Revolutionary Histrionics: Violence and the Creation of Bourgeois Masculinity in Post-Napoleonic France, 1815–1848

TitleRevolutionary Histrionics: Violence and the Creation of Bourgeois Masculinity in Post-Napoleonic France, 1815–1848
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsIrwin, Dana Drew
Number of Pages284
UniversityEmory University

A standard image of nineteenth-century bourgeois men consists of a coldly rational business man in a black suit. The emphasis on the faculty of reason, formulated by Enlightenment philosophers, however, shrouds the aggression contained within the definitions of maleness. Becoming a man required displays of bravado, often embodied in actions such as duels, fistfights, or brawls. This ideology of gender drew upon the aggressiveness of the warrior and the introspective interiority of the priest. This vision of man, which was elaborated by elites in Europe in the nineteenth century, stressed both the rational mind and the "natural" affinity for violence men possess. The army no longer provided the privileged space for the attainment of masculinity for young men after Napoleon's defeat, and these young men experienced alienation and uncertainty because of the lack of a culturally defined path to manhood. They became devoted members of the political opposition and sought distinction from their cohorts through acts of brutal passion. The goal of those professing this type of masculinity, which became the dominant conception of the male gender system by the end of the nineteenth century, was to constrain aggressive sets of traits in order to create a nation of rational and non-combative citizens. This definition of masculine violence would have severe social, political and cultural ramifications for the rest of the nineteenth century. Women became mere victims and only perpetrators of hostile behavior when they had devolved into madness or become overly masculine by abandoning the hearth and home. The beginning of academic disciplines in the 1820's gave "scientific" weight to these assumptions, while cultural products, including novels, artwork and plays, reinforced these notions. The French colonial enterprise in Algeria after 1830 became a crucial laboratory for French men to understand their masculinity and to profess their dominance over native Algerians. The dream of a utopian society that was supposed to be ushered in with the Revolution of 1848 failed because of conflicting visions of violence, and the fear that workers would be unable to constrain their thirst for bloodshed and destroy the nation.

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