Wretched Excess?: Conspicuous Consumption Amongst the Aristocracy in 18th Century France

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Teague, Savanna Rae
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Middle Tennessee State University
While this mass consumption of luxury items is oftentimes talked about as a factor in leading to the French Revolution, that spending is presented as little more than selfishness in the face of an ever-growing population. However, the aristocracy linked their conspicuous consumption and ostentation to their rights and privileges, and their dominance over society hinged upon that display.
Chapter One uses the writings of the Marquis de Sade to present a unique perspective into consumption from the point-of-view of a member of the aristocracy who argued that conspicuous luxury was a method of maintaining social inequity. Chapter Two discusses the origins of the consumptive habits of the aristocracy as being reactionary to the threats of social disorder against the State in the seventeenth century. Finally, Chapter Three examines a year of expenditures in the last full year of Louis XIV's life that shows what spending had become normalized at Versailles by the early eighteenth century.
Conspicuous consumption, France, French aristocracy, Louis xiv, Marquis de sade, Versailles