Australian Journal of French Studies

Provincial Circulating Libraries In Nineteenth-Century France: A Preliminary Survey

Australian Journal of French Studies (2016), 53, (3), 190–204.

Abstract

This analysis of the holdings of 300 provincial cabinets de lecture – a much larger sample than the one that formed the basis of Françoise Parent-Lardeur’s Lire à Paris au temps de Balzac, the standard work on the topic (1981, revised 1999) – reveals many hitherto neglected aspects of the rental library businesses, including their ancillary activities as printers, stationers and bookbinders; their close connexion with the burgeoning tourist and travel industries; and, of particular interest to literary historians, the sharp distinction the owners invariably made between romans and littérature, a distinction that only began to break down during the Third Republic. Above all, in addition to redressing the Parisian bias inherent in Parent-Lardeur’s thesis, the survey provides fresh evidence that enables us to finally lay to rest two myths that have compromised serious work on the role of lending libraries in the spread of literacy in the nineteenth century: that they catered primarily to an uneducated public by providing light reading; and that their influence declined after 1850.

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Author details

Falconer, Graham