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The Redivision of Space in 19th Century Paris

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"Command over space, as every general and geopolititian knows, is of the utmost strategic significance in any power struggle . . . This value is at the root of land rent" (Harvey 22).

Horizontal and Vertical Separation:

In eighteenth century Paris, "inequality began in relation to space" (Roche 100). The northwest quadrant of Paris was generally inhabited by the wealthy, and the northeast by the proletariat. In addition, though people of different classes often lived together in the same building, there were clear advantages to being wealthy: poorer families lived on higher floors, with many more people in each room. In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Thenardier accuses Jean Valjean:

"You have wadded overcoats like archbishops, you live on the first floor in houses with a porter, you eat truffles..." - Les Miserables, Marius, Book VIII, ch. 20
Thus the classes were not only divided horizontally, but vertically as well. The image to the right illustrates this point. It appeared in 1845 in a Parisian newspaper, and is a cross section of a typical apartment. On the ground floor, servants are going about their work and an elderly couple are dancing to music played on a piano by a young girl. On the first floor, two aristocrats lounge in the lap of luxury. One should note the balcony on this level as well, which was characteristic of the buidligns designed in the 1820's buiding boom. On the second floor, a middle bourgeoisie family lives comfortably, if a bit crowded. On the third floor, the rooms are smaller. In the room on the left, a man appears to be being evicted. In the room on the right, a less wealthy elderly couple entertain themselves with a small dog. The fourth floor is divided into three rooms. In the leftmost, two bohemians are celebrating. Next door, a young man sits, with an umbrella to protect himself from leaks in the ceiling. In the far right room live a poor man and woman with three hungry children. A staircase going through the whole building also shows a progression of wealth, with only a cat walking up the last flight.

1820's Building Boom:

Economically based separation of the classes was a trend which continued into the nineteenth century. In 1820, a building boom swept through the city. It was encouraged by private enterprise and land speculation, as well as government regulations on such issues as street width, the presence of gas lamps, and increased use of pavement. Inhabitants of the older apartments, mostly petty bourgeoisie and lower class workers, were driven out of their homes by rising rents. Real estate value increased as businesses began to move into the first floor of newer buildings, and dilapidated appartments were destroyed to make room for the improvements which Paris is famous for today.


Space in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

"[Marius'] hunger increased. He knew her name, her first name at least, the charming name, the real name of a woman; he knew where she lived; he desired to know who she was.
One night after he had followed them home, and seen them disappear at the porte-cochère, he entered after them, and said boldly to the porter:-
"Is it the gentleman of the first floor who has just come in?"
"No," answered the porter. "It is the gentleman on the third."
Another fact. This success made Marius still bolder.
"In front?" he asked.
"Faith!" said the porter, "the house is only built on the street."
"And what is this gentleman?"
"He lives on his income, monsieur. A very kind man, who does a great deal of good among the poor, though not rich"
(Les Miserables, Marius, Book VI, ch. 9).


This short passage is rife with examples of the division of space in Paris. For example, when Marius desires to know more about Cosette, he first asks what floor she lives on. The fact that Cosette and Valjean live in a new apartment tells us that the two are probably of the bourgeoisie class, while the information that they live on the third floor narrows the field to lower middle bourgeoisie. This deduction is confirmed by the Porter's response, "A very kind man, who does a great deal of good among the poor, though not rich."

Haussmannization of Paris:

In 1860's Baron Haussmann, a member of the bourgeoisie, was hired by Napoleon III to rebuild Paris. In the words of Historian Gordon Wright, "Haussmann's face-lifting of the city destroyed large areas of mixed housing and replaced them with new apartment houses far too expensive for the workers. A general exodus toward the suburbs followed; the heart of Paris, largely bourgeois henceforth, was to be surrounded by a largely proletarian red belt" (Wright 164).Haussmann's renovation was the final step towards the bourgeoisification of Paris, and assured the contiunued dominance of that class.

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