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The Classe Populaire in Revolutionary France and Revolutionary Literature

The Fact and Fiction of The Sans-Culottes:

A British Caricature of The Working Man's Sans-Culotte
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 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.

The savage depiction of the sans-culotte in this image, correlates to the popular opinions of the time. The working-classes are 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-classes. Since the sans-culotte were associated with the working-man, the caricature portrays the working classes and the militant sans-culottes as one in the same.

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-culotte movement, was due to their way of life. Most urban poor lived in the outskirts of the city, or the faubourges. They lived amongst sewage and had scraps to eat. Much of French high society pictured these wretches just as the cartoon does, dirty, poor, violent savages.


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Dangerous Lower Class Paris Proper Lady