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Necessary Luxuries

Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770–1815

by Matt Erlin

Publication Year: 2014

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century brought new and exotic commodities to Europe from abroad—coffee, tea, spices, and new textiles to name a few. Yet one of the most widely distributed luxury commodities in the period was not new at all, and was produced locally: the book. In Necessary Luxuries, Matt Erlin considers books and the culture around books during this period, focusing specifically on Germany where literature, and the fine arts in general, were the subject of soul-searching debates over the legitimacy of luxury in the modern world.

Building on recent work done in the fields of consumption studies as well as the New Economic Criticism, Erlin combines intellectual-historical chapters (on luxury as a concept, luxury editions, and concerns about addictive reading) with contextualized close readings of novels by Campe, Wieland, Moritz, Novalis, and Goethe. As he demonstrates, artists in this period were deeply concerned with their status as luxury producers. The rhetorical strategies they developed to justify their activities evolved in dialogue with more general discussions regarding new forms of discretionary consumption. By emphasizing the fragile legitimacy of the fine arts in the period, Necessary Luxuries offers a fresh perspective on the broader trajectory of German literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, recasting the entire period in terms of a dynamic unity, rather than simply as a series of literary trends and countertrends.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

...have left their mark on this book. A few, however, deserve special mention. Richard T. Gray and Jonathan Hess have had a profound influence on the arguments that take shape in the chapters, and they have also supported the project in a variety of other ways for which I will...

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Introduction: Guilty Pleasures

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pp. 1-23

...The current crisis of the humanities is only the most recent incarnation of a controversy that has been ongoing since Plato denied the poets admission to his ideal state. The debate, simply put, concerns the value of literature...

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1. The Conceptual Landscape of Luxury in Germany

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pp. 24-52

...Long neglected by scholars, luxury is now recognized as one of the central intellectual preoccupations of eighteenth-century Western Europe, inseparable from the development of the historiography, philosophy...

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2. Thinking about Luxury Editions in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Germany

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pp. 53-77

...The funeral of Christoph Martin Wieland in 1813 offered a fitting tribute to one of Germany’s best-loved poets. According to a detailed report published in Friedrich Schlegel’s...

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3. The Appetite for Reading around 1800

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pp. 78-99

...intellectuals and other educated elites of a “reading epidemic.” These fears have attracted a fair amount of interest over the years, with more recent studies generally addressing the topic from the perspective...

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4. The Enlightenment Novel as Artifact: J. H. Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere and C. M. Wieland’s Der goldne Spiegel

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pp. 100-138

...challenge to writers in this period, a challenge that not only influenced conceptions of the book as artifact and of the impact of reading, but also shaped the narrative structure and rhetorical...

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5. Karl Philipp Moritz and the System of Needs

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pp. 139-174

...that theory ever since, approaching the arts from the perspective of needs allows us to sharpen our focus on the interrelationship of art, anthropology, and an emergent consumer...

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6. Products of the Imagination: Mining, Luxury, and the Romantic Artist in Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen

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pp. 175-202

...himself a graduate of the Freiberg mining academy. On this much all commentators agree. Theodore Ziolkowski describes the mine as “the image of the soul” and links it generally to the ideas of descent...

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7. Symbolic Economies in Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften

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pp. 203-231

...recombinations of the four main characters, can be seen as the epicenter of this obsession. But the reader is in fact confronted with questions about the possibility of value substitution on virtually every page of the work...

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Conclusion: Useful Subjects?

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pp. 232-242

...for integrating and regulating pleasure rather than the particular character of the objects and experiences that give rise to it. As long as these mechanisms ensure that a person maintains the ability to meet his or her obligations to society and family, all objects of desire are equally legitimate...

Works Cited

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pp. 243-258


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pp. 259-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780801470431
E-ISBN-10: 0801470439
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801453045
Print-ISBN-10: 0801453046

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Books and reading -- Germany -- History -- 18th century.
  • Books and reading -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Germany -- Intellectual life -- 18th century.
  • Germany -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
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