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Changes in Time

Changes in Time




Pre-Industrial Rural Time. Modern societies schedule work routines, household management, sleep, and entertainment according to demarcations of time. This temporal allocation is a product of an abstract reckoning generally based on a twenty-four-hour day and a seven-day week. This way of thinking had much to do with the increasing importance of efficiency and profit in business or industrial enterprises. Pre-industrial life, in contrast, took place in a different temporal system. For peasants across Europe, time was calculated by seasonal and agricultural rhythms and by the social routines of the village. The year was not primarily conceived in terms of months, but rather as veil/ees, times for sowing, haying, and harvesting in rural France. These events were social occasions at which villagers gathered to repair farm implements, shell nuts, spin thread, embroider, or prepare jams or wine. They began sometime after All Saints’ Day (1 November) and concluded in the spring just before planting. These gatherings were not just times for work. They also featured music, dancing, storytelling, courtship, and rough athletic competitions. They served the important function of securing cultural coherence within and among generations.

Pre-Industrial Urban Time. In early modern cities, as in the countryside, time was not yet divided into fixed mathematical units. At the beginning of the nineteenth century most urban craftsmen had little need for a precise daily schedule. Fewer than half of all Parisians, for example, owned watches. Instead, city residents structured time around religious services, patron saints’ feast days, or the liturgical calendar. The workday, rather than being a fixed amount of time, as became common for factory workers, contracted or expanded with the demands of particular jobs. Leisure was every bit as important as work, probably more so. For example, the late eighteenth-century Parisian glazier Jacques-Louis Menetra frequently accompanied comrades to a tavern in the middle of the workday, and, like other artisans, he observed “Saint Monday,” atime for drinking and reveling with his fellow craftsmen or recovering from weekend excesses.

Industrial Time. The temporally rigid factory regime had no place for Saint Monday, leading to its extinction. For both peasants and urban workers, nineteenth-century mechanization and industrialization eventually changed earlier agrarian or artisanal pursuits. By 1914 the farmer and the factory worker had acquired a new sense of time. Factory work required the worker’s rigid subordination to the repetitive, mechanical, and regularized discipline of clock time. Everything operated according to the regular demands of spinning machines, lathes, presses, or other mechanized “labor-saving devices.” Railroad schedules, school bells, factory whistles, and pocket watches marked the rhythm of industrial time. By the time the punch clock was patented in 1888, workers had long been subordinated to the continuous, regular, mechanical activity of the fac-tory floo With the demarcation of “productive” time, measured by worker output against time increments, leisure time increasingly came to mean time free from workplace demands, time devoted to family pursuits, entertainment, and consumption.

Bourgeois Time. For a nineteenth-century bourgeois man, the use of one’s time had social implications. One mark of elevated social distinction for the elites of the Old

Regime had been an ostentatious keeping of late hours. Similarly, during the nineteenth century the middle classes sought to distinguish themselves from artisans, shopkeepers, and workers by filling their evenings with social activi-ties. Work dictated that artisans and workers must rise early, so the “better sort” rose later, arriving at the office well after laborers and working into the evening after laborers had gone. The middle class dined late and retired even later. Middle-class men divided their time according to a cycle of social engagements, which could be observed in their changes of clothing over the course of the day: a dressing gown for a morning at home, a black suit for business or calling on others, and formal wear for evening socializing. A bourgeois woman’s time was also marked by a schedule of clothing changes. According to Frenchman Henri Despaigne’s 1866 behavior manual:

A society woman who wants to be well dressed for all occasions at all times needs at least seven or eight toilettes per day: a morning dressing gown, a riding outfit, an elegant simple gown for lunch, a day dress if walking, an afternoon dress for visiting by carriage, a smart outfit to drive through the Bois de Boulogne, a gown for dinner, and a gala dress for evening or the theater. There is nothing exaggerated about this, and it could be more complicated still at the beach, in summer, with bathing costumes, and in autumn and winter, with hunting and skating costumes, if she shares these wholesome activities with men.

