The Lamothes were an ordinary family in eighteenth-century Bordeaux. Well-to-do and well respected by their neighbors, they were local notables whose private and public lives suggest the importance of family, kin, and friendship networks, professional activities and cultural interests, as well as a desire to serve the public good. In this portrait of the Lamothes, Christine Adams explores the development of middle-class identity among urban professionals and reconsiders the role of this social group in the coming French Revolution.
The most striking feature of this family history is that it is based on more than three hundred personal letters that circulated among the Lamothes—parents and seven siblings—over a period of twenty-five years. Such a collection is rare for this period, and Adams makes the most of it. Her study lends remarkable texture to provincial middle-class life. She weaves these letters into every aspect of the Lamothes' experience—professional, literary, intellectual, social, and civic. She demonstrates a sustained mobilization of all family skills and resources to maintain the status of the males of the family and preserve (rather than risk) the family's emotional and material stability.
While their conservative lifestyle suggests that the Lamothes were not "revolutionary," they were, nonetheless, part of the bourgeoisie. Adams thus taps into a potent debate about middle-class consciousness and identity in the eighteenth century, arguing against those historians who doubt that such a social class existed in France before 1789.