Including: Clandestine Best-Sellers of the Pre-Revolutionary Era
July 17, 2012 9:59 AM   Subscribe

"The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe project uses database technology to map the trade of the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN), a celebrated Swiss publishing house that operated between 1769 and 1794. As the STN sold the works of other publishers alongside its own editions, their archives can be considered a representative source for studying the history of the book trade and dissemination of ideas in the late Enlightenment."

What made it to the bestselling lists in the late 18th century? A scandalous judicial memoir involving incest - "Planta gagnant sa vie en honnête homme"; an entertaining description of an urban community, hailed as the first description of "everyday life" in France - "Tableau de Paris"; the text of an anti-clerical play about the St. Bartholomew's day massacre - "La Destruction de la Ligue". These last two by Louis-Sébastien Mercier (also known as Jean-Jacques' Ape), a follower of Rousseau.

Also, The Illegal Book Trade that Started the French Revolution, a review of a (pre-browsable STN database) study by Robert Darnton, "The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France", which "traces the merging of philosophical, sexual, and anti-monarchical interests into the pulp fiction of the 1780s, banned books".
posted by Marauding Ennui (5 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool. I think of myself as reasonably well-informed about C18th French literature and I've never even heard of Planta gagnant sa vie en honnête homme--and it's their absolute bestseller!

Interesting to look up Rousseau, too. You can look at the sales ranks of individual works. Far and away his bestseller is The Confessions. The political stuff which we think of as so hugely influential (and which was, of course) sold in pretty paltry amounts. I was surprised, though, that Julie; ou la Nouvelle Heloise wasn't a bigger hit.
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. I notice this thread has been up for a couple of hours now and I've made 100% of the comments in it. I guess I'd better stand aside and let some of the other people who are interested in C18th French literature have a turn.
posted by yoink at 12:48 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ten favorites is proof of its utility. For me, Tableau de Paris alone was worth the price of admission. I love that kind of contemporary guidebooks.
posted by BWA at 2:28 PM on July 17, 2012

the Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France is a _great_ read, I'm so glad that Neuechatel's catalog of books are accessible to other scholars and fans of smutty political screeds philosophical tracts. Thanks Ennui!
posted by Joad at 9:41 PM on July 17, 2012

I'm trying to strike the right balance here between Metafilter-style enthusiasm and professional decorum. Here goes:

I am going to analyze the shit out of this.

posted by amy lecteur at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2012

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