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The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie

The Myth of the French Bourgeoisie

An Essay on the Social Imaginary, 1750-1850

Sarah Maza

ISBN 9780674017696

Publication date: 03/15/2005

Who, exactly, were the French bourgeoisie? Unlike the Anglo-Americans, who widely embraced middle-class ideals and values, the French--even the most affluent and conservative--have always rejected and maligned bourgeois values and identity.

In this new approach to the old question of the bourgeoisie, Sarah Maza focuses on the crucial period before, during, and after the French Revolution, and offers a provocative answer: the French bourgeoisie has never existed. Despite the large numbers of respectable middling town-dwellers, no group identified themselves as bourgeois. Drawing on political and economic theory and history, personal and polemical writings, and works of fiction, Maza argues that the bourgeoisie was never the social norm. In fact, it functioned as a critical counter-norm, an imagined and threatening embodiment of materialism, self-interest, commercialism, and mass culture, which defined all that the French rejected.

A challenge to conventional wisdom about modern French history, this book poses broader questions about the role of anti-bourgeois sentiment in French culture, by suggesting parallels between the figures of the bourgeois, the Jew, and the American in the French social imaginary. It is a brilliant and timely foray into our beliefs and fantasies about the social world and our definition of a social class.


  • This is a bold work on a big topic, based on wide erudition and deep reflection. Maza's consistent focus on what she calls "the social imaginary" enables her to stride with admirable briskness through the tangled landscape of this much studied and highly controversial era of French history. While not everyone will be convinced by Maza's claim that the French bourgeoisie did not exist, this book will transform the way we think about the problem.

    —William H. Sewell, Jr., University of Chicago


  • 2003, Winner of the George L. Mosse Prize


  • Sarah Maza is Jane Long Professor of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 0-5/8 x 5-5/8 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press