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Robert Darnton

Related: American academia - cultural history

Research tropes: bestsellers - underground literature - libertine novel - nobrow theory

The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1995) - Robert Darnton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Robert Darnton (born 1939) is an American cultural historian. As of 2005 he is a professor at Princeton University, where he has had a position since 1968.

He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1982. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Darnton [Sept 2005]

The Great Cat Massacre

The Great Cat Massacre : And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984) - Robert Darnton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

First sentence: "THE MENTAL WORLD of the unenlightened during the Enlightenment seems to be irretrievably lost..."

"The perception of that distance may serve as a starting point of an investigation, for anthropologists have found that the best points of entry in an attempt to penetrate an alien culture can be those where it seems to be the most opaque. When you realize that you are not getting something--a joke, a proverb, a ceremony-- that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it." [Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) p. 78.]

In recent years the study of popular culture has become an area of interest in many disciplines. Social and cultural historians, for instance, attempt to recover aspects of everyday life of the past that have frequently been left out of the historical record. In doing so, many historians have focused on popular festivals, carnivals, rituals, and celebrations, such as Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie's Carnival in Romans (1979); Natalie Zemon Davis's Culture and Society in Early Modern France; and Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre (1984). --http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/bkgrnd.html

The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1995) - Robert Darnton

The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1995) - Robert Darnton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

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 text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly
More specialized than The Great Cat Massacre, Darnton's latest still cogently demonstrates through tables, case studies, analysis and anecdotes just how different the pre-Revolutionary French were from postmodern Americans. In this second volume of a trilogy that began with The Business of Enlightenment, Darnton returns to the extensive publishing records of the Societe typographique de Neuchatel (STN) to trace the demand for books forbidden as a threat to morals and politics. These "philosophical books," as they were called, included Rousseau's Social Contract. But with only one order in STN's records, it was hardly a bestseller. Accordingly, Darnton focuses on three widely disseminated books representing different popular genres: the pornographic Therese philosophe (probably by Marquis d'Argens); the philosophical utopian fantasy L'An 2440 by Louis-Sebastien Mercier; and the libelle (think libelous) Anecdotes sur Mme la comtesse du Barry ascribed to Mathieu-Francois Pidansat de Mairobert. His discussion of the distribution, reception and influence of these books is convincing and careful (general readers may find some sections on methodology a little too careful). Darnton sees these works as literature, not just sociological artifacts; and, if lengthy excerpts from L'An 2440 seem a little dated, those from Therese and Anecdotes are still ribaldly amusing. --Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. via Amazon.com

From Library Journal
With this volume, Darnton consolidates his position as one of the most innovative and influential historians of 18th-century France. For over 25 years, Darnton (Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History, Princeton) has been studying reading habits and book selling during the period often referred to as the Enlightenment. The present work is published conjointly with a companion volume, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789. The latter gives statistical details for what Forbidden Bestsellers covers more descriptively. The gist of what Darnton says is that philosophes like Voltaire and Rousseau had far less impact on French readers than did the anonymous authors of scandalous, libelous, treasonous, and/or pornographic works, most of which were smuggled into France from the Netherlands, Switzerland, or the German states. Taken together, they had a corrosive effect on all established values and practices and thus contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution. Very highly recommended for all libraries.?T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., N.Y. Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --via Amazon.com

See also: clandestine - 1700s - forbidden - bestseller - French Revolution - libertine

The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (1982) - Robert Darnton

The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (1982) - Robert Darnton [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
Robert Darnton introduces us to the shadowy world of pirate publishers, garret scribblers, under-the-cloak book peddlers, smugglers, and police spies that composed the literary underground of the Enlightenment.

Here are the ambitious writers who crowded into Paris seeking fame and fortune within the Republic of Letters, but who instead sank into the miserable world of Grub Street-victims of a closed world of protection and privilege. Venting their frustrations in an illicit literature of vitriolic pamphlets, libelles, and chroniques scandaleuses, these "Rousseaus of the gutter" desecrated everything sacred in the social order of the Old Regime. Here too are the workers who printed their writings and the clandestine booksellers who distributed them.

While censorship, a monopolistic guild, and the police contained the visible publishing industry within the limits of official orthodoxies, a prolific literary underworld disseminated a vast illegal literature that conveyed a seditious ideology to readers everywhere in France. Covering their traces in order to survive, the creators of this eighteenth-century counterculture have virtually disappeared from history. By drawing on an ingenious selection of previously hidden sources, such as police ledgers and publishers' records, Robert Darnton reveals for the first time the fascinating story of that forgotten underworld.

The activities of the underground bear on a broad range of issues in history and literature, and they directly concern the problem of uncovering the ideological origins of the French Revolution. This engaging book illuminates those issues and provides a fresh view of publishing history that will inform and delight the general reader.

See also: literature - underground - underground press

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