Mapping Paris

Changing Ideals in the City of Paris

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Changes in the city of Paris during the 19th century greatly reflect the changing ideals of the times. Seen in the streets of Paris, its monuments and its institutions, these changes reflect both the political and cultural move from the ideals of the conservative aristocratic Paris of 1789 to a modern bourgeoisie city .

Politically, Paris during the revolution was like a fishing boat caught in the middle of a hurricane. Tossed from side to side, from monarchy, to empire, to republic and back again, the revolution was a time of chaos and uncertainty. Victor Hugo himself reflects much of this political uncertainty in his Les Miserables character of Marius who is raised a royalist, becomes a Bonapartist upon his father's death, and is then converted by his friends of the ABC to follow the path of democratic republicanism. This chaos and uncertainty manifested itself physically within the city as well -- through its squares, monuments, and streets. As the ideals and opinions of the people changed so too did the physical markers of Paris. This idea serves for the cultural side of Paris as well.

During the course of the revolution many conservative institutions were forced to give way to those of more modern ideals -- ideals that were as contradictory and chaotic as the politics of the time. On one side was the general revelry in anything new and improved by technology. Another side showed the turning away from the material world by such people as the bohemians; and a third side showed those who embraced this new material culture. Overall, Parisian culture by the time of Victor Hugo was a hodgepodge of conflicting ideals which can be seen both in his book Les Mis and in street and cultural maps of the time.

Delacroix, Eugene, Liberty Leading the People, 1830 Oil on canvas, 102 1/4 x 128 in. (260 x 325 cm) Musee du Louvre, Paris

Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" painted in 1830 reflects many of the ideals of the revolution, both political and cultural. One can literally see the chaos and confusion of the revolution in action, led by the guiding, flag waving figure of Liberty. Except for the Aristocracy, all the major classes of Paris are represented: the bourgeoisie, the workers, the women, and the gamine. In the background of the picture is seen the Towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a sight all Parisians would have recognized.


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