Political Tourism and Non-Political Satire

Les Étrangers à Paris.

Edited by Louis Desnoyers et al. Printed by Charles Warée in Paris, 1844.

Travelling educates. Well, an all-inclusive holiday by the pool in a Robinson Club surrounded by a fence might not. But just enter a room in a small guest house in the centre of Paris and you’ll immediately feel the spirit of France around you. Yelling in the evening? Well, that’s just how the French are. But what if the supposed Frenchman is just another tourist …? Such depictions of foreigners in Paris around 1840 can be found in the book “Les Étrangers à Paris”. The work takes us back to the dramatic time of an aspiring bourgeoisie, when Paris was a powder keg that was about to explode …

In 1848 the February Revolution broke out in France and put an end to the project of a constitutional monarchy. In the Second Republic, satire works were allowed to be political again.

Revolution Is in the Air

On 24 February 1848 the powder keg blew up, France’s revolutionaries swept away the constitutional monarchy after a brief street fight. Louis-Philippe had begun his office as a liberal king supporting the bourgeoisie. But as the years went by, he had gradually adopted the style of Austria’s Prince of Metternich and marched resolutely backwards towards a restoration of the old order that had prevailed prior to the French Revolution.

In these years of conservative politics, revolution was in the air and people’s nerves were on edge. When the journalist and publisher Charles Philipon released a caricature of the king as a “pear” (the censors hadn’t noticed it) he ended up in prison after a short trial. However, the citizens loved sharp satire and mocking caricatures. For publishers it was a balancing act between creating a bestseller and ending up in jail. Until the Revolution of 1848 and the founding of the Second Republic, when it became possible again to write political satire, many journalists therefore turned to a less dangerous form of wit: social criticism of the bourgeoisie.

Paris in 1844: Petit-Bourgeois and Tourists

Obviously, contemporary readers only recognised fellow citizens in the caricatures of conformist and drab members of the bourgeoisie that lacked ideas and the backbone. Thus, the works made readers laugh and buy the publications. Cartoons and satire works flourished, numerous magazines were created such as the “Punch” in England and the “Fliegende Blätter” in Munich. And while nation states became stronger, something else emerged quite automatically: national stereotypes. Michael the German, the English aristocrat turning his nose up, the hot-blooded Italian… But as things are with stereotypes: they reveal at least as much about us as they do about the people they mock. Topics such as “A description of Parisian manners”, which were non-political at first glance but entertaining at the same time, were sure to be a success.

And this is where our book comes in! As many of his colleagues, Louis Desnoyers had multiple jobs: he was a journalist and an author. And an editor of a satirical magazine, Le Charivari, and other projects. Intellectual bulletins and sociétés were what blogs and Twitter accounts are today. Since he had a large network, Desnoyers gathered illustrious colleagues for a book project: theatre critics, journalists and authors such as Louis Huart and Jules Janin. The result was published in 1844: “Les Étrangers à Paris”, i.e. “The foreigners in Paris”.

It’s a collection of literary essays written by several authors. Every text is dedicated to one type of foreigner: “The Englishman”, “The German”, “The Swiss”, “The Chinese” and so on. Desnoyers described the overall project in his introduction. Sooner or later, he states, the book had to be written. After all, “Paris is the city of foreigners par excellence, and Parisians are the least likely to be encountered there.”

But who are the “tourists” portrayed by the book? A German student of philosophy who is not getting anywhere in his studies but whose parents paid for this kind of Erasmus stay out of their own pockets. In the “Tyrol manner” the wannabe philosopher bawls out “Freischütz” arias by day and trumpets Beethoven on the flageolet (kind of a recorder) by night. His (foreign) neighbour writes annoyed in his notebook that “the French” were guilty of playing the flageolet at night, indeed “all French” did that. The scrupulous observer wonders in bewilderment how this people could have been considered the most cheerful people in Europe for such a long time… The book is brimming with platitudes and stereotypes!

The texts illustrate cartoons as we know them from contemporary magazines and the novels of Charles Dickens. Partly realistic, partly brutally exaggerated, they show the Englishman examining Parisian pastries with his nose turned up arrogantly. Of course, they don’t stand a chance against English pastries …!

Some of the stories are told from the perspective of the foreigner, some by a narrator looking through a microscope at his foreign object of study. In a conversation with an acquaintance, the Englishman is indignant about the fact that the French seem to have no manners – love affairs and open relationships are everyday business – and the Italian only appreciates the women of his own country. One of them, Princess Léonora, asks arrogantly what marriage is good for if it does not allow a woman to pursue her interests. In her case that means: my fan, my horse, my music.

When reading all this today, one wonders: how non-political could political issues be at a time when French society was seething because the throne of the ex-liberal Louis-Philippe was as steady as a rocking chair?

The Colosseum, here around 1840, was no longer an exclusive travel destination of the European aristocracy. Wealthy and educated members of the bourgeoisie adopted an “aristocratic” attitude and started travelling. Welcome to the age of tourism!

Travel Literature and Mass Tourism

These tourists in Paris were also a phenomenon of that age and had not existed one generation before. In 1844, the bourgeoisie was the new aristocracy. At least that’s what the bourgeoisie wanted to be. And how? By adopting the manners of the aristocracy: They founded public theatres of the kind that had previously only existed at princely courts, the “cultured” themselves: Daughters played the piano, boys learned foreign languages and studied. And they travelled!

In 1827, Konrad Baedeker had founded a publishing house for his books that provided practical tips for travellers during a holiday abroad. In 1841, Thomas Cook had started mass tourism in England. Originally, he wanted to get his compatriots away from their gin bottle and offered them tea and biscuits instead. To make this rehab more pleasant, he put them on trains and showed them the beauties of England. From then on there was no stopping the phenomenon. Once noblemen had made their Grand Tour, now the wealthy middle class pretended to be aristocratic and educated themselves by travelling. Initially, tourism was a political statement.

In the 1860s, Mark Twain portrayed the countries he travelled to with a critical mind in “The Innocents Abroad” – and made a ton of money from it. By then, at the latest, Paris was also overrun by tourists.

Desnoyers wrote – contrary to his own words – before the time of mass tourism. To him, foreigners of the early stage of tourism were the perfect objects for caricatures that entertained fellow citizens with national stereotypes. And perhaps also held a little mirror up to them and made them think.


Other Things You Might Be Interested in:

There is no digital version of this book available. However, you can read Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad” online.

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