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The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Robert Darnton

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April 1996
This work reveals the illegal book trade in France during the 18th century and explores the cultural and political significance of "bad" books. The author introduces three of the most influential illegal bestsellers, "Therese Philosophe", "L'An 2440" and "Anecdotes sur Mme La Comtesse du Barry".
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More popular than the canon of the great Enlightenment philosophers were other books, also banned by the regime, written and sold "under the cloak." These formed a libertine literature that was a crucial part of the culture of dissent in the Old Regime. Robert Darnton explores the cultural and political significance of these "bad" books and introduces readers to three of the most influential illegal best-sellers, from which he includes substantial excerpts. Winner of the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism.


This work reveals the illegal book trade in France during the 18th century and explores the cultural and political significance of "bad" books. The author introduces three of the most influential illegal bestsellers, "Therese Philosophe", "L'An 2440" and "Anecdotes sur Mme La Comtesse du Barry". -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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WHEN THE PUBLIC HANGMAN lacerated and burned forbidden books in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice in Paris, he paid tribute to the power of the printed word. Lesen Sie die erste Seite
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24 von 26 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen A Carefully Researched and Fascinating History 20. November 2000
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
The study of literary and intellectual history often has tended to identify a canon, or core of classics, for each historical period and then study the broader corpus of works in relation to those classics. In accordance with this model, there also has been a tendency to identify such canonical works as the "cause" of historical events. Eighteenth century French history has not been an exception, many historians arguing, rightly or wrongly, that the Enlightenment writings of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau provided the ideological basis for the French Revolution.
There are, of course, many problems with this approach. Among those problems, Robert Darnton suggests in his fascinating and carefully researched "The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France", is that, "if we put the issue that way, we are likely to distort it, first by reifying the Enlightenment as if it could be separated from everything else in eighteenth-century culture; then by injecting into it an analysis of the Revolution, as if it could be traced through the events of 1789-1800 like a substance being monitored in the bloodstream."
Moreover, as Darnton's book argues, any approach which focusses exclusively on the canonical literature of the Enlightenment necessarily misses the mark since there was a flourishing popular and illegal underground literature, the so-called "livres philosophiques" or "philosophical books", which exerted a powerful impact on eighteenth century French culture and politics. These were the books sold "under the cloak", illegal books forbidden by the French Monarchy because they undermined the authority of the king, the Church, or conventional morality. "By sampling them, the reader will be able to form his or her own impressions of the world of illegal literature. It may seem surprising, shocking, naughty, or comic; but it certainly will look different from the world made familiar by the great-man, great-book variety of literary history."
From these premises, Darnton carefully explores the trade in forbidden books in seventeenth and eighteenth century France and the potential impact of that trade on popular consciousness and the ever-changing way in which the French Monarchy was perceived from the reign of Louis XIV until the Revolution. Darnton elucidates the mechanics of the book trade of the time, how it worked to disseminate forbidden literature, and which forbidden books attained "best seller" status. Darnton also elaborates on the various categories of forbidden literature, including the works of philosophical pornography, utopian fantasy and political slander which fed the public's desire for transgressive works and, ultimately, undermined the foundations of monarchical legitimacy. Finally, in painting this brilliant history of the forbidden book in pre-Revolutionary France, Darnton carefully and persuasively outlines the details of the vast communcations network which existed in French society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, a network which ran from Court to café to popular pamphlet to book and back, each element operating in a way which served to reinforce popular (and usually unfavorable) notions of the Court and Church and create a fertile breeding ground for social unrest.
In all of this, Darnton displays great care in sifting the historical evidence and avoiding hasty conclusions. If anything, his research asks as many questions as it answers, leaving the reader with a much deeper understanding of the complexity of the historian's task in reaching any firm conclusions about the interplay between popular literature, Enlightenment ideas and the Revolution in France. "The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France" is a carefully researched and fascinating piece of historical writing, a book which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of the book.
11 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen What the hoi polloi were really reading 11. März 2007
Von Anyechka - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
This was one of the many great books I read in the History of the Enlightenment class I took my senior year of college. My professor told us that Robert Darnton is his main rival in that field, which meant that he's a really good writer who really knows his stuff, does all of the thorough research, and is really familiar with so many facets of the Enlightenment. Though some of the chapters can be a bit academic at times, it never really merges into boring-academic style. He still manages to be interesting while dealing with some rather academic material, such as marketing, ordering, shipping, and which books were selling best with which booksellers. Although most of us did feel that Mr. Darnton used too many untranslated French words, phrases, and titles, like kind of showing off or being pretentious. (This is no longer the era when most people could speak and read French as a second language!)

Mr. Darnton breaks down these forbidden best-sellers into the three main categories of political slander, philosophical pornography, and utopian fantasy. Too often we view history through the lens of the ruling-classes or the well-off, not the common masses who were not privileged enough to experience the same things that the rich and the bourgeoisie did. The hoi polloi of pre-revolutionary France were not reading authors such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot, and d'Holbach. They were reading authors such as Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Mathieu-François Pidansat de Mairobert, François de Baculard d'Arnaud, Pietro Bacci Aretino, and Jean Baptiste de Boyer d'Argens. The common people would have no connection to nor use for such high-minded things as philosophy, history, science, and theology. They wanted easily-accessible works on subjects they could grasp, understand, and relate to. However, it was through these books that they ended up soaking up a lot of the Enlightenment ideas anyway, such as personal freedom, the decadence and corruption of the ruling classes, and the importance of the individual.