Such manuals outlined a rigorous schedule for the bourgeois housewife. She was the first to rise in the morning (to avoid being seen in disarray by her husband) and began to oversee a complex domestic routine. She spent her morning supervising servants, seeing children off to school, and planning the daily round of family meals, evening outings, and social visits or receptions. Well-bred women supervised the errands of their servants to purchase coal, wood, or food. Seldom did a middle-class woman do such errands herself, for to be seen performing such tasks told the world that she had an insufficient staff and thus was not of the social status she claimed. Her afternoons were consumed with the social obligations of receiving visitors, paying calls to others, and strolling in the park or riding in the carriage, yet another form of social display. She devoted her evening hours to overseeing the preparation and service of family or formal dinners, and then she accompanied her husband to musical performances, social visits, or other entertainments.

Darkness and Light. Historians have often noted the “tyranny of darkness” as a characteristic of pre-industrial life. Before the widespread availability of artificial light, nightfall had a sinister significance. Every evening pre-industrial urban communities prepared for darkness by locking city gates, proscribing night work (for fear of fire from an unattended candle), enforcing curfews, and patrolling streets in search of malefactors. Household security was no less important. As night fell, householders barred their doors, fastened their shutters, and kept sticks, stones, bed staves, cudgels, swords, and sometimes firearms within easy reach. One of the consequences of nineteenth-century artificial lighting— fueled by oil, kerosene, gas, or later, electricity—was a transformation of European sleep routines. Pre-industrial sleep patterns were “segmented” into two major intervals of sleep interrupted by an hour or more of wakefulness. Most Europeans retired to their beds around nine or ten o’clock. Slumberers then regularly rose from this “first sleep” sometime after midnight, remaining awake for up to two hours before returning to bed. These regular nocturnal interruptions may have provided opportunity for sexual intimacy, which was not easily arranged in the cramped dwellings of the poor, where many people crowded into a single room and even the same bed. With the spread of artificial light sources, this interrupted sleep pattern gradually disappeared. Another result of the advent of artificial, and increasingly inexpensive, lighting was the extension of business or entertainment activity well into the night for more people. For the urban, bourgeois elite, an evening out with wives and friends at the theater, opera, or restaurant might be followed by strictly male visits to a gambling house or a brothel, often lasting until three in the morning. Gaslight and later electric street lamps illuminated the way home for these men as it did for factory workers off to their jobs just before dawn. Public lighting also made possible strolls along city boulevards, window shopping at the illuminated storefronts of new, late-nineteenth-century department stores, or visits to a neighborhood cafe, tavern, or pub. By the turn of the twentieth century, the tyranny of darkness had largely been overcome nearly everywhere. Evening was transformed into a time for family and leisure activities.

Rituals and Celebrations. Daily routines in all cultures are punctuated by festive events that attach meaning to the utilitarian experiences of life. In traditional societies, R. Caillois has said, “a man lives in remembrance of one festival and in expectation of the next.” In pre-industrial Europe many of these events were religious in nature, and the growing secularization of European life during the eighteenth century did not reduce the importance of ritu-ally significant times. In nineteenth-century Spain, as in other Mediterranean countries, traditional religious commemorations associated with Christmas, Easter, saints’ days, and the Corpus Christi cycle united the liturgical calendar with civic and family celebrations. In these countries the passion and social significance of religious ritual did not much diminish during the nineteenth century. Along-side religious events came national days of patriotic remembrance. School holidays, which also became family vacations, broke up the academic year. The summer season became a time for the bourgeois to rent country cottages, vacation in hotels, or visit the seashore. These annual migrations of the urban middle class clearly identified its members as leisured, despite the contradictory moral strictures of the middle-class work ethic. Sunday also acquired a new, secular importance as a day for family gatherings and visits to the country or the park, promenading alongside other city folk.


Nineteenth-century entrepreneurs and factory managers attempted to increase efficiency and profits by regularizing laborers’ work hours. In particular, they attempted to eliminate “Saint Monday,” a day that workers regularly took off either to recover from a drunken Sunday or to carouse with friends and co-workers. In England, Saint Monday was also a common day for wedding celebrations among the working classes. The following verses commemorate this bygone unofficial holiday:

