Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christine Haynes' "Lost Illusions"

Christine Haynes is Assistant Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Lost Illusions: The Politics of Publishing in Nineteenth-Century France, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“.... In their effort to obtain absolute freedom and property in the book trade, publishers relied increasingly on associations, both formal and informal.

These early associations were composed of a relatively constant group of publishers. Over and over in the rosters of the petitions and associations organized by publishers, the same names appeared: J.-B. Baillière, Bossange (both Martin and Hector, his son), Didot (both Firmin and Ambroise), Charles Gosselin and later his successor Laurent-Antoine Pagnerre, Louis Hachette, Victor Masson, Panckoucke (first C. L. F., then Ernest), and Treuttel and Würtz. Most of these publishers were located in the 11th (now 6th) arrondissement of Paris. They were thus neighbors as well as colleagues. Members of the generation of éditeurs who came of age with the Restoration, these men would rise to dominance in the book trade by the 1830s and 1840s. As business leaders, many of them served in official institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of France, and the Chamber of Deputies. Firmin Didot, for instance, was a representative in the legislature in the late 1820s and early 1830s. He also served on the government commission on literary property established by Charles X in 1825. His son Ambroise Firmin-Didot was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as of the government commission on literary property of 1836-1837. Drawing on their experience in civic affairs, these men were instrumental in forming associations among publishers.

In the late 1820s, this core group of publishers attempted to formalize their relationship with each other by establishing a cercle, or circle, in the book trade....”
While it is not necessarily the section of the book that I would have chosen to excerpt, this passage does pass the “Page 99 Test” in that it encapsulates the book’s main subject, which is how entrepreneurial publishers used association to persuade the government to liberalize the “literary market” in France. The cercle described here did not last very long, because it was prohibited by the government of the Restoration (1815-1830). However, it would provide the model for a later association in publishing, called the Cercle de la Librairie. Founded in 1847, this second Cercle proved far more successful. Enduring through the end of the nineteenth century (and up to the present day), it was instrumental in obtaining the two main demands of publishers in the post-revolutionary period: the abolition of licensing requirements for printers and bookdealers, which had been instituted by Napoleon in 1810, and the extension of literary property rights beyond the brief term guaranteed by revolutionary and Napoleonic legislation. Under pressure from the publishers in this later Cercle, the government of the Second Empire (1851-1870) moved to abolish licensing and strengthen literary property, thereby establishing a free market for literature in France. By highlighting the role of this association in influencing government policy toward the book trade in nineteenth-century France, this passage—and the book as a whole—emphasizes the importance of lobbying by networks of businessmen in shaping the “market.” This topic is of not just historical but of contemporary relevance, as evidenced by the amount of money spent in recent years by the telecommunications industry to block government regulation.
Read an excerpt from Lost Illusions, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue