Darnton, Robert (Choate) 1939-
DARNTON, Robert (Choate) 1939-
PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1939, in New York, NY; son of Byron (a journalist) and Eleanor (a journalist; maiden name, Choate) Darnton; married Susan Lee Glover (a homemaker), June 29, 1963; children: Nicholas, Catherine, Margaret. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1960; Oxford University, B.Phil., 1962, D.Phil., 1964.
ADDRESSES: Home—6 McCosh Circle, Princeton, NJ 08540. Office—Department of History, 129 Dickinson Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540.
CAREER: New York Times, New York, NY, stringer in Oxford, England, 1960-64, temporary foreign correspondent in the London bureau, 1963-64, reporter in New York City, 1964-65; City College (now of the City University of New York), New York, NY, lecturer in European history, spring, 1965; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, junior fellow in the history department, 1965-68; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant professor, 1968-71, associate professor, 1971-72, professor of history, 1972-85, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History, 1985—, director of Program in European Cultural Studies, 1987-95, director of Center for the Study of Books and Media, 2002—. Director of studies at the Sixth Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, France, 1971, 1981, 1985; fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, CA, 1973-74; fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, 1976-77; visiting professor, Oxford University, 1986-87; lecturer, Collège de France, 1987; fellow, Institute for
Advanced Study, Berlin, Germany, 1989-90, 1993-94; associate member, All Souls College, Oxford, 1996—. Member of Princeton University's Institute for Advanced Study, 1971-81; executive board member, Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 1978-81; executive board member, Arbeitskreis für Geschichte des Buchwesens, Wolfenbüttel, Germany, 1981; board of directors, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford, England, 1987-9l, and Social Science Research Council, 1988-9l; director, East-West Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1987-95; vice president and member of board of directors, Internationaler Beirat der Forschungsstätte Europäische Aufklärung, Halle, 1989-94; board member, Correspondance de Mme de Graffigny, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, and the Papers of Benjamin Franklin; member of fellowship board, French-American Foundation; member of boards of trustees, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, CA, New York Public Library, Oxford University Press, Wissenschaftlicher Beirat, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and Forschungszentrum Europäischer Aufklärung, Potsdam.
MEMBER: International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (first vice president, 1983-87, president, 1987-91), American Historical Association (president, 1997—), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Philosophical Society, American Antiquarian Society, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (national executive board, 1977-80), Academia Europaea, Académie Royale de Langue et de Littérature Françaises (Belgium), Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Rhodes scholarship, 1960-62; Guggenheim fellowship, 1970-71; award for best article in eighteenth-century studies, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), 1971, for "The High Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature in Prerevolutionary France," and 1973, for "The Encyclopedie Wars of Prerevolutionary France"; Koren Prize for best article in French history, Society for French Historical Studies, 1973, for "The Encyclopedie Wars of Prerevolutionary France"; Leo Gershoy Prize, American Historical Association, 1979, for The Business of Enlightenment; MacArthur Prize fellowship, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1982; American Book Award nomination, 1983, for The Literary Underground of the Old Regime; Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history, and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination for general nonfiction, both 1984, both for The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History; National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, 1995, for Forbidden Best Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France; honorary professor, University of Warwick, 1996; honorary doctorates, Université de Neuchâtel, 1986, LaFayette College, 1989, University of Bristol, 1991, and University of Warwick, 2001.
Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1968.
The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the "Encyclopedie," 1775-1800, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1979.
The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1982.
The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1984.
The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections on Cultural History, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor, with Daniel Roche) Revolution in Print: The Press in France, 1775-1800, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1989.
What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution?, Baylor University Press (Waco, TX), 1990.
Edition et sédition: L'Univers de la littérature clandestine au XVIIIe siècle, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1991.
Berlin Journal, 1989-1990, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1992.
Gens de lettres, gens du livre, Editions Odile Jacob (Paris, France), 1992.
The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
(Contributor of chapter and interview) Luz y contraluz de una historia antropologica, Editorial Biblos (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1995.
(Compiler and author of introduction) Denkende Wollust, Eichborn Verlag (Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany), 1996.
(Writer and editor, and codirector with Olivier Duhamel) Démocratie/Democracy (television series), La Ciniuème-Arte), 1998, published as Democratie, Editions de Rocher (Paris, France), 1998.
(Contributor) The Darnton Debate: Books and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Haydn Mason, Voltaire Foundation (Oxford, England), 1998.
J.-P. Brissot: His Career and Correspondence (1779-1987), Voltaire Foundation (Oxford, England), 2001.
Poesie und Polizei: Öffentliche Meinung und Kommunkiationsnetzwerke im Paris des 18 Jahrhunderts, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 2002.
Pour les lumières: Défense, illustration, méthode, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux (Bordeaux, France), 2002.
George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century, Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
El Coloquio de los lectores: Ensayos sobre autores, manuscritos, editors y lectores, Fonda de Cultura Económica, 2003.
Mademoiselle Bonafon and the Private Life of Louis XV: What the Butler Saw and What the Public Read in Eighteenth-Century France, Egham (Surrey, England), 2003.
Die Wissenschaft des Raubdrucks: Ein zentrales Element im Verlagswesen des 18. Jahrhunderts, Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung (Munich, Germany), 2003.
Contributor to books, including Historical Studies Today, edited by Felix Gilbert and Stephen Graubard, [New York, NY], 1972; Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1973; The Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1975; The Widening Circle: Essays on the Circulation of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Europe, edited by Paul J. Korshin, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1976; Essays on the Age of Enlightenment in Honor of Ira O. Wade, edited by Jean Macary, Droz (Geneva, Switzerland), 1977; Structure, Consciousness, and History, edited by Richard H. Brown and Stanford M. Lyman, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1978; Vom ancien Regime zur franzosischen Revolution: Forschungen und Perspektiven, edited by Ernest Hinrichs, Eberhard Schmitt, and Rudolf Vierhaus, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (Göttingen, Germany), 1978; The Past before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, edited by Michael Kammen, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1980; Cinq siècles d'imprimerie genevoise, edited by Jean-Daniel Candaux and Bernard Lescaze, Societe d'Histoire et d'Archeologie (Geneva, Switzerland), 1981; Sozialgeschichte der Aufklärung in Frankreich, edited by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Rolf Reichardt, and Thomas Schleich, R. Oldenbourg Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1981; Books and Society in History, edited by Kenneth Carpenter, [New York, NY], 1983; Gelehrte Bücher vom Humanismus biz zur Gegenwart, edited by Bernhard Fabian and Paul Raabe, [Wiesbaden, Germany], 1983; Histoire de l'édition française: Tome II: Le livre triomphant (1660-1830), edited by Roger Chartier and Henri-Jean Martin, [Paris, France], 1984; Pratiques de la lecture, edited by Roger Chartier, Editions Rivages (Paris and Marseille, France), 1985; Aspects du livre neuchâtelois, edited by Jacques Rychner and Michel Schlup, [Neuchâtel, Switzerland], 1986; Censures: De la bible aux larmes d'éros, edited by Martine Poulain and Françoise Serre, [Paris, France], 1987; The Political Culture of the Old Regime, edited by Keith Baker, [Oxford, England], 1987; Enlightenment Essays in Memory of Robert Shackleton, edited by Giles Barber, Voltair Foundation (Oxford, England), 1988; Drei Vorschläge Rousseau zu lesen, by Ernst Cassirer, Jean Starobinski, and Robert Darnton, Fischer Taschenbuch (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1989; L'Image de la Révolution française, edited by Michel Vovelle, Pergamon Press (Paris, France, and Oxford, England), 1989; Don Giovanni: Myths of Seduction and Betrayal, edited by Jonathan Miller, [New York, NY], 1990; Rewriting the French Revolution, edited by Colin Lucas, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1991; Intellektuellendämmerung: Beiträge zur neuesten Zeit des Geistes, edited by Martin Meyer, Carl Hanser Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1992; Publishing and Readership in Revolutionary France and America, edited by Carol Armbruster, [Westport, CT], 1993; Historical Change and Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, edited by Oliver Hufton, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1994; Tre letture di Rousseau, Editore Laterza (Rome, Italy), 1994; Histoire du livre, nouvelles orientations, edited by Hans Erich Bödeker, [Paris, France], 1995; André Morellet (1727-1819) in the Republic of Letters and the French Revolution, edited by Jeffrey Merrick and Dorothy Medlin, [New York, NY], 1995; Historia a debate, edited by Carlos Barros, [Santiago de Compostela], 1995; L'Histoire grande ouverte: Hommages à Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, edited by Andre Burguière, Joseph Goy, and Marie-Jeanne Tits-Dieuaide, [Paris, France], 1997; Le Livre et l'historien: Etudes offertes en l'honneur du Professeur Henry-Jean Martin, edited by Frédé Barbier and others, [Paris, France, and Geneva, Switzerland], 1997; and La Recherche dixhuitiémiste objets, méthodes et institutions (1945-1995), edited by Michel Delon and Jochen Schlobach, [Paris, France], 1998.
