Th Working Class in Revolutionary France
The Fact and Fiction of The Sans-Culottes:
A British Caricature of The Working Man's Sans-Culotte



1830 / 1832


Works Cited


 The above caricature was taken from a 1792 British cartoon, published immediately after the September Massacres in Paris.  

The picture is found in Gywnne Lewis' Life in Revolutionary France on page 39.

"Savage. What was the aim of those bristling men who in . . . revolutionary chaos, ragged, howling, wild, with tomahawk raised, and pike aloft, rushed over old over-turned Paris? They desired the end of oppressions, the end of tyrannies, the end of the sword, labour for man, instruction for children, social gentleness for woman, liberty, equality, fraternity, bread for all, ideas for all."

--Les Miserables, Saint Denis, Book V

As the passage from Hugo illustrates, the working class was perceived as savage. However, as Hugo points out, they were not savage, but seekers of "liberty, equality, fraternity, bread for all, ideas for all." This caricature displays how outsiders, such as the English or the bourgeoisie viewed the lower class when the workers participated in revolutionary politics and the sans-culottes movement.
The Effects of The September Massacre on Perceptions of Sans-culottes
The savage depiction of the sans-culotte in this image, correlates to the popular opinions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The working class is depicted as violent, uncivilized predators. The caricature followed the September Massacre, a massacre of a group of priests being transferred from prison. During the massacre, three bishops and over two hundred priests were murdered. The British obviously viewed these cruel murders as an act of savagery from the revolutionary French lower class. Since the sans-culotte were associated with the working-man, the caricature portrays the working class and the militant sans-culottes as one in the same.
French Society's Opinions of the Urban Poor:
The cartoon not only relates to the September Massacre, but also to the opinions french society had of the urban poor. The classe populaire were often thought of as uncivilized and disgusting, just as the sans-culotte appear in the British cartoon. The stereotype of the french lower class, which made up a large percentage of the sans-culottes movement, was due to their way of life. Most urban poor lived in the outskirts of the city, or the faubourges. They lived among sewage and had scraps to eat. Much of French high society pictured these wretches just as the cartoon does as dirty, poor, violent savages.
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