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Family Structure and Relations

Ashley Chilton

    In the essays in The French Worker, most family relations reflect a businesslike attitude. Men obviously dominate the family, which is portrayed as a group of people who are obligated to work and support each other. Children were expected to help provide for the family, and marriages were heavily dependent upon the individuals’ financial status. Parents enforced these practices to secure their children’s stable financial future.

    Parents relied upon their children’s labor. Agricol Perdiguier explains the value of hard workers when he writes, "[my father] made good use of his children’s labor. He wanted to make us hard workers rather than gentlemen and ladies …". Norbert Truquin was also obligated to carry on after his father when he writes, "[m]y birth was a major event for my father, who already had three daughters but had his heart set on having a boy who would take after him.".

    It was also critical for individuals to return to their place of birth. Perdiguier expresses this when he notes, "I did not want to form attachments and settle outside the region of my birth, for it meant everything to me. My family was there, my relatives. I wanted to return home and settle near them. … When I would see a compagnon interrupt his Tour of France, get married and settle down far from his father and mother, his relatives, his place of birth, it was beyond my comprehension.". This comment does imply that some workers were not as attached to home as Perdiguier. The worker’s situation would probably depend upon relations within the family and each family’s specific condition.

    Just as the men were responsible for their sons, the women were responsible for their daughters. Mothers had significantly high expectations for their daughters in terms of their domestic responsibility. Suzanne Voilquin was even given the responsibility of raising her sister when her mother replied, "[i]t is not a sister I am giving you, but a daughter. From this moment on, she belongs to you.". Voilquin was just nine years old. The poverty of the working class is also exposed here since a bourgeois family would have hired a nanny.

    Jeanne Bouvier similarly had many financial obligations after her mother left her father due to an economic disaster. Her mother was tremendously demanding when it came to Bouvier’s work and when she did not get a raise, Bouvier states that "[m]y mother, who was always short of money, would get angry to the point of beating me. She thought I was not working hard enough and she would call me lazy.". The mother’s selfishness and lack of concern towards Bouvier was also revealed when Bouvier read a letter from her mother to her sister that explained, "[m]y dear little girl, … you have a generous nature, unlike your sister. She earns sixteen francs every two weeks, gives me ten, and when I have no bread to eat, she hangs on to her money. She is a heartless child.".

    Marriages were also dependent upon financial considerations, as in Jean-Baptiste Dumay’s case when a widow remarried because she could not support her family. Jean Etienne Bédé also has strong opinions on the matter as he writes, "[m]y father, who had no money of his own, immediately seized this opportunity [to marry the widow], since [she] owned a small house and a windmill…". Martin Nadaud also conveys the importance of negotiating the bride’s dowry. Bédé regards weddings so often resulting in sorrow. "This day of wedlock… is often nothing more than a contradictory act that poisons newlyweds in a horrible morass of constantly renewed sorrows and regrets.". The financial deliberations that frequently dictated these marriages were usually very substantial to peasants.

    These are just some of the many aspects that illustrate the impact of financial situations on family structure and relations in the nineteenth century. Families were not just economic arrangements; however, the economic incidents that these families encountered were great ordeals since the peasants and workers mentioned were often faced with monetary problems. The authors in fact could also have become closer through such problems when they had to work together and help support one another, which explains the frequent mentions of these authors’ families and strong efforts to stay in touch with them.



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All essays copyright students of History 541,  University of Kentucky 2002

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