Contributor to literary and scholarly journalis, including Annales: Economies, Societes, Civilisations; Annales Historiques de la Revolution Francaise; Journal of Modern History; English Historical Review; Daedalus; New York Review of Books; Past and Present; American Historical Review; Revue Francaise d'Histoire du Livre; Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress; American Scholar; New Republic; andHarper's Magazine. Member of editorial board, Princeton University Press, 1977-81, and American Scholar, 1981-86, Revue de Synthè, History of the Human Sciences, Wilson Quarterly, Communication, Intellectual History Newsletter, Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, Dix-Huitième Siècle, Mana, Estudios de Anthropologia Social, Book History, European Review, and Rethinking History. Darnton's works have been translated into French, Italian, German, Japanese, Hungarian, Korean, Dutch, Swedish, and Portuguese.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Darnton, a Princeton University professor of history, has established himself as an authority on the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Often discussing the relationship between the two, he has, according to Lynn Hunt in the New Republic, "always taken a sensible middle-of-the-road position on the influence of the Enlightenment" on the revolution. His interest, instead, has led him to explore the less-trod ground of figures often less wellknown than luminaries like Voltaire and Rousseau, and he has especially written a considerable volume of material on Jacques-Pierre Brissot, as well as the popular literature in France of the time that shunned such now-famous works as Emile in favor of everything from antigovernment pamphlets to pornography. Considered by many to be, as Hunt put it, "one of the pioneers of 'the history of the book,'" Darnton has researched eighteenth-century France by examining police reports, book circulation figures, and the popularity of songs, creating histories that identify the culturally significant in the apparently tangential.
In his first book, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France, Darnton studies the influence of eighteenth-century Viennese physician Franz Mesmer on the two decades immediately preceding the French Revolution. Mesmer, who developed the theory of animal magnetism, believed that magnetic forces could be used to heal physical ailments. He credited the force of his own magnetism with the results that he achieved through hypnotizing his patients. This hypnotic healing, or "mesmerism," as it was called during the eighteenth century, forms the basis for Darnton's book, which the Virginia Quarterly Review deemed "a skillful exploration of the various psychological factors that made mesmerism a widely accepted attitude during [the Enlightenment]."
Darnton's next book, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the "Encyclopedie," 1775-1800, grew out of the author's research in the Neuchâtel Archives in Switzerland, where he unearthed letters and documents dating back to the eighteenth century that pertained to the way books were written, published, and distributed at that time. Among these records, Darnton found the papers of the Societé Typographique de Neuchâtel, the Swiss publishing house that collaborated during the late eighteenth century with French entrepreneur Charles Joseph Panckoucke to revise, print, and distribute popularly priced editions of Denis Diderot's famed Encyclopedie.
The Encyclopedie was an encyclopedic series that furnished, in systematic fashion, scientific, factual information infused with progressive philosophic and political doctrine. It is generally considered an influential organ of the Age of Enlightenment, the term "Enlightenment" referring to a movement in late-eighteenth-century Europe to publicly promote reason and science as tools to resolve social, political, and economic issues; proponents of the Enlightenment sought to end unquestioning reliance on traditional religious and political authorities. This movement is often cited by historians as one of the forces behind the dissatisfaction and demands for social and economic reform that culminated in the French Revolution.
The philosophes, those responsible for spreading the attitudes and theories of the Enlightenment to the general populace, were condemned by most French political and religious leaders, who considered their progressive ideas seditious. And, as J. M. Roberts explained in his New York Review of Books critique of The Business of Enlightenment, as "early as 1759 the Parlement of Paris saw behind the Encyclopedie a plot against church—indeed, religion—and the state; a royal prohibition (the second) on publication followed. In the same year came the special cachet of Papal condemnation." Darnton does not discuss these early years of the Encyclopedie when Diderot and his colleagues—among them such literary giants as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau—worked on the book's production as an expensive in folio publication. Rather, Darnton focuses on the history of the Encyclopedie's publication under the direction of Panckoucke, who acquired the publication rights to the encyclopedia in 1768 and during the 1770s worked to publish revised, less expensive (and thus more accessible) editions of Diderot's work. Nonetheless, the Encyclopedie was still outlawed in France, and much of what Darnton's book reveals concerns Panckoucke's various methods of evading this prohibition.
In his review of the book, Roberts described The Business of Enlightenment as "an immensely rich and complicated story which can be read with profit in many different ways. One way is simply for the economic and social realities of publishing history which are uncovered in astonishing detail, showing us who did the printing, made the paper, distributed the books, and how they did it." Among the practices revealed by Darnton's book are those of bribery, embezzlement, smuggling, promoting books through false advertising, pirating books, arranging collusive agreements among publishers, and soliciting favors from nobles and officials able to circumvent publishing regulations. As Roberts commented, "Publishing history, as told by Professor Darnton, turns out to be much meatier and livelier than might be expected, although without his wide-ranging scholarship the story might have become mere bibliography and antiquarianism."
