The Rural Postman in France Before 1914: A New Mediator at Work

By Sébastien Richez

Rural postman in France before 1914 : a new mediator at work.

The rural postman, who appeared in 1830, has attained social and economic significance through his representation in literature and the arts. His place in French society can be compared to the teacher or the gendarme with whom he shares an affinity. However, he cannot be compared to these other professions in terms of his representation in our national history, despite the fact that his case permits historians to examine many tricky issues – in the history of communication, the history of administrative hierarchy, and finally, the history of sociability. He is the successor of the pedestrian messenger [messagers-piétons] who was responsible for circulating information between local State representatives. He symbolizes the strong hierarchy characterizing French administration. He personifies the ambivalence of civil service employment in that he is sometimes feared by the autochthons, and yet also often appreciated by the population for his vital function. It was through the task of the mail round – the long-standing public demonstration of his hard work – that he was accepted, praised or derided. But on every occasion, he has been used by nineteenth century political regimes as a kind of cement for French national identity, helping to promote territorial equality among the French.


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