The big idea behind Paris: The Secret History is to tell the story of Paris from the point of view of what the French historian Louis Chevalier calls the ‘dangerous classes’. By this, Chevalier means drinkers, vagabonds, anarchists, prostitutes, drug addicts, sexual outsiders – all those who are outside ‘official’ histories of the city. From my point of view this is not only an exciting journey through centuries of hedonism, cruelty and vice but also the true story of this most ancient and modern of European capitals. It combines history with interviews with footballers, sex workers, philosophers, drinkers, writers, rappers – real Parisians living real Parisian lives.
One way of thinking about my book is that it reveals the dark side of the City of Light. Paris has always been the world-capital of sex, revolution, philosophy, food and art. My method was to read as much as I could of texts that lay outside mainstream historical works – I am interested in jokes, songs, slang, children’s’ rhymes, prostitutes working techniques. All of these hidden texts reveal, I argue, the hidden maps of the real life of the city. More than this, they tell us about the living substance of this enigmatic city.
So this book is meant not just as a history book, but also as a guide to the hidden underground life of Paris. From Villon to Piaf, Baudelaire to Céline to Houellebecq, Paris has always been a carnival of light and dark: that is what this book is about.
Andrew Hussey, author of Paris: The Secret History is a cultural historian and biographer, born in Liverpool, England. He was a Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Wales Aberystwyth and since 2006 he has been the Head of French and Comparative Studies at University of London Institute in Paris.