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In the Public Eye

In the Public Eye: A History of Reading in Modern France, 1800-1940

James Smith Allen
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 372
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  • Book Info
    In the Public Eye
    Book Description:

    Robert Darnton, Roger Chartier, and others have written much on the history of reading in the Old Regime, but this is the first broad study of reading to focus on the period after 1800. How and why did people understand texts as they did in modern France? In answering this question, James Allen moves easily from one interpretive framework to another and draws on a wide range of sources--novels, diaries, censor reports, critical reviews, artistic images, accounts of public and private readings, and the letters that readers sent to authors about their books. As he analyzes reading "in the public eye," the author explores the formation of "interpretive communities" during the years when reading silently and alone gradually became more common than reading aloud in a group. In the Public Eye discusses printing, publishing, literacy, schooling, criticism, and censorship, to study the social, cultural, economic, and political forces that shaped French interpretive practice. Examining the art and act of reading by different audiences, it discloses the mentalities of literate people for whom few other historical records exist. The book will be essential reading for those interested in modern French history, post-structuralist literary theory and criticism, reader-response theory and criticism, and social and intellectual history in general.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6231-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-24)

    “Documents” in the history of reading can appear in curious guises, such as the portrait of Henri Fantin-Latour’s two sisters completed by 1859 (see I11. I.1).¹ Seated in the corner of a sewing room, Marie is portrayed with an open book before her, while Nathalie appears in a deeply pensive mood. The two women are apparently reading together, an ordinary middle-class activity in nineteenth-century France. And yet Fantin-Latour’s treatment of this familiar domestic scene leaves the attentive viewer uneasy. Is Marie reading aloud here or not? Her lips are neither parted nor pursed, and her sister seems absorbed if not...

  8. Part I: The Historical Context

    • Chapter 1 THE PRINTED WORD
      (pp. 27-54)

      On March 19, 1863, a clerk in the Ministry of the Interior recorded a remarkable number in French history. Charged with keeping a register of all publications printed in Paris, he dutifully copied the legal declaration provided by a shop contracted to print military passes: “in-8 [format], 1 [volume], 1 [sheet], 10,000,000 [copies].”¹ Rarely in the nineteenth century did this bureau ever record more than 100,000 copies for any printing job; the annual average ranged from a low of 880 in 1814 to a high of 6,800 in 1878 (see Table A. 1). Could this recording have been a mistake?...

    • Chapter 2 A LITERATE SOCIETY
      (pp. 55-82)

      “Everyone is talking about your mysteries,” wrote Ernestine Dumont to Eugène Sue, the author ofLes Mystères de Paris,in November 1843.

      Your work is everywhere—on the worker’s bench, on the merchant’s counter, on the little lady’s divan, on the shop-girl’s table, on the officeworker’s and magistrate’s desk. I am sure that of the entire population in Paris, only those people who cannot read do not know of your work.¹

      Some years later, Théophile Gautier described an even larger audience, one that included the illiterate; in their fascination with Sue’s novel, people had the book read to them “by...

      (pp. 83-110)

      Soon after learning that the Interior Ministry had decided to prosecuteLes Fleurs du mal,Charles Baudelaire set out to affect the trial’s outcome.¹ On July 20, 1857, he wrote an obsequious letter to the minister of state, Achille Fould, a former colleague of his stepfather, to prevent his case from ever coming to court. But this flattery came to nothing, and his trial was scheduled for Thursday, August 20. Baudelaire then pleaded with C.-A. Sainte-Beuve for his political intervention, or at least for his published approval of the poet’s work. Despite Baudelaire’s personal visit, the powerful critic refused to...

      (pp. 111-140)

      Like other modern French authors, Anatole France received mail from readers who expressed an enthusiastic appreciation of his work, of course, but who also defined a peculiar predisposition to the printed page. In 1891, for example, a student at the École normale d’institutrices in Périgueux, Yvonne Ethève, wrote a long letter on her responses to France’s novels.¹ While reading his books in a little park near home, she often daydreamed about the natural beauty around her. In so doing, she said, she created “the spritely visions of a world that I explored alone,” a mental universe she peopled with classical...

