Mastering the Marketplace: Popular Literature in Nineteenth-Century France

Mastering the Marketplace: Popular Literature in Nineteenth-Century France

Mastering the Marketplace: Popular Literature in Nineteenth-Century France

Mastering the Marketplace: Popular Literature in Nineteenth-Century France

Synopsis

Mastering the Marketplace examines the origins of modern mass-media culture through developments in the new literary marketplace of nineteenth-century France and how literature itself reveals the broader social and material conditions in which it is produced. Anne O'Neil-Henry examines how French authors of the nineteenth century navigated the growing publishing and marketing industry, as well as the dramatic rise in literacy rates, libraries, reading rooms, literary journals, political newspapers, and the advent of the serial novel.

O'Neil-Henry places the work of canonical author Honoré de Balzac alongside then-popular writers such as Paul de Kock and Eugéne Sue, acknowledging the importance of "low" authors in the wider literary tradition. By reading literary texts alongside associated advertisements, book reviews, publication histories, sales tactics, and promotional tools, O'Neil-Henry presents a nuanced picture of the relationship between "high" and "low" literature, one in which critics and authors alike grappled with the common problem of commercial versus cultural capital.

Through new literary readings and original archival research from holdings in the United States and France, O'Neil-Henry revises existing understandings of a crucial moment in the development of industrialized culture. In the process, she discloses links between this formative period and our own, in which mobile electronic devices, internet-based bookstores, and massive publishing conglomerates alter--once again--the way literature is written, sold, and read.

Excerpt

In 1851, while in the midst of composing Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert noted that he was experiencing difficulties in his writing and worried he might “tomber dans le Paul de Kock.” a year later he lamented, “Ce que j’écris présentement risque d’être du Paul de Kock si je n’y mets une forme profondément littéraire.” the Paul de Kock so repeatedly maligned by Flaubert was actually a best-selling and prolific novelist, who had a long and lucrative career spanning nearly fifty years until his death in 1870. Despite or perhaps because of this commercial success, de Kock had already in his own day come to embody the very idea of lowbrow literature, exactly the type from which Flaubert hoped to distinguish himself. the author of Madame Bovary was hardly the only one to employ “Paul de Kock” as shorthand for “bad” literature in order to expose hierarchies in his contemporary literary field. Honoré de Balzac, who initially enjoyed a friendly relationship with the popular novelist Eugène Sue until sales of Sue’s serialized fiction began to dwarf his own, accused the well-known dandy of being “Paul de Kock en satin et à paillettes.” Effectively charging Sue, the author of the best-selling serial novel Les Mystères de Paris (1842–43), with being a philistine disguised . . .

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