The French Enlightenment takes place against a background of State censorship. During the last decade or so of the Ancien régime, the French government fluctuated considerably regarding its approach to banned books: on the one hand, many were not overtly prohibited but were nonetheless seized; on the other, banned books were often allowed through. The inconsistencies of officials provide revealing insights into the innermost workings of the system on the eve of the Revolution and show the scope of changing mentalities during those crucial years.
Beyond the customs records, numerous sources have been exploited in order to clarify these inconsistencies of practice, even as the author analyses archival records relevant to the French booktrade and to works considered dangerous. Confiscations at customs focuses on specific issues concerning banned books and their importation into Paris, including works by Voltaire, Fleuriot de Langle and Raynal, as well as discussing piracies and works published or imported by virtue of the tacit permit. Numerous titles can now be added to the recently published lists of books seized at customs based on a close reading of hitherto unpublished archival sources.
Substantial appendices complete the discussion; they range from lists of banned books to unpublished letters concerning Voltaire's Œuvres. Several other appendices are freely available online at http://uts.cc.texas.edu/~dawson/index.html.
'[Dawson’s] approach brings vividly to life the actual practices of the customs officers whose job it was to try to stem the flood of prohibited or suspect books engulfing France at this time.'
Modern Language Review
'Dawson has written an excellent scholarly work supported by extensive documentation both in print and online. [...] This volume can also serve as a case study in using primary source materials in archival collections. Dawson takes great care to present his methodology in examining two principal registers and in coordinating information from additional multiple sources.'
Libraries and the Cultural Record
'By so thoroughly demonstrating the complexities and interconnections of book censorship and book circulation in 18th-century France, Dawson’s Confiscationsproves to be an excellent resource for scholars.'
New Perspectives on the Eighteenth-Century