  9. Part II: Historical Interpretive Practices:: The Art of Reading

    • Chapter 5 ARTISTIC IMAGES
      (pp. 143-176)

      More than any other artist, Honoré Daumier was intrigued by the different kinds of readers in modern French society.¹ When he died in 1879 after fifty years of work, Daumier left images of literate activity in all its variety among both men and women, rich and poor, young and old, at work and at play. One can find portraits of lawyers reading briefs to clients, parents reading stories to children, actresses reading scripts to other players, and many other less singular individuals simply reading a book or newspaper to themselves. Wherever literate people were in nineteenth-century Paris, Daumier portrayed them...

    • Chapter 6 IN THE NOVEL
      (pp. 177-198)

      A key scene in Marcel Proust’sLe Temps retrouvé(1922) illustrates well the complex role of reading in modern character development. The author’s alter ego, Marcel, is in the Guermantes family library where he finds a copy of George Sand’sFrançois le Champi.Suddenly, Marcel recalls details of his childhood in Combray, and he ponders their origins in the text.

      Things—a book in a red cover like any other—as soon as we perceive them become in us something immaterial, of the same nature as our preoccupations or our sensations at a particular moment, and meld indissolubly into them....

      (pp. 199-224)

      In March 1821, Chateaubriand was guest of honor at a ball at Sans Souci, the palace of Frederick William III in Potsdam. Soon after, an article about the event appeared in theBerliner Morgenblatt.According to Chateaubriand’s memoirs, the article’s author, Madame la baronne de Hohenhausen, described the celebrated author and minister in unusually flattering terms.

      The beautiful women of Berlin have continued to esteem the author ofAtala,that superb and melancholy novel in which the most ardent love succumbs in a struggle against religion. . . . M. de Chateaubriand is rather short, and yet well proportioned. His...

  10. PART III: Historical Interpretive Practices:: The Act of Reading

      (pp. 227-249)

      On August 8, 1921, soon after the news that he would be made a commander in the Legion of Honor, Georges Courteline received an effusive letter from Robert Rey. Apparently Courteline did not know Rey, but that fact did not deter the correspondent from congratulating the author. Courteline’s work, Rey stated, had endured in the miserable circumstances of postwar France. With 1.5 million men dead and food prices beyond control, “our country so covered with wounds and burns” had given way to “a growing demoralization, a brutal cowardice without name, a degradation without precedent.”¹ It seemed to Rey that French...

    • Chapter 9 RESPONSES TO GENRE
      (pp. 250-274)

      In the interest of national defense during World War I, military censorship of the mail followed very precise procedures.¹ The French army established dozens of commissions, each composed of more than 200 soldiers and civilians, to sort, classify, and read the correspondence to and from the front. But because so much was at stake in the war, the commissions were given specific guidelines, formulas in fact, to facilitate the detection of information potentially valuable to the enemy. The Army General Staff issued the same instructions to each commission specifying the way letters should be read.² After an initial screening to...

    • Chapter 10 READING THE NOVEL
      (pp. 275-302)

      In response to a proliferation of popular literature during the July Monarchy, Alfred Nettement wrote a series of critical essays on the serial novel.¹ A publicist with strong Catholic and legitimist sympathies, Nettement was especially outraged by the phenomenal success of Eugène Sue’sLes Mystères de Paris(1842–43); he devoted all four of his “lettres à une femme du monde,” first published inLa Gazette de France,to deploring the threat that this work posed to the social order.² But in doing so, Nettement also felt the responsibility that all serious literary critics have to outline their analysis clearly,...

    (pp. 303-320)

    At the beginning of this book, Henri Fantin-Latour’s 1859 portrait of his two sisters suggested that reading had a past worth exploring. This intriguing depiction of two women, together with other historical evidence, raised at least three serious questions: In what circumstances did people read from the eighteenth century onward? How did they read? What did their reading mean to them and why? Although there may be no entirely satisfactory answers, those ventured in the ensuing chapters identified issues for a full-scale history of reading in modern France. Literate milieus required texts, people to read them, laws and leaders to...

    (pp. 321-338)
    (pp. 339-342)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 343-356)