Books without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets

Books without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets

Books without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets

Books without Borders in Enlightenment Europe: French Cosmopolitanism and German Literary Markets

Synopsis

Though the field of book history has long been divided into discrete national histories, books have seldom been as respectful of national borders as the historians who study them--least of all in the age of Enlightenment when French books reached readers throughout Europe. In this erudite and engagingly written study, Jeffrey Freedman examines one of the most important axes of the transnational book trade in Enlightenment Europe: the circulation of French books between France and the German-speaking lands. Focusing on the critical role of book dealers as cultural intermediaries, he follows French books through each stage of their journey--from the French-language printing shops where they were produced, to the wholesale book fairs in Leipzig, to retail book shops at locations scattered widely throughout Germany. At some of those locations, authorities reacted with alarm to the spread of French books, burning works of the radical French Enlightenment and punishing the booksellers who sold them. But officials had little power to curtail their circulation: the political fragmentation of the German lands made it virtually impossible to police the book trade. Largely unimpeded by censorship, French books circulated more freely in Germany than in the absolutist monarchy of France.

In comparison, the flow of German books into the French market was negligible--an asymmetry that corresponded to the hierarchy of languages in Enlightenment Europe. But publishers in Switzerland produced French translations of German books. By means of title changes, creative editing, and mendacious advertising, the Swiss publishers adapted works of the German Enlightenment for an audience of French-readers that stretched from Dublin to Moscow.

An innovative contribution to both the history of the book and the transnational study of the Enlightenment, Freedman's work tells a story of crucial importance to understanding the circulation of texts in an age in which the concept of World Literature had not yet been invented, but the phenomenon already existed.

Excerpt

This is a study of the transnational French book trade in Enlightenment Eu rope. As such, it belongs to what is known as the history of the book, a vast field of interdisciplinary research, whose subject matter embraces every aspect of the “communications circuit” between author and reader. It belongs to that field, and yet it does not fit snugly within it. the field of book history has long been divided into separate, self-contained national histories, from Johann Goldfriedrich’s early twentieth-century classic, Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels, to the multiauthor, multivolume Histoire de l’ édition française published in the 1980s, to the more recent History of the Book in Britain. This study cuts across those divisions. Based on never-before-studied documents from the archive of an eighteenth-century publisher, it presents a challenge to the dominant national model of book history.

Why challenge that model? in part, because books have not been as respectful of national borders as the historians who study them. Even in the age of the wooden hand press, from the mid-fifteenth to the late eighteenth century, when books traveled in horse-drawn wagons along muddy, unpaved highways or in sailing vessels down poorly dredged, unevenly flowing rivers, they traversed great distances, connecting communities of readers across as well as within national borders. the geography of their diffusion cannot be folded neatly into the geography of nations, let alone that of states.

Like the products of the wooden hand press, moreover, the booksellers of early modern Europe moved back and forth across national borders. Many of them would undertake long journeys to visit their customers in foreign lands, or they would travel to the famous fair at Frankfurt on Main, a rendezvous of the Latin book trade, which drew booksellers from beyond the Rhine and across the Alps until its decline during the Thirty Years’ War. Some of them established themselves permanently in foreign countries—Germans in Russia, Huguenots in the Low Countries, Frenchmen in London. and in such linguistic border areas as Switzerland, an important center of early modern . . .

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