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A Parvenu is a person that is a relative newcomer to a socioeconomic class. The word derives from the French language; it is the past participle of the verb parvenir (to reach, to arrive, to manage to do something).

Contents

Origin

The word “parvenu” typically describes a person who recently ascended the social ladder, especially a nouveau riche or “new money” individual. The famous Molly Brown, who survived the Titanic sinking in 1912, was considered a “new money” individual because of her impoverished, Irish immigrant roots and lack of social pedigree.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a parvenu as: "A person from a humble background who has rapidly gained wealth or an influential social position; a nouveau riche; an upstart, a social climber. Also in extended use. (Generally used with the implication that the person concerned is unsuited to the new social position, esp. through lacking the necessary manners or accomplishments.)"

The term designates individuals not socially accepted by individuals already established in their new class. It is a form of classism.

Examples

See also the short story called Parvenue by Mary Shelley.

Several examples might include athletic and entertainment professionals born and raised in poverty and suddenly finding themselves with significantly higher sources of income due to their new-found celebrity status. The established old money factions of society often choose to exclude these individuals from their ranks, with the argument that such people are tasteless in their spending and use their wealth to flaunt their economic standing rather than practice philanthropy, maintain discretion, and otherwise acquiesce to the accepted behavior of the social class.

The Bonaparte family were considered parvenu royalty by other royal families of Europe. Napoleon III tried to marry into Swedish and German royalty, but was unsuccessful due to his status as parvenu. This was also said to be the case with the marriage of Egyptian Princess Fawzia to the future Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. One of the reasons speculated for their divorce is that Fawzia’s family, including King Farouk I, viewed the Pahlavis as parvenus. Though the Muhammad Ali Dynasty of Egypt and Sudan, to which Fawzia belonged, had humble beginnings, it had solidified its status in Egypt and the Arab World since 1805. In contrast, the Pahlavis were a far more recent dynasty, owing their position entirely to the coup d’etat of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s father, Reza Khan, in 1921.

Other examples may have worked their way up the ladder, originally poor immigrants to the United States. Originally immigrant workers, they would have found themselves able to take advantage of the growing opportunities in the U.S., moving on to become civil servants, “white collar” (business/office) workers and finally to the “gentry”. Such an example might be John Jacob Astor, whose family once skinned rabbits for a living and went on to build such icons of New York City as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with his brother. Many believe this phenomenon is not as common in Europe due to the centuries old, well-established social hierarchy of European countries, nor is it as common in present-day U.S. due to largely the same reasons.

Literature

  • In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby represents the newly rich through his illicit activities, including selling bootleg liquor and his decadent parties.
  • In The Cherry Orchard, Gayev regards Lophakhin as a parvenu, as many critics interpret his remarks.
  • Pip, from Dickens’s Great Expectations, would be considered a parvenu by many.

Film

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