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Public Drinking and Popular Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Public Drinking and Popular Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Public Drinking and Popular Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris
    Book Description:

    Adding a new dimension to the history of mentalites and the study of popular culture, Thomas Brennan reinterprets the culture of the laboring classes in old-regime Paris through the rituals of public drinking in neighborhood taverns. He challenges the conventional depiction of lower-class debauchery and offers a reassessment of popular sociability. Using the records of the Parisian police, he lets the common people describe their own behavior and beliefs. Their testimony places the tavern at the center of working men's social existence.

    Central to the study is the clash of elite and popular culture as it was articulated in the different attitudes to taverns. The elites saw in taverns the indiscipline and exuberance that they condemned in popular culture. Popular testimony presented public drinking in very different terms. The elaborate rituals surrounding public drinking, its prevalence in popular sociability and recreation, all point to the importance of drink as a medium of social exchange rather than a drugged escape from misery, and to the tavern as a focal point for men's communities. Professor Brennan has elucidated the logic of both elite and popular systems of meaning and found new dignity and coherence in the culture and values of the populace.

    Originally published in 1988.

    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: 978-1-4008-5918-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-19)

    “Disreputable cabarets, otherwise called taverns. You will not go there delicate reader, I will go for you. You will only see the place in description and that will spare you some disagreeable sensations. This is the receptacle of the dregs of the populace.”¹ Thus the essayist Louis-Sébastien Mercier, in hisTableau de Pariswritten shortly before the Revolution, introduced his eighteenth-century audience to Parisian taverns. His description is doubly appropriate today. In the first place, the taverns of old-regime Paris now lie beyond the reach of the modern reader; we too will go only vicariously. The culture and behavior of...

  7. One. Honor and Public Violence
    (pp. 20-75)

    Violence and crime have characterized the taverns and tavern patrons of eighteenth-century Paris in descriptions of the institution from the old regime to the present. “If a brawl erupts from the effects of adulterated wine fists fly together; the guard comes running, for without it thesecanaillewho had been dancing would kill each other to the sound of a violin. The populace, accustomed to this guard, needs it to be controlled and relies on the guard to end the frequent fights that break out in cabarets.”¹ Thus Mercier, in one of his few descriptions of tavern comportment, captured the...

  8. Two. The Purveyance of Drink
    (pp. 76-134)

    It is a bit incongruous that the mayhem and passions just recounted took place in the spartan shops of simple businessmen. The tavernkeeper was, after all, a retail merchant attempting to make a living purveying food and drink. He could not have welcomed the disorder that attended his business, yet must have recognized that he was selling more than just comestibles. By selling space to their customers, taverns provided an arena in which patrons could pursue their disputes, their friendships, and much else. Customers came for both the drink and the space, and to understand the institution we have to...

  9. Three. Customers and Their Leisure
    (pp. 135-186)

    Taverns performed an important social function above and beyond their provisioning role. By providing customers with a place to drink, they created an arena to be appropriated by the populace for its social and communal needs. For public drinking was fundamentally a social act, bringing men and occasionally women together for recreation and association. By giving structure to the popular uses of leisure, to public comportment and sociability, public drinking teaches us about the nature of urban communities and of popular culture. The social significance of taverns depends, as a consequence, on who their customers were and the manner in...

  10. Four. Drinking and Drunkenness
    (pp. 187-227)

    Public drinking brought men together for leisure, recreation, business, or idleness and contributed to the formation of their social bonds. But public drinking also caused alarm, as the elites became apprehensive about the excesses of drink, and this attitude has characterized studies of popular culture in the old regime since then. Drink often serves as a barometer of the health of an individual, class, or society. Widespread drunkenness tends to be seen as an indication of a deeper social malaise that is causing alcoholic excess. Thus historians speak of alcohol as a drug, of drunkenness as solace or oblivion from...

  11. Five. The Ties of Sociability
    (pp. 228-268)

    In the fall of 1771 a woman named Brisset appeared before the commissaire of police in her quarter of Paris to demand a separation from her husband, a café owner.¹ Her husband, it seems, was debauched and a libertine. He ran after women and wasted his time in taverns and his wealth in card games with his friends. The woman was filing the complaint to protect her share of their wealth, the part that she had brought as a dowry, from the rapacity and waste of her husband’s activities. Thus she requested a séparation des biens, a separation of wealth,...

  12. Six. The Police of Public Places
    (pp. 269-310)

    Throughout this study, the police’s hostility to taverns has been contrasted with the evidence for the social conduct of tavern patrons. Although much of the evidence is drawn from police records, and at times refers to the flagrant violation of police regulations, it nevertheless portrays the basic dignity of popular culture. The dichotomy is worth pursuing for it raises basic questions about the reality of the tavern’s social role. It also offers an interesting exercise in the interpretation of elite evidence about popular culture. For the accessibility of their records and the coherence of their vision make the police particularly...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 311-314)

    Taverns were many things to many people, but dismissing them as marginal to Parisian society is not an adequate assessment of the role they played. They might have been suspicious in the eyes of the police and debauched in the eyes of moralists, and some taverns unquestionably lived up to these indictments. The fact remains that thousands of Parisians, many insisting on theirhonnêteté,can be found in the judicial archives describing their use of taverns in terms that suggest neither criminality nor debauchery. Clearly the moralists had missed something, and historians have been largely guilty of following their lead....

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 315-316)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 317-328)
  16. Index
    (pp. 329-333)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 334-334)