This article provides an object lesson in the history of the longue durée, reflected in the comprehensive filthiness of rural life in the nineteenth century. Political upheaval had not changed the material conditions of peasant existence or sensibilities relating to hygiene. Economic revolution had as yet made no practical difference to the dirtiness of daily life. Peasants under the Second Empire lived much as they had under the Old Regime – in dark, damp houses with no conveniences, cheek by jowl with the livestock. Their largely unwashed bodies were wrapped in largely unchanged clothes. Babies were delivered with germ-covered hands, drank spoilt milk from dirty bottles, and spent their young days swaddled like mummies and marinating like teriyaki. The Third Republic set out to ‘civilize’ the rural masses, but this snapshot of material life in the nineteenth-century French countryside illustrates just how much work lay in front of it.