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.
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