In discussing the publication and distribution of the Encyclopedie, Darnton also illuminates the issue of who might have read the Encyclopedie and how they might have been influenced by it. According to Roberts, as "described by Darnton, the impact of the Encyclopedie turns out to be more complicated and qualified, and much less easy to summarize than the traditional mythology allows." For instance, the often conservative bent of the editorial revisions made to the various editions of the Encyclopedie to some extent mitigate its status as an anticlerical, antiestablishment publication. Moreover, Darnton's research shows that the majority of subscribers to both the initial and later editions were members of the French Old Regime's sociopolitical elite or those who aspired to elite status, rather than members of the merchant or industrial classes commonly associated with eighteenth-century progressive politics and beliefs. Part of the reason for this, according to The Business of Enlightenment, was that the publishers of the Encyclopedie appealed to its aristocratic subscribers by claiming to provide allencompassing knowledge in a systematic fashion, and it thus became a symbol of intellectual taste among the upper classes.
In response to the idea that Darnton's book challenges the Encyclopedie's reputation as a major force in the Enlightenment's education of the general populace and, as such, as a contributor to the revolutionary movement in France, Roberts asserted that there is another way to read Darnton's findings: "What we need to do, perhaps, is to make an adjustment in our conception of the readiness and receptiveness of the world which awaited [the Enlightenment] and to grasp that the 'Enlightenment' had more than one message. That it was faith in systematic knowledge rather than skepticism which was important now seems clear. This is perhaps the most general of the conclusions which this study of publishing history supports and the one which takes the reader furthest away from its rich and fascinating detail." Commenting that Darnton's "seemingly limited approach" to the history of the Encyclopedie "reveals more of the scope and limits of the Encyclopedie's influence than any other has done," Roberts concluded that Darnton's Business of Enlightenment "is a major achievement of American scholarship and in the first rank of those which have been transforming our view of French history during the last twenty years."
Like The Business of Enlightenment, Darnton's The Literary Underground of the Old Regime draws on the resources of the Neuchâtel Archives to illuminate certain aspects of publishing in the late eighteenth century—the Age of Enlightenment. But The Literary Underground also relies on police records and the archives of the Parisian printers' and booksellers' guild, and rather than focusing on the history of one prohibited publication, Darnton's third book is concerned with the illegal book trade as a whole in prerevolutionary France. In particular, Darnton discusses in this book the clandestine writing, publication, and sale of works that were censored or prohibited by France's Old Regime and the relationship between the illicit book trade and the fall of the Old Regime in 1789. He does this in six chapters—five of which were previously published as essays and one of which was originally a lecture. In the first chapter of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, titled "High Enlightenment and the Low Life in Literature," Darnton delineates the differences between such established, wellknown eighteenth-century authors as Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau and what Darnton calls the "Grub Street" writers of Paris—those who came to the French capital in the late-eighteenth century determined to achieve the literary success of a Voltaire or Rousseau but who finally, after failing to gain a livelihood through legitimate literary endeavors, resorted to performing hack work. According to Darnton the disappointment and degradation of these hack writers made them bitter toward the literary and political entities that rejected them. The disappointment of these Grub Street writers also made them likely to embrace subversive views, not out of ideological conviction but out of vengeance. Concluded Darnton, "It was from [Grub Street's] visceral hatred, not from the refined abstractions of the contented cultural elite, that the extreme … revolution found its authentic voice."
In the next four chapters of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime, Darnton develops his idea that the disaffected writers and publishers, disillusioned by their exclusion from the restricted, privileged world of legitimate French publishing, acted as a force in the French Revolution through the French literary underground, by lampooning the Old Regime and promoting the revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. Darnton illustrates this proposition by examining the lives of four individuals who participated in the literary underground. One of them, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, was a journalist who, according to documentation discovered by Darnton, turned police informer in 1784 after serving time in the Bastille prison for allegedly publishing pornography. Darnton explains in The Literary Underground that Brissot's imprisonment in Paris and employment as a police spy pushed him to become a leader in the Revolution: "It corrupted him, and in the corrupting it confirmed his hatred of the Old Regime. How he must have hated it! How he must have raged inwardly against the system of arbitrary power that first struck him down and then enlisted him in its service. How he must have reviled the men in control of the system, who first blocked his attempts to win honor for himself and then dishonored him by making him their agent." Darnton's other illustrative studies focus on the careers of an underground bookseller, a printer, and a hack pamphleteer. And Darnton's closing chapter, titled "Ready, Writing, and Publishing," addresses the issue of what was read by whom in the years just prior to the French Revolution.
