Books about 18th century France

I am currently writing a novel set in the early 1700’s in France. I am researching Marseille, Provencal culture and the events of the time to gain a thorough understanding of the life of the people I am writing about.

Find out more about my writing here.

It is especially difficult finding research material in English. The primary sources are obviously in French. Although there has been a lot of research done about the causes of the French Revolution, there are fewer specific sources about other facets of life at the time of the ancien regime.

This page is intended to help others in their research of the 18th century in the South of France and will be a work in progress, updated when I find worthwhile sources. Most of these are also inexpensive and available as ebooks.




The Smile Revolution, by Colin Jones ****

This book focuses on how the act of smiling was perceived in France and how this changed over the course of the 18th century. Makes reference to pieces of art as well as other primary sources.

The Great Cat Massacre, by Robert Darnton *****

This is a fascinating read and provides some good insights into the values and attitudes of the masses in France with examples from folklore and personal correspondence of the time.

Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason


The Huguenots in France, by Samuel Smiles


The Old Regime Police Blotter 1: Bloodshed, Sex & Violence, by Jim Chevallier *****

A look at the law in Old Regime France, with translated accounts of trials and punishments and comments from the author about the relevant law.


Beer, Cider and Spirits in Old Regime France, by Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy (Translated by Jim Chevallier) ****

An excerpt of the work by Le Grand d’Aussy on alcoholic drinks as viewed in France in his time (late 18th century)

The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France, by Sean Takats ****

A thorough look at the demographics, industry and job descriptions of cooks at the dawning of nouvelle cuisine. An enlightening read.

The Man with two Heads and His Friends from the Fair, by Jim Chevallier ***

Monologues inspired by true characters of the 18th century French fairs. A short read.

Primary Sources

Available for free in the public domain

Works of Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans

A collection of excerpts about life at court, taken from the four hundred letters sent by the mother of the Regent to friends and family in Europe. Full of court gossip but also some great insights into the prevailing behaviours and attitudes.

Memoirs of Jacque Casanova – Volume 21: South of France

This an entertaining account of the infamous lover’s time spent in the South of France . Bear in mind, it is one unique character’s view of the time and place (c. 1760’s – 70’s).

Le Cuisinier Moderne, by Vincent La Chappelle (French)

Available as a free ebook, this guide for cooks was written in 1736 and was one of the first recipe books in France.

I have translated recipes such as the one for Pigs Ears here.


The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

*** Asterisks are my (subjective) rating of the usefulness of the book as a research tool.


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