Monday, July 08, 2019


Whatever For?

Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), Life in Renaissance France, tr. Marian Rothstein (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 9, with notes on pp. 125-126:
People gathered in the kitchen where they lived elbow to elbow, and they relished this kind of closeness. Like all peasants, they hated to be alone. The more the merrier. The sixteenth century did not have our modesty. It knew nothing of our need to be alone.11 The beds of the day are evidence of this, great big things in which several people would sleep at once without embarrassment or scruples.12 Individual bedrooms are a modern idea. "Whatever for?" our forefathers would have asked. Setting apart a room for each activity is another modern notion. The kitchen was the gathering place for everyone, and everything, or almost everything, was done there.

11. Again, the way in which people of both high and low station constructed their living places is clearly indicative of their lack of need for privacy. This is further discussed by Jean-Louis Flandrin, Familles (Paris, 1976), pp. 92-102.

12. See the Propos rustiques of Noël du Fail, chap. 6, "The Change in Sleeping between the Present and the Past." [LF] Flandrin (Familles, p. 97) mentions the case of Brittany where the entire household, family and servants, customarily shared a single bed. Bed was a social enough place to merit inclusion in treatises on manners intended for schoolboys: "Silence becomes you in bed: talking's the thing for the court. / Also be still in your bed; just lie straight and you won't be stealing your bedfellow's clothes, tossing and turning." Giovanni Sulpitio, Doctrina Mensae (Oxford, 1949), p. 2, a modern translation of a fifteenth-century poem.

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