To round off the book, there are three lengthy excerpts provided from prominent examples of the main categories of books Mr. Darnton focuses on--'L'An Deux Mille Quatre Cent Quarante, Rêve s'il en Fût Jamais' ('The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One'), 'Thérèse Philosophe,' and 'Anecdotes sur Mme. la Comtesse du Barry.' The first title is utopian fantasy, and is rather like a French version of Rip van Winkle, only this character has been sleeping for over 600 years instead of just 100. He awakens and naturally finds that everything is changed, unable to believe he is now 700 years old, and how much society has changed for the better. The second title is philosophical pornography, though I personally would classify it more as erotica than pornography, seeing as how there's an actual storyline and the point of the book is to communicate ideas about religion and philosophy, not just to show a bunch of characters in bed or engaging in self-gratification. My favorite character was M. l'abbé T.; it's really something else to see this priest railing against his own religion and saying things like "God would only have to destroy the devil and we would all be saved. There must be a lot of injustice or weakness on his part!" and "Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be infallibly damned and eternally miserable." He really doesn't pull any punches in lighting into the hypocrisy of society and the priesthood, that's for sure! The final title is political slander, and tells the story of the well-known Countess du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV. There are a number of racy scenes in this one as well, along with some R-rated songs with the subject of her goings-on with the king.

Overall, though it's not exactly the type of book one brings to the beach or reads to pass some time on a rainy day, it should be required reading for all those interested in the Enlightenment and the types of books that the hoi polloi were really reading back then. It certainly made me interested in seeking out the full-length books that are excerpted!
16 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Fascinating historical study 31. Mai 2001
Von H. F. Gibbard - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
The French Revolution was a revolution of ideas. But where did those ideas come from? The traditional answer has focused on high-minded Enlightenment sources, like the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. But, as Robert Darnton proves in this book, for every Rousseau, there were a score of "Rousseaus de la ruisseau" --"gutter Rousseaus" who attacked the Ancien Regieme with scandalous polemics, scurrillous pamphlets and political and pornographic fantasies. That most of this literature was forbidden by law only made it more attractive to the public.
Darnton provides us with a scholarly study of the underground book trade in the years leading up to the Revolution. He explores every aspect of the business, and manages to make what could have been an abstruse topic fascinating to the reader. Most of the authors he mentions have been completely forgotten except by scholars, but they were highly influential and controversial in their time.
The last part of the book is a fascinating series of excerpts from the books discussed in the text. The pornographic excerpts are the most interesting: to me, they demonstrate that the writing style of the Marquis de Sade, with its philosophical rantings and outrageous obscenity, was far from unique and must be placed in the context of other, less famous writers of the same ilk.
I highly recommend this book to people interested in the ideas that sparked the French Revolution, and to those interested in issues surrounding freedom of the press.
1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Books to shake the foundations of the throne 26. Juni 2011
Von S. Smith-Peter - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
This is an analysis of how the forbidden best sellers of pre-revolutionary France helped to delegitimize the old regime. This is an important precondition of a successful revolution, as a government with a high level of legitimacy is unlikely to fall in a revolution. While Darnton does not draw a direct line from the "philosophical books" on his best seller list to the French Revolution, he does suggests that they helped to shake the foundations of the old regime.

These "philosophical books" are fascinating, and range from social satire to pornography. All questioned the status quo to some degree or another, which is why they were forbidden and sold so well. Darnton's source base is an extraordinary trove of materials from the STN, an important publisher near Switzerland, consisting of more than 50,000 letters and other items, and supplemented by related materials from Paris Customs, police records and booksellers' catalogs.

I especially liked the anthology in the back, which gave the sense of the foreignness of the past more than anything Darnton could write. For example, Therese Philosophe does show an extraordinary mixture of erotic scenes and long-winded theological discussions. These racy books are well suited to Darnton's own mixture of theory and vim. A fascinating look at what people were really reading before 1789 and how books can shape society.
2 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Very Good, but with censored texts 13. Oktober 2011
Von L. Schiereck - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch|Von Amazon bestätigter Kauf
A good read on a misunderstood era. My only criticism pertains to his translation of THERESE PHILOSOPHE -- so much is removed of THERESE that the story doesn't make sense. After 2 pages he omits 10 pages that make sense of the rest of the story -- Therese from age 7 to age 23 is omitted.

Someone left a snide comment for this review, that of course some was omitted as it was excerpted. How convenient. When publishers do it it's called censorship. The lubricity is the only real charm of D'Argens work, as Sade commented (in Juliette), and without it there is no story.

Darnton could have bleeped out the --- words and given us a taste; but this is America, so fidelity to the original text is no special virtue. Is this a children's book? Even Wikipedia is nowhere near as prudish. There is really no point to Darnton's translation except to prove that he can translate.

Darnton surely knew he had no competition -- d'Argens, like Mirabeau, has not had a decent English translation. This goes for most libertine novels from the Enfer of the Bibliotheque Nationale, with the glaring exception of Sade, who is far more objectionable than the innocent and realistic sensuality of D'Argens.

If you don't have to have it rated PG, get the LIBERTINE READER by Michel Feher. If you read French also check out Patrick Wald Lasowski, Philippe Sollers and others whose writings on libertinism and the libertine novel are easily found in Google searches.
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