Critical reception of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime as a whole was positive, although some critics questioned a few of Darnton's methods and conclusions. Raymond Birn, who critiqued the book in the American Historical Review, expressed concern that Darnton "may fit writers … too neatly into defined social categories, and at times … substitutes what writers 'must have felt' for what they actually wrote." Norman Hampson voiced similar concerns in his New York Review of Books critique of The Literary Underground of the Old Regime and further noted Darnton's dependence on the production and sale of books as indications of their import: "He is generally content to treat books as commodities rather than as expressions of ideas…. [An] examination of what people like Brissot … actually wrote might have changed his views about what they 'must have' felt." Moreover, Hampson continued, when it comes to "Darnton's conclusion that by 1789 the literary underworld had made a significant contribution to undermining the old order … everyone is on dangerous ground since we still do not know with any precision what books were sold or who bought them." And even if scholars did know, concluded Hampson, "we might still be a long way from understanding their effects."
Hampson conceded, however, that to "suggest that things were rather more complicated and untidy" than Darnton depicts in The Literary Underground "is not to imply that Darnton is wrong, merely that one must bring in factors that he excludes and that his truths have to coexist with others." This said, the New York Review of Books critic deemed the book "splendid historical writing" and remarked of Darnton: "His imaginative reconstruction of the [Parisian] Grub Street world, and its enforced subordination of principle to the need for survival, illuminates the later revolutionary press, whose editors came mostly from the literary underground. All this has earned Darnton a well-justified reputation as one of the most original contributors to our understanding of life in prerevolutionary Paris." Margaret Peters similarly commented in the New York Times Book Review: "The reader who wants a glimpse of the world behind a very unusual literature and an enlightening look at a famous time in history will get an eyeful in this surprising and entertaining volume." With regard to Darnton's use of the Neuchâtel Archives, Hampson noted, "He has an enviable gift for reading between the lines, extracting meaning and life from unpromising material, and finding relations between things that have no obvious connection with each other. Whatever he writes is stimulating to read." In his American Historical Review critique, Raymond Birn deemed Darnton a "superb storyteller" and remarked of The Literary Underground that "Darnton has clearly unearthed a human, multifaceted Enlightenment. What lies ahead is a systematic, compelling book on the cultural origins of the Revolution. Darnton surely possesses the vision to write it." And Hampson concluded that Darnton "has made good use of his gold mine [of documents] and left us all greatly in his debt. Thanks to him we know a good deal more about the ecology of ancien regime society…. The French Revolution was a continuous conflict between people, as well as a battle of ideas, and anyone who wants to understand the people had better start with the work of Robert Darnton."
Darnton examines an even more specialized literary genre in The Forbidden Bestsellers of PreRevolutionary France and its companion volume, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789, both published in 1995. Clandestine books, ranging in subject matter from futuristic utopian novels and pornography to unauthorized biographies of wealthy and influential members of the aristocracy, influenced the common people of prerevolutionary France far more than did the high-minded Encyclopedie, according to the historian. Lumped with works by Voltaire and Rousseau into a censored classification called livres philosphiques—books that undermined the authority of Church, the King, or of commonly held moral values—were such volumes as the lascivious Memoirs about the Affair between Father Dirrag and Mademoiselle Eradice and other pornographic novels, as well as Louis-Sebastien Mercier's forward-looking The Year 2440: A Dream If Ever There Was One. Smuggled into France by various means—including a method called "larding" whereby pages of a non-censored book were interleaved with pages of a censored "philosophical" tract—these books became commonplace throughout the country despite their prohibition. Out of a list of 720 titles in circulation during this time (analyzed at great length in The Corpus of Clandestine Literature), Darnton's list of the thirty-five best-selling volumes of the period shows Mercier's book in top place, followed by a risque biography of Madame du Barry; interestingly, Voltaire's Questions about the Encyclopedie holds up surprisingly well at eleventh, even a notch or two above the translation of Cleland's Fanny Hill.
