Pleasures and Pastimes of the Bourgeoisie


Pre-Revolutionary Gambling
~ Pre -revolution

~Fashion in Les Mis

~Rise in Popularity
~Economic and Social Symbolism
~Representation in Les Mis

Gardens ~17th Century ~18th Century ~19th Century ~Versailles

Gambling ~Pre-Revolutionary ~Cafés & Cercles

Opéra & Theatre
~The Revolution
~Social Status
~Les Misérables

Etiquette ~Promenade ~Dances ~Dinner ~Casinos and Salons

Bibliography ~Fashion ~Etiquette ~Restaurants ~Opéra ~Picture Bibliography


Gambling in pre-revolutionary France had the reputation of being toléré mais non permis: tolerated, but not legal. Gambling, especially high-stakes gambling was a traditionally aristocratic pursuit before the revolution. Aristocrats disdained the love of money, viewed as a middle-class, or bourgeois, value.

The pre-revolutionary bourgeois view of gambling, as a result of the aristocracy's stigma of gambling, was entirely negative. The dislike of gambling "allowed those whose social status depended entirely on money to adopt a posture of moral repugnance toward its movement in purest form." (Kavanagh 57) The bourgeois' social status indeed depended entirely upon money. "It is this obsession with erasing their own shameful origins in money that explains why gambling became for the ascendant bourgeoisie a scandalous evil marked by a moral value totally unlike that given it by the traditional nobility." (Kavanagh 56) The aristocracy was dispised by the bourgeoisie, as were their social practices, such as gambling.

"The most important advantage of the denunciation of gambling for the bourgeoisie related, however, not so much to the high-stakes gambling of the aristocracy as to the equally pandemic gambling of the urban poor." (Kavanagh 57) Let us not forget that the poor also gambled, but in a less gaudy manner than the aristocracy. Again, the bourgeosie attempts to define itself via what it is not: not the poor, nor the aristocracy.

"The ennobled bourgeois, when he raised his eyes from the circulation of money, discovered that no matter what he possesed and no matter what he could purchase, he remained, precisely because he depended on money, an object of thinly disguised contempt for that segment of the nobility whose legitimacy was infinitely more obvious than his own" (Kavanagh 51) Through the pre-revolutionary era to well into the modern era, the bourgeoisie repeatedly had to prove himself better than others in society. In pre-revolutionary times, the bourgeois goal was to prove more moral than the aristocracy. After the decline of the nobility resultant from the revolution, the bourgeois desire was to prove himself better than the poor man through his conspicuous consumption, unwittingly making himself the mirror image of the aristocracy he loathed. This unconscious replication of the recently deposed aristocracy adopted the noble pastimes, including gambling.

In spite of the fact that the average gambler was now a bourgeois, and not an aristocrat, "gambling went on during and after the Revolution much the same as it had in pre-revolutionary times" (Detrell and Paulson 13)

Ladies Gambling. Anon. c. 1780

Above is yet another caricature of the world of gambling. These persons, however, belong to the aristocracy. The artist is obviously poking fun of the aristocracy, by showing noble ladies in the unfeminine act of gambling. The artist renders the nobility through costume: large skirts and large jewelery on the women, and wigs and short waistcoats on the men. The central couple is an interesting pair, as the artist has managed to give the female character a drunken air. The male has a manipulative air: he looks down upon the female, and makes "bunny ears" of her cards. To the right and left of the central figure are similar couples with the male