The Working Classes in Revolutionary France




  • 1830 / 1832

  • 1848

    Works Cited

  •  "The cafe was by all accounts the key institution of working class culture."

    (Traugott, 24)


    An illustration of the cafe Momus from La Boheme by Gianni Puccini. Although this particular cafe was frequented mainly by bohemians, similar cafes formed the conerstone of working class life.

    click here for information on the cafe in bohemian life

     Although there were various kinds of institutions that can be grouped under the general heading of cafes, such as inns, taverns, wine merchant shops, pubs, and coffee houses, for our purpose it is easier to think about what they had in common rather than what divided them.

    All cafes were in the business of serving up alcohol and good fellowship. Alcohol became much cheaper during the nineteenth century, and the working classes were able to greatly increase their alcohol intake. Because of the alcohol consumed there, cafes developed a somewhat shady reputation as they were seen as contributing to the problems that went along with increased alcohol consumption, such as gambling, womanizing, and generally squandering the families scarce resources. For reasons of reputation they were generally attended only by men, or women in the presence of a male family member.

    On the positive side, cafes were a warm, inviting place. Due to the poor conditions of working class housing at the time, they were often the only place with heat and light that a worker could go.

    They were also the only public spaces where workers could assemble in great numbers. For this reason they were the sight of all planning for labor organizations and protests, as well as working class uprisings and revolutions. They also served as an informational hub for the working classes. In addition to spreading the word about strikes and causes they would also spread the word about the theater and other public events. Usually a worker's newspaper would be read aloud for the benefit of those who were illiterate. They were closely monitored by the police in an attempt to prevent criminal activity.

    Typically the clientele of a particular cafe would consist of men of all ages united by a common regional origin, neighborhood, or occupation. Since Parisian neighborhoods at the time contained many concentrations of occupations within only a few blocks, each might have its own cafe.

    A new arrival of the working class would seek out the cafe where workers from his occupation or his region gathered. There, in exchange for news about friends and events where he was coming from he could receive tips on job openings and cheap lodging.