By Peter McPhee
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Extra info for A Social History of France, 1789-1914: Second Edition
The 83 departments announced in February 1790 were designed to facilitate the accessibility of administration (each capital was to be no more than a day’s ride from any commune). They also represented an important, pre-emptive victory of the new state over the resurgent provincial identities expressed since 1787. There was usually a valid geographic rationale to each department, but their very names, drawn from rivers, mountains and other natural features, undercut larger provincial and ethnic unities.
The Swiss catalogues offered readers at every level of urban society a remarkable and socially explosive mixture of philosophy and obscenity: the finest works of Rousseau, Helvétius and d’Holbach jostled with titles such as The Nun in the Nightshirt, La fille de joie and Louis XV’s Orgies. The ribald yet moralistic tone of the latter mocked the Church, nobility and the royal family itself for both degeneracy and impotence, undermining at the same time the mystique of those born to rule as well as their capacity to do so.
About one hundred were in trade and industry. 11 It was a solidarity which, within six weeks, was to encourage them to mount a revolutionary challenge to absolutism and privilege. Ultimately, Louis’s acquiescence in the nobility’s demand for voting to be in three separate chambers galvanized bourgeois outrage. On 17 June, the third estate claimed that ‘the interpretation and presentation of the general will belong to it … . ’ Three days later, finding themselves locked out of their meeting hall, the deputies moved to an indoor royal tennis court and, with only one dissenting voice, insisted by oath on their ‘unshakeable resolution’ to continue their proceedings wherever necessary.