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The Popularity of Mme de Graffigny's Lettres d'une Péruvienne: The Bibliographical EvidenceDavid Smith In recent years a great deal of research has been devoted to issues of "readership," especially to die question "who read what?" A related subject has been the popularity of individual works, notably in dieir own century, but also up to die present day. Tastes change over die years: a bestseller may finish in the literary graveyard, while a "sleeper" may achieve immortality. The factors affecting a work's fortunes are complex and dieir analysis requires die skills of die historian and die sociologist as well as die literary scholar. No attempt will be made to investigate diem here, but I shall list some of diem en guise de conclusion. But as Fontenelle warned us in die Histoire des oracles, "Assuronsnous bien du fait, avant que de nous inquiéter de la cause."1 Indeed, it is not easy to establish an order of popularity for eighteendi-century French works. Back in 1910, in a pioneering article, Daniel Mornet established which works appeared most often in die catalogues of five hundred private libraries of die second half of die eighteendi century.2 1 Fontenelle, Histoire des oracles, Première Dissertation, IV. 2 Daniel Momet, "Les Enseignements des bibliothèques privées, 1750-1780," Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France 17 (1910), 449-96. Momet found La Nouvelle Héloïse in 165 libraries, the Lettres d'une Péruvienne in 108, and Manon Lescaut in only 33. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 3, Number 1, October 1990 2 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION He was cautious about die validity of his findings, not least because die libraries he searched were entirely diose of wealtiiy Parisians, and he insisted on die need to "multiplier autant que possible les enquêtes et les contrôles." In die last decade, similar studies have been made of notaries ' lists of deceased persons' books in dieir inventaires après décès. Unfortunately, diese lists are invariably incomplete, being restricted generally to die most valuable book on each shelf of a bookcase or library.3 More recently, Paul Benhamou has started studying die cabinets de lecture bodi in Paris and die provinces to find out what was read by diose who could not afford to buy books.4 One of die problems he faces is determining what books may have been kept "under the counter" and thus omitted from die official lists, because diey had been banned. Finally , Robert Darnton has studied bestsellers, using mainly die records of die Société typographique de Neuchâtel for die period 1769-89.5 Unfortunately , this is die only archive of an eighteendi-century publisher of French books to have survived almost intact, and little comparable evidence is available. These are just some of die many possible approaches, all presenting results of only partial validity and needing to be checked against each odier until a clearer picture emerges. Anodier approach, which modern computer cataloguing is making increasingly viable, is mrough physical bibliography. Thorough searches can now produce lists of editions of an audior's works which are probably close to complete. It is my contention diat, if such lists can be drawn up for die major novels of die century, diey will provide sounder evidence for die popularity of each dian has heretofore been available. Even so, lists of this kind, as we shall see, raise as many problems as diey solve. Specifically, I am preparing, in collaboration with Jo-Ann McEachern , a full descriptive bibliography of all editions of die writings of Mme de Graffigny, from 1745 to die present day. My original purpose 3 J. Quéniart, Culture et société urbaines dans la France de l'Ouest au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Klincksieck, 1978); M. Marion, Recherches sur les bibliothèques privées à Paris au milieu du XVIIIe siècle (1750-1759) (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1978); and R. Chartier, Lectures et lecteurs dans la France d'Ancien Régime (Paris: Seuil, 1987). 4 P. Benhamou, "La lecture publique des oeuvres de l'abbé Prévost à Paris et en province dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIème siècle," Cahiers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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