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Reading Culture & Writing Practices in Nineteenth-Century France

Reading Culture & Writing Practices in Nineteenth-Century France

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    Reading Culture & Writing Practices in Nineteenth-Century France
    Book Description:

    Between about 1830 and the outbreak of the First World War, print culture, reading, and writing transformed cultural life in Western Europe in many significant ways. Book production and consumption increased dramatically, and practices such as letter- and diary-writing were widespread. This study demonstrates the importance of the nineteenth century in French cultural change and illustrates the changing priorities and concerns ofl'histoire du livresince the 1970s.

    From the 1830s on, book production experienced an industrial revolution which led to the emergence of a mass literary culture by the close of the century. At the same time, the western world acquired mass literacy. New categories of readers became part of the reading public while western society also learned to write.Reading Culture and Writing Practices in Nineteenth-Century Franceexamines how the concerns of historians have shifted from a search for statistical sources to more qualitative assessments of readers' responses. Martyn Lyons argues that autobiographical sources are vitally important to this investigation and he considers examples of the intimate and everyday writings of ordinary people.

    Featuring original and intriguing insights as well as references to material hitherto inaccessible to English readers, this study presents a form of 'history from below' with emphasis on the individual reader and writer, and his or her experiences and perceptions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8894-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables, Maps, Images
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. 1 Introduction: The Importance of the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 3-12)

    This book brings together a series of studies on the history of reading and writing practices, written over a twenty-year period. Some have been published in places relatively inaccessible to book historians (for example, chapters 4, 7, and 10). Some have never been published before in English (for example, chapters 2 and 6), and three recent studies have never been published at all (chapters 5, 8, and 9). All the previously published work has been brought up to date, thoroughly revised, and sometimes expanded. The result is a book of essays revolving around common concerns and approaches to the history...

  7. The Statistical Approach

    • 2 In Search of the Bestsellers of Nineteenth-Century France, 1815–1850
      (pp. 15-42)

      Today, lists of best-selling books and CDs, and audience ratings of television programs are published weekly, for the benefit of retailers, manufacturers, publishers, and advertisers. Students of mass culture, who treat the box office as their oracle, should find them invaluable. So, too, should the cultural historians of the future. The book historian can only dream of the enormous possibilities which would open up if he or she could lay hands on accurate lists of best-selling fiction and non-fiction in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. We can construct such lists, but only from indirect evidence. They can provide an invaluable...

    • 3 Towards a National Literary Culture in France: Bookshops and the Decline of the Colporteur
      (pp. 43-62)

      In the mid-eighteenth century, the only books which reached genuinely national audiences were Bibles, prayer books, and catechisms. By the end of the nineteenth century, readers all over France were buying or borrowing novels like Hugo’sNotre-Dame de Paris, or Dumas’sLes Trois Mousquetaires. A homogeneous reading public had been created, and the distinctive audiences of learned literature on one hand, and the popular texts of the Bibliothèque bleue on the other had become merged in the formation of a new mass audience. To adapt Eugen Weber’s phrase, readers had become Frenchmen.¹

      The expansion of the French reading public in...

  8. Censorship and Commemoration

    • 4 Fires of Expiation: Book-Burnings and Catholic Missions in Restoration France
      (pp. 65-91)

      To members of a literate society, the act of burning books remains a particularly shocking and disturbing violation of cherished values. Somehow pulverizing a ‘blue’ movie, or smashing a television set (a cultural practice once favoured by certain English rock bands) do not produce the samefrissonas applying a torch to the crisp pages of a well-stocked library. Images of the book-burnings perpetrated in 1933 by young Berlin Nazis are perhaps the most widely known twentieth-century example of this form of destruction. In spite of the familiarity it has acquired, this footage still fascinates, perhaps because it represents the...

    • 5 Literary Commemoration and the Uses of History: The Gutenberg Festival in Strasbourg, 1840
      (pp. 92-108)

      The invention of printing, Elizabeth Eisenstein tells us, was a revolutionary event with far-reaching consequences for the development of Western thought.¹ The current consensus, however, on the exact date when printing appeared, and on where it was invented, has developed over centuries of argument over disputed evidence. The consensus view favours the German city of Mainz as the place of origin, and the invention is, of course, conventionally attributed to Jean Genszfleisch, usually known as Johannes Gutenberg. In this domain, as in many other provinces of the history of technology, the myth of the individual creative genius is alive and...

  9. Readers

    • 6 The Reading Experience of Worker-Autobiographers in Nineteenth–Century Europe
      (pp. 111-138)

      Historians of popular reading practices are often forced to study them indirectly, through the work of those intent on disciplining or moralizing the poor. In the nineteenth century, too, a mass of advice literature appeared as churches, educators, librarians, and philanthropists attempted to direct expanding working-class literacy into safe channels. The competing discourses about reading during the nineteenth century reveal plenty, incidentally, about the fears and neuroses of elites, but in the end they only tell one side of the story: they say little about what workers actually read. As Jonathan Rose urged in a provocative article, we must ‘interrogate...

    • 7 Oral Culture and the Rural Community: The Veillée d’Hiver
      (pp. 139-150)

      Theveillée d’hiver, or ‘winter wake,’ was an important part of the social and cultural life of village communities in many parts of Ancien Regime France. The common need for heat and light brought people together, in a private house, stable, or barn, on long, cold, winter evenings. Villagers would carry out various agricultural tasks, tell each other stories, and recite the local popular legends which have helped to make theveilléean institution of great interest to historians of popular culture. Historians as a whole have been dimly aware of the importance of theveilléeas a medium for...

    • 8 Why We Need an Oral History of Reading
      (pp. 151-164)

      Historians of reading practices have often assumed that the only good reader is a dead one. Only after death, when books and possessions had been inventoried or sold at auction, did the reader seem to offer historians the kind of documentary sources which voracious computers could devour and exploit. Sources like the post-mortem inventories, however, can never tell us how many books had been removed from private libraries even before the inventory was drawn up, sometimes because they were particularly treasured by the deceased’s family, or because they were in very bad condition, or because the auctioneer regarded them as...

  10. Writers

    • 9 Reading Practices, Writing Practices: Intimate Writings in Nineteenth-Century France
      (pp. 167-183)

      Nineteenth-century readers were also prolific writers of letters, private journals, and diaries. Historians of reading practices and literary appropriation, however, have been slow to analyse the history of writing, and to see its close connections with the world of reading. This is changing. Love letters, family correspondence, andjournaux intimeshave come under scrutiny as evidence of reading and writing practices, and as indicators of the multiple uses of personal writing in the past. The nineteenth century, which provides some impressive examples of personal writing, is a rich field for an investigation into the functions of writing in bourgeois society....

    • 10 French Soldiers and Their Correspondence: Towards a History of Writing Practices in the First World War
      (pp. 184-200)

      All the allied belligerents in the First World War developed techniques of postal censorship for limiting information leaks by their own troops. The British censors, followed after 1917 by the American censors, entrusted considerable responsibility for preliminary surveillance to junior officers at the front. British and American soldiers could bypass their superior officers if they wished by sending their outgoing correspondence in special coloured envelopes to a central censorship body. Such a decentralized system would never have satisfied the French High Command, which elaborated by far the most systematic control of both military and civilian correspondence in the war zones....

  11. Appendix: Calculating Bestsellers in Early Nineteenth-Century France
    (pp. 201-206)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 207-230)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 231-238)
  14. Index
    (pp. 239-246)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-248)