Through his continuing research at Neuchâtel, Darnton has become fascinated with the relationship between this literature, which had a heavy demand, despite the fact that it had to be smuggled into the country. Determining, as he did in The Businesss of the Enlightenment, that the Encyclopedie and other heavily politicized works circulated mainly within the socioeconomic class that the revolution ultimately sought to overthrow, the question remains, as Peter Brooks noted in the New Republic: "Do books make revolutions? If so, how?" Darnton "wants to answer yes, books do make revolutions," added Brooks. "But that is true, he wishes to show, only if one extends the list of books, beyond those the historians normally hold responsible for creating a fire in men's minds … [to] the true best-sellers." While finding Darnton's premise fascinating—particularly the historian's assertion that in eighteenth-century France the concept of "liberty" was closely linked to that of "libertinism"—Brooks expressed concern that the historian's purposes may have masked the larger fascination: that such serious philosophes as Voltaire, Rousseau, and d'Holbach were almost as widely read as "frivolities" in a society whose lower classes so greatly outnumbered the ancien regime. However, Frederic Tuten maintained in his appraisal of Forbidden Bestsellers in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Darnton correctly gauges the "living network of the culture's sentiment," of which such books were a part. "What he finds in the literature," Tuten explained of Darnton, "is a growing disaffection from the monarchy from the time of Louis XV, a disaffection which by 1789 led some to lose faith in the legitimacy of the monarchy itself." John Sturroch added in the New York Times Book Review that "Darnton makes good on his case that 'dangerous' literature cashed in on attitudes more than it create them, and that it supported an informal confederation of the potentially subversive."
Darnton would further contribute to the discussion of the role of books in the French Revolution in Revolution in Print: The Press in France, 1775-1800, which he edited with Daniel Roche. Designed to accompany the Bicentenary exhibit "Revolution in Print" that was held at the New York Public Library in 1989, the book is comprised of essays on bookmaking and distribution, the production of pamphlets and newspapers, and other aspects of the publishing trades prior to and during the French uprising. Containing numerous illustrations, the volume also includes a discussion of such issues as freedom of the press, written in a manner that is "scholarly without being in the least arcane," according to Times Literary Supplement reviewer Allan Forest.
In The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Darnton delves even further back into historical records to examine the attitudes of people living in pre-Enlightenment France. As Darnton, quoted in the New York Times Book Review, explained, "The human quest underlying the tales in this book" was "how other people were thinking two centuries ago." And in introducing The Great Cat Massacre Darnton elaborated on his aim, stating: "This book investigates ways of thinking in eighteenth-century France. It attempts to show not merely what people thought but how they thought—how they construed the world, invested it with meaning, and infused it with emotion." He does this by investigating the accounts given of their era in police dossiers, letters, and other documents by individuals alive in the early eighteenth century, as well as the literature and folklore produced at the time.
Two of the essays in The Great Cat Massacre concern the folklore of pre-Enlightenment France. In the title essay Darnton studies printer Nicolas Contat's recollection of a mock trial and slaughter of cats that occurred while he was a printer's apprentice in Paris during the 1730s. Two of Contat's fellow apprentices, frustrated by the overwork and poor living conditions imposed by their master, gleefully turned permission given by their master to eliminate some of the stray cats who disturbed the apprentices' sleep into a license to conduct a mass round-up, mock trial, torture, and hanging of the animals. Particularly cruel was their torture and execution of the mistress's favorite cat, whom the master had specifically ordered the apprentices to exempt from their purge. According to Stanley Hoffman, reviewing The Great Cat Massacre in the New Republic, this essay on Nicolas Contat's remembrance is one of the chapters in Darnton's book that tells us "mainly about the differences between Frenchmen then and Frenchmen now. Nobody today would find a slaughter of cats funny, unlike the printing apprentices of the rue Saint-Severin. As Darnton tells us the story, it is a gruesome case of workers' revenge against the master and his wife, a symbolic sexual violation of his wife (a cat lover), a humiliation of the boss … an expression of 'working-class militancy' within the confines of artisinat (craft) and artisanal culture: 'a popular rebellion, though it remained restricted to the level of symbolism,' insofar as human beings were concerned." And writer Eve Drobot, critiquing The Great Cat Massacre for Toronto's Globe and Mail, remarked: "The point of the [cat massacre] incident, in Darnton's account, is not that dissatisfied workers revolted against their masters, but that they found the whole experience utterly hilarious. The massacre lives on in the annals of the printing shop where it was repeated endlessly in mime and ritualized in story telling. 'Yet,' Darnton writes, 'it strikes the modern reader as unfunny, if not downright repulsive.' The discrepancy in perception is precisely his territory, and one that he mines most effectively 'When you realize that you are not getting something—a joke, a proverb, a ceremony—that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it.'"
