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Le Temps Des Foires: Foires et Marches Dans le Midi Toulousain de la Fin de l'Ancien Regime a 1914.

Thomas has a fine subject in this study of rural markets and fairs in the century and a half before World War I. Local markets were, after all, centers of peasant sociability, and nearly every activity necessary to rural survival transpired at such sites. In theory, it would be possible to document all sorts of changes, from large-scale to subtle, in rural life by focusing on marketplaces and fairs. However, this book accomplishes less than this because it is largely descriptive in nature. An abbreviated version of a doctorat, it has the well-known strengths and weaknesses of this genre of scholarship. Erudition and exhaustive archival research are the strengths. Failure to engage the interpretive literature is the regrettable flaw.

Thomas covers markets during their golden age. A fixture in the eternal countryside, they, nonetheless, flourished when a small to middling peasantry had surpluses to dispose of. Whereas commercial intermediaries handled the produce of large landlords and by-passed local markets, the farmer with barely a cartload of grain or a few extra animals needed the commercial outlets a few kilometers away. This was especially true when transportation costs were painfully high and cumbersome. Such economic realities made the nineteenth century the apogee of markets and fairs. No wonder that villages fought over the privilege of holding a market day and that prefects spent much time arbitrating disputes involving markets. The pressure from below to create new ones was constant down to the Great War.

Fairs and markets were where rural dwellers took care of all the business which transcended the resources of their villages. Tax collectors arranged to be present on fair days to take advantage of peasants who suddenly had cash on hand after selling their produce. Notaries did a third of their weekly business on the market day. In times of harvest failure, grain riots started at the markets. Once universal manhood suffrage was established, political organizations used markets to reach voters. Certain fairs were well-known meeting places for young men and women who could not find lifetime partners within their own villages. Inevitably, too, the markets witnessed the ritualized violence (Bagarres) between gangs of village youths intent on establishing a reputation for prowess. One cannot help but agree with the author that to seize the range of activities transpiring at the markets would be to grasp rural life in all its richness.

Unfortunately, Thomas does not do much more than paint vivid scenes of this rural life. He does not organize his rich material into arguments, and still less does he address the current debates in peasant history, a field which is undergoing fundamental revisionism at the moment. The author vaguely assumes some sort of linear modernization of peasant life, a narrative which has been under steady attack from such scholars as Charles Tilly, Ted Margadant, David Sabean, and Susan Rogers. Was there really a steady transition from isolation to integration, from subsistence to markets, from folklore to commercialized culture? The subject of this study would seem to be particularly useful for exploring these big issues; however, this is not its purpose or achievement. Instead, Thomas evokes for us "the world we have lost" in the rural markets in rich and fascinating detail.

Lenard R. Berlanstein The University of Virginia
COPYRIGHT 1995 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Berlanstein, Lenard R.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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