The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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July 29, 2014

Paris in July: The Age of Comfort

Would you have been as hard-pressed as I was to look at this painting {The Declaration of Love, by Jean Francois de Troy, painted in 1735} and see the things in it that were so unconventional, and modern, and 'casual?  The sofa, the dress, her posture, even the fabric for the pillow her arm is resting on?

Joan DeJean's book The Age of Comfort  was on my reading list long before this July in Paris, and even though it started out a little slowly for me, in the end it was a book I returned to happily all month long.

In a nutshell, it traces the transition, in Paris, from the late 1600s to the mid-1700s, from an age of stiff, courtly, public, formal magnificence to a younger, looser, more casual, private, intimate age of comfort, a change that happened  almost  suddenly, first made French taste and style so desirable (everywhere except in England), and affected everything from architecture and house plans to plumbing (ahem) and heating, bedrooms, sofas, chairs, beds, upholstery and curtains, fashion, and even posture and body language. Some of what comes out in the book is how quickly tastes changed, how many of the forms and styles that we recognize today were first introduced in this period {sodas, curtains, side tables, even the idea of curling up with a book). All fascinating.

I love all this stuff, and the book is full of descriptions of furniture and fashion, anecdotes, quotes from letters and diaries (and the newspapers of the day); the writing was intelligent but very readable.  It helps, of course, that this is not the stuff of everyday life, and is filled with odd moments in history {in the midst of all this, the French king, concerned about competition with the French textile industry, declared a ban on -- and let the French police wage a battle against -- importing, selling or wearing the wildly popular  'painted cotton' (on that pillow) being brought in from India, a ban that officially lasted for almost 100 years and was another kind of Prohibition that was largely ignored, even by the younger members of the royal family).

Ironically, ir was members of the French royal family and its court, many of whom were obsessed with interior design,  who both resisted and fostered this change (the Marquise de Pompadour, in the portrait below, became a 'poster child' for the new style). It was fascinating to read about the kings and their mistresses, and part of me wants to go back and figure out who they all were. :)

Joan DeJean has just written a new book, How Paris Became Paris, and that one's on my list now, too.

{Merci beaucoup to Karen, Tamara, Adria and (especially) Bellezza for hosting Paris in July again this year1  I always wish that I could have read, and baked, more, but I always discover something new and wonderful.}


JoAnn said...

This is a book I never would have considered reading... you make it sound interesting!

Anonymous said...

I have been meaning to read this for a long time too and your earlier post made me fetch it back from my mum's nightstand (she has been attempting to read it too, but has not made much progress!). I also happened to come across her latest book while browsing at the bookstore last week and was thrilled with the discovery. Definitely adding that to the TBR too!

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