In the next essay, Darnton reinterprets traditional French fairy tales, stripping away the glosses and alterations that have accumulated during the past two hundred years to reveal the tales—as nearly as possible—as they were first told. Among the tales examined by Darnton is one known today as "Little Red Riding Hood," although in its original form the heroine's hood is not red, a revelation that challenges certain modern analyses of the tale that are based on the hood's redness as a symbol for menstruation and puberty. Another difference between the version revealed by Darnton and the modern-day version of "Little Red Riding Hood" is that the modern tale ends happily with the heroine alive and well, while in the original the girl is eaten by the wolf. This reflects what Darnton shows to be a general tendency—that the original French fairy tales were harsher than those that have evolved out of them, and the originals stressed the need for people to be cunning and resourceful in order to survive the brutal conditions of peasant life in eighteenth-century France. As Mavis Gallant explained in New York Times Book Review, "The bare bones of the fairy tales that reach us … are nearly all we can know about 'the mental world of the unenlightened during the Enlightenment.'" And what they convey is "a dark world without warmth or compassion, in which families starve and children are a burden to be deserted when they cannot be fed. Dupery and cunning, not love or justice, are to be relied upon and practiced, for they are the only props of the poor. Generations of the illiterate and the dispossessed learned—from a small core of stories that were told aloud—how to 'live mistrustfully ever after.'"
Darnton's third study in The Great Cat Massacre relates an anonymous bourgeois's description of the social order of his hometown of Montpellier, France, and is followed by what Drobot described as the "wittiest chapter in the book." This latter looks at the files of an eighteenth-century police inspector charged with the responsibility of keeping records on the literary community of Paris between 1748 and 1753. His files include more than five hundred dossiers on both prestigious and hack writers. In the dossiers the inspector evaluates the style and content of the writers' works, the writers' private lives, their sources of financial support, and their physical appearance. He also provides anecdotes and gossip that circulated about the writers at the time.
Darnton's next essay analyzes the editorial strategies used by Denis Diderot and his colleague Jean Le Rond d'Alembert in propagating through their Encyclopedie ideas that would come to characterize the Enlightenment. And in the final episode of The Great Cat Massacre, Darnton relates the contents of a cache of forty-seven letters and book orders sent to a Swiss publisher and printer by a French merchant with a passion for the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Darnton discovered these letters in Swiss archives and used them to show how the writings of Rousseau influenced the lives of the merchant, his family, and others.
Winner of the 1984 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History prompted William S. McFeely to commend Darnton in the Washington Post Book World, where he noted: "The job description for the historian is simple; he must read well. Darnton does. He will read anything, take it seriously, and, applying a fertile imagination, write beautifully about what he has learned." Hoffman similarly praised Darnton's work in the New Republic: "Robert Darnton has the inquisitiveness of a first-rate investigative reporter, the thoroughness of a rigorous scholar, and the sensitivity of a novelist. Rarely have these very different gifts been so deliciously combined." And of Darnton's essays in The Great Cat Massacre, Hoffman concluded: "Each one of his stories is a gem," together comprising a "most rewarding book … for those of us who like to study France, and whose enjoyment of social science is at its peak whenever the gap between it and good literature is at its narrowest."
In The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections on Cultural History, Darnton steps back and views the role of historians in understanding, interpreting, and using history to educate in the present. Spreading his inquiry from France during the age of revolution to the modern day, his essays cover such things as the history of reading and history's relationship with other sciences, such as anthropology and psychology. Informed by his early work as a journalist, he meshes the media of today with the Terror of the eighteenth century, a Terror that was stilled only by brief moments of "fraternite," such as that from which the book draws its title. Speaking before the revolutionary Assembly in 1782, Antoine Adrien Lamourette's suggestion that political troubles could be solved through affection was followed by what Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Scott Mahler deemed "one of the most improbable scenes from European political history"—assemblymen rising to their feet and hugging and kissing their fellow legislators. "Darnton daydreams about history the way other people daydream about taking a vacation or finding true love," wrote Mahler, who found the volume to be the product of "a rich intelligence." "Whether exploring the high plains of scholarly debate or the fertile lowlands of popular culture, he makes an excellent guide for all."
In an uncharacteristic change of pace, Darnton the cultural historian turns journalist in Berlin Journal, 1989-1990, a record of an academic year spent in Germany for a German think tank. He had intended to immerse himself in the study of the eighteenth century, but, as Gordon A. Craig explained in the New York Review of Books, "unexpectedly … found himself in the middle of something that looked like a revolution and decided to try to produce a journalistic account of events as they occurred." Traveling from his base in West Berlin into communist East Germany after the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989, the historian records the details of his interactions with the people he meets on his travels: "His reportage of changing moods, conversations, arguments, and above all, people in particular situations, is direct and vivid," noted Steven Lukes of Darnton's book in the Times Literary Supplement, while adding that Darnton the historian is never far behind Darnton the journalist, asking questions and "drawing analogies and disanalogies" with revolutionary France, and possessing "a keen eye for the strange significance of books under communism." Craig praised the volume as "an attractive and highly readable book," although he later added that "one is left wondering why a 'Berlin journal' should say so little about the western half of the city." Berlin Journal is "not without repetition," Anthony Ailey stated in New York Times Book Review, but he added that the volume "makes us appreciate something of what it felt like for Germans East and West as [their formerly bisected] world ended."
