chapter  12
18 Pages

Private Identities : Self , Gender , Family

There are many signs in the early nineteenth century of a sharper individual consciousness - what Corbin calls ‘individuation’ - which we might associate, among other things, with the upheavals of the Revolution and the Romantic fashion for introspection and singularity. Children were given a wider variety of names, and more adults learned to sign theirs; during the Restoration, that time of Romantic yearning, people began to carve their initials on the trees and rocks of the Fontainebleau forest.2 Large numbers of people kept scrapbooks and diaries, and more and more wrote letters. Mirrors, once rare and even taboo, became commonplace: for the first time, most people knew what they looked like. In other ways, they became concerned for their appearance: grooming, fashion and even cleanliness became increasingly widespread concerns, though at the end of the century the aristocratic Pauline de Broglie recalled that ‘no one in my family ever took a bath’.3 Cheap photographs in the 1860s (the photographer Disderi sold 2,400 per day) and travelling street photographers provided a record of the changing self, and also photographic postcards of models to emulate. Collecting, as an external expression of one’s own taste and intellect, became more widely fashionable. Travel, not the familiar Grand Tour but exploration of the exotic and even the dangerous, became another means of self-expression and self-discovery: Hector Berlioz, for example, wandered among the brigands of the Roman Campagna in 1831 to find inspiration for his music. All these things were signs of a clearer and far more widespread self-consciousness, self-scrutiny and self-dramatization. An aspect of modernity: a shared desire to be different.