s death witnessed little change in the relationships that the Boucicauts had established at the Bon Marché. Directors saw little reason to tamper with an associational frame so suitable to a bureaucratic context. But the very sameness of these years was in itself significant, pointing to the persistence of household relationships in a period of increasing managerial control. In the directors we can see not only a reflection of a managerial revolution that was coming to pass in the French business world, but also a reflection of how bourgeois France was to...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. Part Three: Public Relations
      (pp. 165-189)

      Among those phrases so readily associated with the new department stores, and so loosely turned to as though their very mention was sufficient to raise the tone of the discussion to a plane of significance, was the “democratization of luxury.” The term itself is a superficial one, and in some ways misleading. Although mass retailing gave way to stores expressly directed at a lower-class clientele, the principal firms like the Bon Marché remained middle-class institutions. The bourgeoisie more so than the working classes were the chief beneficiaries of the revolution in marketing before the First World War.

      But “democratized luxury,”...

      (pp. 190-230)

      For Zola the great success of thegrands magasins,their seduction of the middle-class masses, and their turning of consumption into a way of life were all part of the poetry of modern activity. He too was dazzled by the new emporia, and he wrote most powerfully of the spectacle of their displays and the flow of their crowds, reflecting constantly a personal fascination with the size and scope of their vast operations. yet the portrait that emerged inAu bonheur des damesencompassed another, less alluring, side to the department store world. To the store’s fashionable shoppers was added...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-240)

    As one might expect, time and events eventually took their toll of the system erected by the Boucicauts and followed so religiously by their successors. Already by the end of the prewar period the desire for greater share liquidity was a majority sentiment, and once Narcisse Fillot had departed from the directorship, carrying with him his immense personal and traditional authority, the special assembly gave its assent to open share sales.¹ Then the war came, bringing with it four years of duress and strains that led to a radicalization of commercial employees as well as of workers. So once again,...

    (pp. 241-244)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-258)
  12. Index
    (pp. 259-266)