Half-Past Nine, or My Wedding Day  
I’m longing for next Monday ’cos I’m going to tie the knot
With little Georgie Puddingy-Pie, a nice young man I’ve got
And when the parson says the word that makes two into one,
I want you all tojust come round and join us in the fun.
For next Monday morning is my wedding day;
When the supper’s over if the company wants to stay,
Me and Georgie we shall resign,
We’regoing to blow the candles out at half-past nine.
The Jovial Cutlers  
How upon a good Saint Monday,
Sitting by the smithy fire,
Telling what’s been done o’t Sunday,
And in cheerful mirth conspire,
Soon I hear the trap-door rise up,
On the ladder stands my wife:
  “Damn thee, Jack, I’ll dust thy eyes up,
  Thou leads a plaguy drunken life;
  Here thou sits instead of working,
  Wi’thy pitcher on thy knee;
  Curse thee, thou“d be always lurking.
  And I may slave myself for thee.”
Fuddling Day or Saint Monday  
Saint Monday brings more ills about,
  For when the money’s spent,
The children’s clothes go up the spout,
  Which causes discontent;
And when he staggers home,
  He knows not what to say,
A fool is more a man than he
  Upon a fuddling day.

Sources: Douglas Reid, “The Decline of Saint Monday, 1766-1876,” Past andPresent, 71 (1976); 76-101.

Reid, “Weddings, Weekdays, Work, and Leisure in Urban England 1791-1911: The Decline of Saint Monday Revisited,”Past and Present, 153 (November 1996): 135-163.

E, P, Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present, 38 (1967): 56-97.

Patriotic Festivals. The American people, like citizens of most modern nations, maintain a calendar of events designed to unify diverse communities by celebrating the glorious past of the United States: Fourth of July parades, Thanksgiving Day feasts, and Memorial Day fireworks. Traditions such as these arose and flourished everywhere in Europe during 1750-1914. In the eighteenth century Jean-Jacques Rousseau

for example, encouraged the Polish government to adopt the ancient Greek tradition of staging festivals that featured public games and sports, advising that such activities would uplift the people and infuse the nation with patriotic emotion. In the 1790s the French revolutionary governments established a full calendar of patriotic commemorations. Other nations followed suit. Aspiring German nationalists commemorated heroic and mythic events from their past in many early-nineteenth-century festivals. Perhaps the most influential of these early rites, the Hambach festival of 1832, attracted more than 30,000 German celebrants, who watched formations of workers parading in archaic regional costumes. Other German patriotic festivals, before and after unification in 1871, featured torch-light processionals, political speeches, folk dancing, and gymnastic exhibitions. After the 1870s, with the emergence of mass politics, new public ceremonies and national holidays joined with older, now regularized patriotic rites and secured the multiple associations of sport, family time, leisure activity, and patriotic enthusiasm. Bastille Day (14 July), whose official celebration dates only from 1880, annually commemorates the French Revolution with festivities, fireworks, street dances, and military parades. After the Prussian defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, commemorations of the pivotal Battle of Sedan combined similar festivity and patriotic speeches. In 1883, at a Sedanfest in Oldenburg, Germany, more than 1,500 inhabitants marched in a torchlight procession, sang patriotic songs, and listened to patriotic speeches until 1:30 in the morning. The revelers then danced until 5:00 A.M. After the unification of Italy in 1860, nationalist Massimo Taparelli, Marchese d’Azeglio, described the function of such celebrations: ’We have made Italy: now we must make Italians.” Indeed, these recurring events became linked to consumer strategies, family rituals, and public entertainment in the nineteenth-century development of nationalism in Europe.

Carnival. In addition to patriotic, family, and religious holidays, people in many parts of nineteenth-century Europe celebrated ancient festivitals such as Carnival. During the carnival season in late-eighteenth-century Rome, city streets decorated with flowers and tapestries became the settings for improvised dramas and puppet shows, as well as raucous partying and wanton behavior by masked celebrants. Though the government made a small monetary contribution and provided minimal crowd control, the Roman people staged Carnival themselves. Carnival was a time of social inversion, which was usually absent in most nineteenth-century domestic or patriotic festivals. On the Corso, the main street of Rome, noblemen, soldiers, beautiful courtesans, and local dignitaries gathered for chaotic carriage parades that attracted thousands of viewers. Participants staged mock battles with sugar-coated almonds and comfits, and at nightfall they endeavored to blow out each others– candles or lanterns. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described one such battle:

No matter whether the person next to you is an acquaintance or a stranger, you equally try to blow out his light, and on his rekindling it to blow it out again. . . . “Sia ammazzato!”(Be murdered!) is heard from all ends and corners. “Sia ammazzato chi non porta moccolo!” (Murder to him who does not carry a taper!) .... All ages and classes contend furiously with each other. They jump on the steps of each other’s coaches. No pendant light, hardly a lantern is safe. The boy blows out his father’s flame and never ceases crying, “Sia ammazzato il Signore Padre!” All in vain for the father to scold him for his impudence; the boy asserts the freedom of the evening and only the more savagely murders his father.

