The New Bibliopolis: French Book Collectors and the Culture of Print, 1880-1914 (review)
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Silverman, Willa. The New Bibliopolis: French Book Collectors and the Culture of Print, 1880–1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Pp. xvii + 312. ISBN 978-0-8020-9211-3

In recent years there has been an increasing amount of scholarship on the history of the book in France, with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gaining ground in a field long rich in research on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment book worlds. Willa Silverman's The New Bibliopolis: French Book Collectors and the Culture of Print, 1880–1914, is the newest addition to this corpus of "books about books" exploring the importance of the book-object in the cultural and literary history of France. Focusing on the "new culture of book collecting" (5) emerging between the first years of the Third Republic and the First World War, the author fuses two book historical methodologies with the aim "to bridge a gap between an Anglo-American approach to book history, which has often relied on analytical bibliography, and the grounding in social and cultural history more typical of an histoire du livre associated with France" (11). This dual approach gives the work an appealing interdisciplinary character and enables it to think concurrently about material innovations to the book and the social and cultural structures that influence them.

Silverman begins her lively study of fin-de-siècle book love by distinguishing between two generations of bibliophiles: the "Ancients," associated with the Société des Bibliophiles François, and the "Moderns," the new generation emerging in the last decades of the nineteenth century with aspirations to modernize book love. To emphasize this distinction, the author juxtaposes two book sales that epitomize the difference: the 1869 sale of the library of Baron Jérôme-Frédéric Pichon, longtime president of the Bibliophiles François, and the 1894 auctioning of the collection of Octave Uzanne, the "high priest of fin-de-siècle bibliophilia" (14) who figures prominently in Silverman's study. Separated by a quarter-century, these book sales are representative of the two moments in the history of bibliophilia whose contrast is central to The New Bibliopolis: the first marked by its retrospective penchant, the second by "a forward-looking method in which individual amateurs played a vital role in crafting volumes designated in advance as collectible" (5). Departing from this distinction, Silverman reflects upon the significance of modern book love and links its transformations to evolutions in bookmaking technology, tensions between popular and elite culture, the rise of the bourgeoisie, the l'art pour l'art ideology and the culture of collecting. In this way, the work moves beyond conjuring up a distant [End Page 322] bibliophilic universe and affirms the importance of the book – both as object and idea – in nineteenth-century French culture.

The chapters range from explorations of central figures of fin-de-siècle book culture such as Octave Uzanne and Robert de Montesquiou, to broader reflections on bibliophile societies, illustrated books and the gendering of book appreciation, among others. In "Books Worthy of Our Era? Octave Uzanne, Technology and the Luxury Book," the author considers how new bookmaking technologies not only posed a threat to the quality of books, but were also embraced for the creation of new livres de luxe. Octave Uzanne – the bibliophile who Silverman splendidly revives in this work – rejected the schism between industry and luxury and embraced, "superficially at least" (21), technology to realize his bibliophilic dreams. The second chapter, "Ancients against Moderns: Bibliophilia at the Fin de Siècle," revisits the distinction between the bibliophilic old-guard who looked to the past in search of treasures and the innovators with both the ambition and the means to create their own beautiful books. These "Moderns" sought to give a fashionable face to bibliophilia, an activity long associated with the image of "a very old monsieur, scrawny, dry as a mummy, ill-dressed, wearing glasses, and living peevishly in his old-book den like a wolf in its lair" (67). "Everything to the Moderns: Independent and Contemporary Bibliophiles," the third chapter, looks more closely at the bibliophile societies emerging after 1870 (Les Amis des livres, Les Cent...