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French Forum 26.2 (2001) 112-113

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Livre, pouvoirs et société à Paris au XVIIe siècle. 2 vols.; Geneva: Droz, 1999 and La Naissance du livre moderne: Mise en page et mise en texte du livre français (XIVe-XVIIe siècles)

Henri-Jean Martin. Livre, pouvoirs et société à Paris au XVIIe siècle. 2 vols.; Geneva: Droz, 1999 and La Naissance du livre moderne: Mise en page et mise en texte du livre français (XIVe-XVIIe siècles). Paris: Editions du Cercle de la Librairie, 2000.

This is not so much a review as an announcement of good news. To begin with, Henri-Jean Martin's 2 -volume 1969 study, Livre, pouvoirs et société, a classic of the history of the book in France, has been reedited, with a new preface by Roger Chartier. These volumes should be required reading for all early modernists and for anyone interested in the history of the French book trade. Martin's pioneering research casts in many ways new light on the development of French literature during that crucial period for the French book trade, the seventeenth century, the century during which publication in French finally definitively outstripped publication in Latin. The chapters in this study teach us more or less all we can still know about who was reading what and when, who was censuring what and when, who was publishing what and when--and in what format. More recent studies cover in greater detail parts of the terrain Martin originally mapped out here, but I still turn to Livre, pouvoirs et société on a regular basis for overall coverage of the book trade in seventeenth-century Paris. Droz should be commended for having reissued these volumes in paperback format. [End Page 112]

The other good news is Martin's latest effort, a sumptuously illustrated volume that provides a brilliant demonstration of the problem of the book as object. Martin leads a team of scholars who reconstruct the early modern history of the many physical aspects that play an indispensible role in a book's creation and in its reception: typography, punctuation, all types of organizing features--from title page to index. They draw our attention above all to page layout. Some of the volume's most fascinating pages are devoted to the evolution as a result of which texts came to be broken down into paragraphs--this is an essential part of what Martin refers to as "the normalization of prose." Martin is interested in all the visual factors indispensible to the format of the modern book, those aspects that gave the modern printed book the structure with which we are familiar. The volume is particularly successful in its pedagogical mission because it is so lavishly illustrated--more than 700 plates show us exactly what the authors are describing. And, while some of the illustrations--those of frontispieces, predictably--are beautiful, the majority are primarily informative, so that we can see what printed prose looked like before, during, and after typographers and authors had decided how it would be presented from then on.

Anyone interested in how what we now think of simply as "the book" came to take on the appearance it still has will want to read--and see--La Naissance du livre moderne.


Joan DeJean
University of Pennsylvania



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