Policing the Public Sphere: The French Government and the Extra-Territorial Book Trade, 1770–87

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Ontario Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Louise Seaward, University of Leeds
The STN was just one of a number of extra-territorial traders who sought to circumvent the complications of French censorship by producing new editions outside France.  Scholars have however been too quick to assume that the French state had little sway over presses which were geographically out of its reach.  This paper will instead argue that the fortunes of businesses like the STN were closely tied to the attitudes and actions of the French authorities.  It will emphasise the specific circumstances that galvanised the French government to take action against prohibited texts and explore the interplay between coercion and more subtle techniques in the management and manipulation of the Francophone publishing industry.  This discussion will shed new light on the efficacy of continued attempts to impose forms of control upon a huge international network of illicit book dealing.  The determination of the French government was such that the STN and others like it found it impossible to conduct their clandestine trade unchallenged.  A closer appreciation of the constraints placed upon foreign publishers will pave the way for a re-evaluation of the Francophone trade in forbidden literature and its contribution to the French public sphere during the later eighteenth century.
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