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The Literary Market

The Literary Market: Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime

Geoffrey Turnovsky
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Literary Market
    Book Description:

    A central theme in the history of Old Regime authorship highlights the opportunities offered by a growing book trade to writers seeking to free themselves from patrons and live "by the pen." Accounts of this passage from patronage to market have explored in far greater detail the opportunities themselves-the rising sums paid by publishers and the progression of laws protecting literary property-than how and why writers would have seized on them, no doubt because the choice to do so has seemed an obvious or natural one for writers assumed to prefer economic self-sufficiency over elite protection. In The Literary Market, Geoffrey Turnovsky claims that there was nothing obvious or natural about the choice. Writers had been involved in commercial book publication since the earliest days of the printing press, yet had not necessarily linked these activities with their freedom to think and write. The association of autonomy and professionalism was forged, not given. Analyzing the literary market as a key articulation of the association, Turnovsky explores how in eighteenth-century polemics a rhetoric of commercial authorship came to signify independence for intellectuals. He finds the roots of the connection not in the claims of entrepreneurial writers to rights and income but in a world to which that of the modern author has been contrasted: the aristocratic culture of the seventeenth century. Aristocratic culture, he argues, generated a disparaging view of the professional author as one defined by activities tainting him or her as greedy and arrogant and therefore unworthy of protection and socially isolated. The Literary Market examines the story of the "birth of the author" in terms of the revalorization of this negative trope in Enlightenment-era debates about the radically changing role of writers in society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0357-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    Two brief and understated anecdotes can frame this study. They illustrate the ambiguities that will be at the core of my account of the “modernization” of intellectual identities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly to the degree that this book explores the historical process of the “birth of the modern author” in light of continuities with the values and behaviors of the early modern period rather than, as is more traditionally done, in terms of a sharp break with them.

    The first is told by Paul Pellisson in the history of the Académie française, which he wrote in the...

    • INTRODUCTION: The Story of a Transition: When and How Did Writers Become “Modern”? (pp. 15-24)

      The “literary market” has been a key concept in accounts of cultural and literary practices in Old Regime France, particularly for studies of the author as a “modern” principle of intellectual coherence and legitimacy. In these accounts, the birth of the author is predicated on the writer’s growing independence from early modern political, social, and cultural institutions, which for their part are presumed to inhibit the sincere, personal expression that will be at the core of the claim to distinction and credibility conveyed by the emerging ideal. This independence has been interpreted in no small measure as a function of...

    • 1 Literary Commerce in the Age of Honnête Publication (pp. 25-62)

      The investigation into writers and the book trade in the early modern period has traditionally presented an exercise in the excavation of origins, driven by the effort to unearth “primitive” instances of what would later develop as standard behavior for writers in the commercial publishing sphere. In his survey of the economic, social, and political realities defined by the printed book in seventeenth-century Paris, Henri-Jean Martin suddenly describes a “prehistory” as soon as he turns to the question of “la condition d’auteur.” The focus on authorship instantly calls up the most underdeveloped aspects of a broad phenomenon that until then...

    • 2 The Paradoxes of Enlightenment Publishing (pp. 63-102)

      The parameters of honnête publication are defined in Classical-era debates such as the Querelle du Cid, and subsequent developments in the intellectual field must be understood in their light, including the formation of the literary market. Of course, with its commercial aspects and its decidedly non-elite denizens, the market seems far removed from the social spheres in which an ethic of honnêteté prevailed on writers. I suggest, though, that the essence of the literary market lies precisely in its constitution as a field of honnête publication, which is to say that it evolves first and foremost as a space for...

    • INTRODUCTION: Reconsidering the Alternative (pp. 105-112)

      Accounts of the literary market in the eighteenth century have typically hinged on the struggles of writers to support themselves in what David Pottinger characterized as the “primitive business conditions of the ancien régime.”¹ Specifically, this history accentuates two key movements: first, the intensification of writers’ struggles for economic “independence,” which sparks a growing consciousness of their “rights” to payments from publishers for their works; and second, the development of the book trade as gauged by objective external factors such as an increased demand for printed reading material and rising prices paid to gens de lettres for their manuscripts. It...

    • 3 “Living by the Pen”: Mythologies of Modern Authorial Autonomy (pp. 113-146)

      One especially poignant evocation of the passage into an alternative field lies in the image of “living by the pen.” The motif recurs in historical writing as a shorthand reference to the escape of writers from patronage into the freedom of the market.¹ The reality itself—of Old Regime writers supporting themselves from publishing income—­has, however, proven difficult to ascertain, and scholars narrating the transition have found themselves trying to account for what are at best understated gestures of embrace, which, in their silence, ambiguity, or complexity, fail to broadcast any obvious rationale. They thus call for an interpretation...

    • 4 Economic Claims and Legal Battles: Writers Turn to the Market (pp. 147-183)

      As an institution of literary life, the market normally enters into the purview of historical analysis in one of two ways: either as envisioned through the entrepreneurial moves of writers who wake up to their “real” interests as authors and, repudiating their ties to patrons, stake claims to the economic dues and legal rights in the book trade that will then allow them to become independent professionals, or as perceived through the exploitative treatment suffered by writers when they are sucked into a commercial system in the process of taking over all aspects of an increasingly “commodified” cultural sphere. To...

    • 5 The Reality of a New Cultural Field: The Case of Rousseau (pp. 184-203)

      This study has underscored the discursivity of writers’ engagements with the book trade, examining their efforts to “live by the pen” and their denunciations of “exploitation” in the commercial sphere as arguments for a new vision of intellectual legitimacy rather than as transparent accounts of their lived experiences dealing with publishers. I am not, however, suggesting by this emphasis that these experiences were not meaningful or indeed real. If the appropriation of a charged language of stolen rights and abuse was above all a rhetorical move meant to cultivate belief in a new paradigm of authorial credibility, this should not...

  6. Conclusion (pp. 204-210)

    This book has advanced two key arguments, contradictory at one level but in fact complementary. On one hand, it has reconsidered a traditional narrative emphasizing the development of the literary market as an alternative system representing a fundamental break with early modern intellectual culture. In this view, the market took shape fully exterior to the Old Regime literary field according to its own logic that, against the rigid, hierarchical nature of the established cultural sphere, valorized the freedom and individualism yet also the vulgarity of commercial exchange. I have argued, however, that the literary market did not emerge so autonomously,...

  7. Notes (pp. 211-264)
  8. Bibliography (pp. 265-278)
  9. Index (pp. 279-284)
  10. Acknowledgments (pp. 285-286)