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C O U R S E 
The French Revolution
Peter McPhee, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
What were People of 18th Century France Reading?
Notes taken on August 22, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
what were people in 18th century France reading?
this work had a price that only a thin section of society could hope to afford
his most radical and revolutionary works were not comparatively popular
Émile, ou De l’éducation
Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique
Daniel Mornet in the 1900s reviewed 500 libraries of people from 18th century, found one copy of The Social Contract
most popular works
Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse
romantic novel of sensibilities, a novel of manners
we have no best seller lists from there 18th century
two kinds of books:
received full public permission from regime
received only tacit permission
included the more radical works
1980s Robert Darnton research on "bad books"
found that there was a pirate industry of producing inexpensive copies of revolutionary works outside of France and getting them into the borders
in Britain and Neuchâtel, Switzerland
looking at illegal books tells you want people really wanted to read
25,000 pirate editions of the Encyclopedie existed
not only cheap pirate editions shipped into France, but another genre of books
low-quality books with political and pornography themes
"Venus in the cloister, or the nun in the nightshirt"
the Falsity of Miracles
Social Contract (Rousseau)
one can conclude that people wanted to get their hands on obscenity, ribald literature, and banned Enlightenment works
the authorities tended to group these together and called them "bad books"
what was particularly explosive was that the obscene soft porn literature was targeting the noble class, the clergy, and indeed, the king himself
Louis XVI married Marie-Antoinette
he was 15, she was 14
under French Royal law, there can only be a king of France, not a Queen
it takes them 8 years to produce a child and it's a girl
finally in 1781 a son is born
he died in 1789
mockery of the king's sexual incapacity became politically explosive
not just the alleged impotency of the king but it suggests that the regime itself is in trouble
Marie Antoinette becomes a target of this mockery as well
these underground authors suggest in their writings that she is such a strong woman that she has effectively emasculated the king
this seems to symbolize what has gone wrong with the regime in general
since the king was there by the grace of God, this mockery was also religiously explosive
Louis is also mocked that he rather goes hunting than run his realm
he keeps a diary of the birds and animals that his hunting party kills, averaging 20-30 per day
on lists that were found of what bookstores ordered from foreign book producers, there were:
The Little Suppers at the Hôtel de Bouillon
"little suppers" were euphemisms for sexual orgies
Louis XV's private life
Louis XV's orgies
the devil in the baptismal font
Rousseau's latest book
Marie-Antoinette's hobbies
the allegation that comes through this literature is that the aristocracy can no longer fight, conduct foreign policy, nor make love
Chevalier d'Eon
commonly seen dressed as a woman
rumors that he cross-dressed
fought in the army
was a perfect occasion for these writers to mock the aristocracy and monarchy
Enlightenment writers such as Diderot would dabble in this type of ribald literature when they needed the money
literature is widely distributed
a literate city
the vast majority of people could read and write
women are less literate
information was commonly passed via market places
85% of France lived in small, rural communities
50% of men, 25% of women could sign their marriage acts
colporteurs went from village to village selling printed literature for people to read aloud at family gatherings
"Bibliotheque bleue"
medieval horror stories
witches, superstitions, spells
anything but Enlightenment literature
secular information
e.g. how to watch out for pickpockets
rather than about the lives of the Saints
had nothing to do with the Enlightenment
hence one can conclude that the Enlightenment was an urban phenomenon
but one of the major movements of the French Revolution was The Great Fear, the fear of the peasant revolt
this can't be explained in terms of the peasants having Enlightenment ideas such as Rousseau or the Encyclopedie
the could afford these works
the illegal books weren't circulating to any significant extent through the countryside which were mocking the monarchy and the court