Darnton added to his oeuvre on the Enlightenment with the 2003 publication of his essay collection George Washington's Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century. The subtitle seems to indicate a broader scope, though the historian mostly focuses on his favorite subject, France in the years before the revolution. However, he does spend time discussing the influences of what was happening in France upon the American colonies, as well as his usual romps through bits of cultural trivia that bring the eighteenth-century to life. As Hunt, writing in the New Republic, noted, "Darnton has a knack for breaking open an old chestnut and finding the meat still clinging inside." Although Hunt became frustrated with the book because it refuses to adequately connect the Enlightenment with the French Revolution—or, on the other hand, take the position that they were not strongly connected, the critic maintained that George Washington's Teeth "is good history, because it is so richly documented. It is also captivating history." Marie Marmo Mullaney, writing in Library Journal, seconded that opinion, declaring Darnton's book "a refreshing and stimulating collection of essays by one of the preeminent historians of the eighteenth century."
Hunt, summing up the historian's contributions to the discipline, noted that "Darnton never focused on the ideas of the Enlightenment itself. He wanted to show how those ideas diffused outward and downward, and above all he was fascinated by the low life of literature, the publishers and the smugglers of forbidden books, the pamphleteers and the pornographers who gnawed away at the beams holding up the ancien regime. Darnton has done more than anyone else to illuminate this story and to show how it matters. The Business of Enlightenment and The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France are rightly considered classics in the field."
Darnton once told CA: "I write history books, so my publications express a continuing process of archival research and a commitment to a professional vocation. Still, I attempt to write the books in such a way that they could interest the general educated reader. That attempt has not succeeded as well as I would hope in the United States, but I do find it possible to reach a 'grand public' through translations in Europe." Regardless of the readership, Darnton has enjoyed his excursions into history, especially his delvings into the Societé Typographique de Neuchâtel's papers. Calling himself an "archival historian," he revealed to Publishers Weekly writer Gary M. Kramer, "What really excites me as a historian … is how to get inside the mental world that existed hundreds of years ago, to roam around and understand how people made sense of things."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, October, 1969; October, 1980; June, 1983.
Atlantic Monthly, February, 1984.
Business History Review, winter, 1981.
Contemporary Review, January, 1997, Linda Kirk, review of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 49.
Detroit News, December 13, 1984.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 21, 1984.
History Today, February, 1982.
Insight on the News, July 3, 1995, Stephen Goode, review of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 29.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, spring, 1984.
Journal of Modern History, September, 1970; June, 1981; March, 1997, Jeremy D. Popkin, review of The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789, p. 154.
Library Journal, March 1, 1995, T. J. Schaeper, review of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 88; June 15, 2003, Marie Marmo Mullaney, review of George Washington's False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century, p. 86.
London Review of Books, December 2, 1982.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 25, 1984; September 23, 1984; November 4, 1984; November 19, 1989, pp. 1, 15; April 2, 1995, p. 3.
Modern Language Review, January, 1984.
Nation, March 12, 1990.
National Review, June 8, 1979.
New Republic, April 16, 1984; July 31, 1989, pp. 26-33; July 17, 24, 1995, pp. 51-53; October 6, 2003, Lynn Hunt, review of George Washington's False Teeth, p. 35.
Newsweek, February 27, 1984.
New York Review of Books, February 7, 1980; October 7, 1982; November 1, 1991, pp. 31-37; June 8, 1995, P. N. Furbank, review of The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789 and The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 51, pp. 51-55; July 13, 2003, David Walton, review of George Washington's False Teeth, p. 24.
New York Times, February 15, 1983; April 14, 1983.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1982; February 12, 1984; July 14, 1991, pp. 15-16; April 2, 1995, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, January 30, 1995, review of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 90; March 13, 1995, Gary M. Kramer, "Robert Darnton: 'The Vulgar Element Is Crucial,'" p. 50.
Review of Metaphysics, June, 1981.
Science, March 21, 1969.
Time, February 13, 1984.
Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1979; October 6-12, 1989, pp. 1097-1098; March 29, 1991, p. 7; May 22, 1993, p. 33.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1969; spring, 1980.
Voice Literary Supplement, May 1995, pp. 7-8.
Washington Post Book World, February 12, 1984.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 1995, review of The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, p. 85.