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The Smile Revolution
In Eighteenth-Century Paris
You could be forgiven for thinking that the smile has no history; it has always been the same. However, just as different cultures in our own day have different rules about smiling, so did different societies in the past. In fact, amazing as it might seem, it was only in late eighteenth century France that western civilization discovered the art of the smile. In the 'Old Regime of Teeth' which prevailed in western Europe until then, smiling was quite literally
frowned upon. Individuals were fatalistic about tooth loss, and their open mouths would often have been visually repulsive. Rules of conduct dating back to Antiquity disapproved of the opening of the mouth to express feelings in most social situations. Open and unrestrained smiling was associated with the
impolite lower orders.
In late eighteenth-century Paris, however, these age-old conventions changed, reflecting broader transformations in the way people expressed their feelings. This allowed the emergence of the modern smile par excellence: the open-mouthed smile which, while highlighting physical beauty and expressing individual identity, revealed white teeth. It was a transformation linked to changing patterns of politeness, new ideals of sensibility, shifts in styles of self-presentation - and, not
least, the emergence of scientific dentistry. These changes seemed to usher in a revolution, a revolution in smiling. Yet if the French revolutionaries initially went about their business with a smile on their faces, the Reign of Terror soon wiped it off. Only in the twentieth century would the white-tooth smile
re-emerge as an accepted model of self-presentation.
In this entertaining, absorbing, and highly original work of cultural history, Colin Jones ranges from the history of art, literature, and culture to the history of science, medicine, and dentistry, to tell a unique and untold story about a facial expression at the heart of western civilization.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
It is a joy to read ... The book is innovative and interdisciplinary in the extreme, combing social, cultural, economic, political and medical history in such a way as to make connections appear entirely natural, and bringing such traditional fields together with the new methodologies of the history of the emotions. It is, in short, an inspiring work by a master of the field. * Anna Jenkin, French History * Readers of this witty, engaging study, which wears its wide-ranging scholarship lightly, will certainly find it impossible to keep a straight face. * Malcolm Crook, History * You will never look at an eighteenth-century portrait in the same way after you read these pages so filled with verve, wit, and insight. Colin Jones accomplishes the extraordinary feat of changing our view of the ordinary by showing us how teeth, smiles and laughing all gained profound significance. * Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights. * The intriguing untold story of how we learned to smile. * The Bookseller * The Smile Revolution is an education and an entertainment ... Colin Jones drills into his subject with wit, clarity and a fine theatrical flourish. * James Hamilton, The Times * a marvellous, engaging and constantly enlightening study * John Brewer, Literary Review * ingenious and puckish book * Patrice Higonnet, Times Literary Supplement * compelling Cheshire cat of a book * Kathryn Hughes, Guardian * The subject of Jones's book may seem recondite, but it is a fascinating mouthful. In mixing dental minutiae, sweeping social history and vivid detail to show why the smile was no laughing matter but something both mutable and meaningful he has written one of the most absorbing and unusual history books imaginable. * Michael Prodger, The Sunday Times * immensely readable * The Connexion * The most original approach to history in years ... [Colin Jones] had written one of the most absorbing and unusual history books imaginable * Michael Prodger, Sunday Times * In just 180 pages, Jones manages to be brilliant about painting, French literature and history, the sociology of emotional expression, and the hucksterish early history of the dental profession. * The Slate, Books of the Year * A combination of impressive learning and entertaining wit * Harriet Devine, Shiny New Books * It is, in short, an inspiring work by a master of the field. * Anna Jenkin, French History * Fascinating book * The Good Book Guide * fascinating exploration * Mary Beard, The Spectator * Politics, literature, dentistry and art are wrapped up in a brilliant piece of scholarship. * Michael Prodger, Book of the Year 2014, New Statesman * highly readable, intelligent, unpretentious and even mischievous book... Jones's ingenious and puckish book, poised between high culture and pop psychology, is both entertaining and informative * TLS, Patrice Higonnet * The most intriguing sections of Jones's book examine the establishment of dentistry as a medical science and respectable profession in the 18th century. * Jonathan Beckman, London Review of Books * an important contribution to the history of medicine as well as the history of the emotions...It is immensely readable * Reviews in History, Dr Jennifer Wallis * ...entertaining and highly readable * Network Review, David Lorimer * ... the book... is, among other things, a secret history of dentistry and, because of Jones's wit and erudition, one simply can't imagine the topic being more fascinatingly handled. * Spear's * 'Colin Jones knows as much about eighteenth century France as any man alive, and in this study he brings together his prodigious learning and robust curiosity to produce a book that should bring a smile to even the most sullen scholarly face ... Jones tells [his] tale with tremendous insight and wit, drawing on his knowledge of an astonishing array of disciplines and sub-disciplines, from the history of medicine to the history of art. * Darrin M. McMahon, American Historical Review *