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The Writer, the Press, and the Market: The Rise of Self-Publishing in Paris before the Revolution



Dr. Marie-Claude Felton (McGill University)


Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 12:00pm


Pigott Hall, Room 216



The Writer, the Press, and the Market: The Rise of Self-Publishing in Paris before the Revolution

Brief speaker(s) bio
  Marie-Claude Felton is currently an affiliate member of the Department of History at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She holds a PhD from the EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where she studied under Prof. Roger Chartier) and she recently completed a Banting postdoctoral fellowship at McGill during which she started a comparative study of self-publishing in Europe in the early modern period. She also completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University where she studied the publishing activities of marginal scientists during the Enlightenment. Her book, which explores self-publishing and authorship in 18th-century Paris, entitled Maîtres de leurs ouvrages. L’Édition à compte d'auteur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle, was recently published by Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, Voltaire Foundation (2014).

Meeting description
  Abstract: When the police made an arrest at the house of Luneau de Boisjermain in August 1768 for having sold his own books, many writers, including Voltaire, took the pen to defend him and to denounce this injustice. Why should the booksellers and printers, then the only ones allowed to sell books in France, reap all the benefits from their writings? Why are writers the only members of society who cannot live off their own work? Why can’t authors write and publish for their own profit? These are some of the crucial questions that a new class of writers started to ask during the last decades of the Old Regime, a period when the French literary scene started to witness a substantial shift towards the professionalization of authorship. As Simon Linguet argued in a 1769 pamphlet, “everybody works for money”, and “so should writers”! For this talk, we’re going to explore the more specific case of self-publishing authors who sold their own books (an activity that bec
ame legal in 1777), their relationship to printers and booksellers, their use of subscription and advertising for the dissemination of their works on the book market, and the role of their ventures for the modernization of authorship and authorial rights. More common than previously thought, these “authors-publishers” demonstrated a tangible will to not only make their way into the world as writers, but also to make an honourable profit from their work as professionals.