Literary Censorship in 19th-Century France

FRIT-F640 — Fall 2020

Nicolas Valazza
BH 340
Days and Times
12:20P - 2:15P, T
Course Description

Many literary works that are now considered canonical were once censored, or they were subjected to memorable trials. The most famous examples in the nineteenth-century French context are the novel Madame Bovary by Flaubert, who was eventually acquitted, and Baudelaire’s poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal, which remained theoretically censored in French until 1949. But besides these well-known examples, most of the illustrious writers of the century had portions of their literary works that were censored for political or moral reasons (for instance Hugo’s Les Châtiments or Musset’s Gamiani), and were then illegally circulated; to the extent that censorship and clandestine literature played an essential role in the constitution of the nineteenth-century French literary field.

At the crossroads between literary analysis, legal history, and the history of the book, this seminar aims to situate several canonical—and less canonical—texts in the historical and political context of their publication. From the ephemeral freedom of the press under the Revolution, which notably allowed Sade’s novels to be widely circulated, to the law of 1881, which officially—if not effectively—abolished censorship in France, through the liberal or repressive phases of the July Monarchy and the Second Empire, under which Flaubert and Baudelaire were sued, and Hugo exiled, our purpose will be to explore how the politics of printing influenced the evolution of literary forms in the nineteenth-century.

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