Sacred Family Time, The Battle for Christmas. Patriotic and secular festivals did not supplant the religious calendar. For Europeans of all classes, the cycle of sacred commemoration still retained its vitality. however, the meaning of religious holidays changed significantly during the nineteenth century. The “battle for Christmas” illustrates the transformation of a religious holiday from a public event to a family ritual. In pre-industrial Europe, Christmas, like Carnival, was a time of excess and social inversion. During the Christmas season the poor, who normally owed deference to their betters, inverted the social order by demanding gifts and respect from their social superiors. Marching through a village, bands of poor boys and young men “went a-wassailing,”claiming the right to receive gifts, food, drink, and entertainment from theirweal thier neighbors. Wassailing carried a veiled threat, as one wassail song makes clear:

We’ve come here to claim our right. . .
And if you don’t open up your door,
We will lay you flat upon the floor.

Instead of seeing this apparent aggression as a threat to the social order, the rural gentry may in fact have viewed it as an enhancement of their social position, taking this opportunity to demonstrate their generosity while allowing the rural poor to vent their pent-up frustrations. With industrialization and the spread of wage labor, however, many employers bent on efficiency no longer wished to tolerate the seasonal interruption of business. Furthermore, the wassail tradition exposed the entrepreneurial classes to more strident forms of social protest and antagonism. To protect themselves from the intrusion of the lower classes, bourgeois families began to isolate themselves from such carnivalesque Christmas practices and to insulate themselves in family rituals. The Christmas tree, a Scandinavian tradition, and the manger (or creche) gradually made their way into European homes, with trees arriving after 1840 in England and France and somewhat earlier in Germany. Placed next to the family hearth, these seasonal shrines became symbolic of the family and turned the focus of Christmas revelry away from street scenes to the home. European families began to give presents to their children, replacing the obligation to the poor that had been part of the wassailing tradition. Whether children put slippers before the fireplace or hung stockings on the chimney and received their gifts from the baby Jesus, Pere Noel, Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, the gift giving rein-forced intergenerational family bonds. The battle for Christmas was won by the nuclear family, and Christmas no longer united the poor with their betters.


The following suggestions for young ladies appeared in Manuel de la bonne companie; ou, guide de la politesse et de la bienseance (Manual of Good Company; or, Guide to Manners and Decorum, 1834) by Elisabeth-Felicite Bayle-Mouillard, otherwise known as Madame Celnart, Such etiquette books were important guides to proper middle-class behavior throughout Europe.

Everyone knows that no matter how much a young lady’s dowry is, her manner of dress must always.. .be elegant and less brilliant than that of married women. Expensive cashmeres, very rich furs, diamonds are forbiddenher, as well as much other showy attire. . .

Until the age of about thirty, a young lady can never go out without being accompanied. For her errands in the city, to shops, to visit intimate friends, to church, she may go with a maid; but when it is a question of ceremonial visits, of promenades, of parties, of balls, she may appear only with her mother, or with a lady of her acquaintance who will take her mother’s place. , .

[When visiting] one does not leave the table before the end of the meal except for an unexpected call of nature. If this unpleasantness should happen to a lady, she asks a friend to accompany her; a young lady withdraws with her mother. . . .

The gait of a woman should be neither too fast nor too slow....Her expression must be sweet and modest.

It is not in good taste for a woman to speak with too much animation or too loudly. When she is seated, she should never cross her legs. ...

But what is especially insufferable in a woman is’a restless, bold, domineering manner, for this manner goes against nature. . . .No matter what her worth, no matter that she never forgets that she could be a man by virtue of her superiority of mind and the force of her will, on the outside she must be a woman! She must present herself as that creature made to please, to love, to seek support, that being who is inferior to man and who approaches the angels.

Source. Erna Olafson Hellerstein, Leslie Parker Hume, and Karen M, Offen, eds, Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France, and the United States (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981), pp. 96-97.


Alexander Falassi, ed., Time out of Time: Essays on the Festival (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987).

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York: Fertig, 1975).

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday (New York: Knopf, 1997).

Michelle Perrot, ed., From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, volume 4 of History of Private Life, general editors Philippe Aries and Georgès Duby (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

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