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Housing during the 19th century

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As the bourgeoisie grew in power and influence, and with the building boom of the 1820s, the lines between bourgeois housing and proletariat housing became much more distinct. This was because of speculation and rising rent, which drove many workers out of the newer, nicer buildings. The effects become a clear example of the bourgeoisification of Paris.

Early Parisian Homes:


The Place de Greve, as painted by Raguenet, 1750.
This is an example of the popular housing prevalent in Paris in 1750. In these apartments, many families lived together, generally with the poorer people living on the upper levels. The picture itself is an almost nostalgic view of Parisian homes. The colors used by the artist are bright, and there are people going about their business. This was a symptom of the times: mixed housing among the different classes prevented the buildings themselves from becoming signifiers of social status. Instead, class was signified by lifestyle and living conditions. The quote below describes a lower-class family which could have been living in a building like the one shown here.
A whole family occupies a single room, with four bare walls, wretched beds without curtains, and kitchen utensils rolling around with the chamber-pots. All the furniture together is not worth twenty éues; and every three months the inhabitants change their hole, because they are chased out for failing to pay the rent. - Sebastien Mercier (as quoted in Roche, p 97)
Typical Homes for the Wealthy:
This map, from 1836, shows the wide, tree-lined boulevard, Boulevard des Capucines, which was typical of the boulevards built in the nineteenth century (pointed out by the purple arrow). Also worth noting are the structures of the city blocks (one example is shown in blue). The homes on these blocks were very different from the apartments of the past, offering the inhabitants spacious living quarters and gardens in which to entertain guests. The rent on these apartments remained high, however, and they remained in the hands of the upper classes.


1836 Map of Paris


Canella's Rue de Castiglione
The new homes which were built at this time are those for which the streets of Paris have become famous. The immeubles were long, straight blocks of single floor apartments with coordinated facades, generally with the first floor devoted to shops.
Typical Homes for the Poor
This is a photograph of the Rue Champlain, taken in 1865 by Charles Marville. It depicts the slum-like conditions suffered by the poor -petty bourgeoisie and proletariat- of Paris. Some features to be noted are the dirt roads (where almost all streets in Paris were paved) and the dilapidated buildings in the foreground. In the background, one can see the immeubles inhabited by the wealthier classes. This photograph was taken while Marville was working for Baron Haussmann, with the assignment to "photograph in such a way that Haussmann's future accomplishments could be appreciated" (Rice 86).
Homes in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
Victor Hugo's M. Gillenormand, a member of the grand bourgeois, lived in the Marias, on Rue Des Filles de Calvaire, No. 6. The following passage is a description of his home, complete with bedroom, library, boudoir, and easily accessible gardens:

"an ancient and ample apartment on the first story, between the street and the gardens, covered to the ceiling with fine Gobelin and Beauvais tapestry representing pastoral scenes; the subjects of the ceiling and the panels were repeated in miniature upon the armchairs. He surrounded his bed with a large screen with nine leaves varnished with Coromandel lac. Long, full curtains hung at the windows, and made great, magnificent broken folds. The garden, which was immediately beneath his windows, was connected with the angle between them by means of a staircase of twelve or fifteen steps, which the old man ascended and descended very blithely. In addition to a library adjoining his room, he had a boudoir which he thought very much of, a gay retreat, hung with magnificent straw-colour tapestry . . ." (Les Miserables, Marius, Book II, ch 2).

As a Bohemian, Marius lived in the Gorbeau tenement, in the southeast quadrant of Paris. He paid 30 fancs per year for use of the room. Compare the description of Marius' home with that of his grandfather, M. Gillenormand.

"a wretched little room in the Gorbeau tenement, with no fireplace, called a cabinet, in which there was no more furniture than was indispensable. The furniture was his own" (Les Miserables, Marius, Book V, ch 2).

Unlike Gillenormand, Marius has very little furniture, and does not own the single room that he lives in. Even the length of the description is telling: Hugo is able to describe Marius' room in one sentence, while it takes him a paragraph to describe Gillenormand's home.


The contrast between bourgeoisie and proletariat housing is a sign of the growing influence of the bourgeoisie. As the gap between bourgeoisie and proletariat widened, it narrowed between aristocrats and bourgeoisie. The aristocrats had lost much of their power during the early nineteenth century, leaving room for the upper tiers of the bourgeoisie to take charge.

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