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Dining out : bourgeois anxiety in nineteenth century Paris Black, Rachel Eden


At the end of the nineteenth century, middle-class social life in Paris underwent drastic changes. Restaurant life, gastronomic literature and literary dinners during this period offer an interesting social and cultural discourse on middle-class social life. Restaurants were unique environments, where private and public lives mingled. By studying eating habits and the spaces in which people preferred to both eat and socialize, it is possible to learn more about middle-class identity. Brillat-Savarin's aphorism, "tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are," rings true in the case of the Parisian bourgeoisie during the nineteenth century. Consequently, dining out can provide a window onto social changes that are difficult to discern using textual sources or conventional historiographical approaches. This paper focuses on the period of 1848 to 1888. The close of the century compounded both the excitement and the uncertainty of modern life. These sentiments were expressed in a multitude of ways: from daily life in the quartiers of Paris to high art in the salons. The restaurant Chez Brebant, located in Montmartre, serves as a specific case study. In conjunction, the gastronomic writings of Charles Monselet (1825-1888) help to further illuminate the middle-class perspective of changing sociability and eating habits during this period. Beginning with a brief history of the restaurant in Paris, this paper follows the rise and fall of the middle-class restaurant as an important place for bourgeois social life. The second chapter deals with the affects of Haussmannization and mass culture on bourgeois group identity. In conclusion, the third chapter looks at the resistance to change that was expressed by gastronomic literature and bourgeois hommes de lettres at the end Second Empire. Dining out offers insight into how the democratization of taste affected the bourgeoisie as a group. The modernization of city-life was a central cause of anxiety. This study attempts to offer new insights into the complexity of the daily lives of the Parisian bourgeoisie during a period of rapid change.

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