What the people composing each ‘nation’ significantly had in common was their relation to their State. Except in this sense, I doubt whether there is such a thing as a history of France, or of any other large nation-state, that does not under scrutiny break down into a collection of histories of regions or social groups, or else fade into a wider European or western history. France in the nineteenth century, more than most countries, contained a very diverse
conglomeration of peoples. The immense changes that took place during the nineteenth century, such as industrialization and urbanization, did little, at least in their early stages, to make France more homogenous or integrated. Undeveloped rural areas in Britanny or the Massif Central came to have even less in common with dynamic mining, manufacturing and commercial-farming regions such as Flanders or Alsace, while a textile town such as Lille grew more like its non-French counterparts such as Manchester, and resemblance was often cemented by economic links, immigration and conscious emulation. In short, what a woman dairy-farmer from Quimper had in common with a woman cotton-spinner from Mulhouse was that both were subjects of the French State, governed by its laws on work, suffrage and the family, and affected more generally by its revolutions and wars; in other ways, each had more in common with women in Cardigan or Zurich.