The social status of the writer in the 19th centurye century

The social status of the writer in the 19th century<sup>e</sup> century

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  • Great race to the academic steeple.

    GRANVILLE Jean Ignace Isidore GERARD said (1803 - 1847)

  • Victor Hugo in his living room at 21 rue de Clichy in 1875.

    MARIE Adrien (1848 - 1891)

Great race to the academic steeple.

© Photo National Library of France

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Title: Victor Hugo in his living room at 21 rue de Clichy in 1875.

Author : MARIE Adrien (1848 - 1891)

Creation date : 1875

Date shown: 1875

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Posted in The Illustrated Chronicle, October 18, 1875.

Storage place: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: GR FOL-LC2-3155- MICR D 249 (ACRPP)

Victor Hugo in his living room at 21 rue de Clichy in 1875.

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: December 2006

Historical context

Literary production in vogue

Throughout the XIXe century, literary works are increasingly popular with the public due to advances in literacy. While the number of titles and editions increases, the novel takes the lion's share of book sales, to the detriment of theater and poetry: we thus go from 210 new novel titles around 1830-1840 to 621 in 1876 -1885 and 774 in 1886-1890, according to statistics established from Catalog of the French bookshop. From now on, literary production obeys different strategies according to the readership to which it is addressed and the economic benefits expected by the publisher: serial novels and vaudevilles, intended for a popular public, thus rub shoulders on the shelves of bookstores. literary novels, poetry and avant-garde plays sought after by intellectuals.

Image Analysis

The coronation of the romantic writer

Before the era of "industrial literature", to use an expression dear to Sainte-Beuve, books were printed in the 1830s in a limited number of copies and the number of titles published remained low, due to technical possibilities. limited, the cost of printing processes, the high selling price of the book and the small readership. Under these conditions, the growing success of the young romantic generation with a large public from the years 1825-1830 contributes to maintaining a mythology around the romantic genius, while the gap widens between those who shake up tradition and official institutions. . From 1824, the Académie française, which embodies the values ​​of classicism and favors major genres such as theater, history or poetry, condemns the romantic movement, including Victor Hugo (1802-1885), author of Cromwell (1827) andHernani (1830), is unanimously recognized as the leader. The romantics, for their part, aspire to an official consecration and fight for the election of Victor Hugo to the Academy. But this ostracism lasts a long time: on many occasions, the Academy rejects the candidatures of the most famous romantics, as shown in this caricature of Grandville in 1839, entitled “Great course at the academic steeple”. We see a group of romantic writers there who come up against the closed doors of the Academy. Among these are Alfred de Vigny, stamping in front of the door, Victor Hugo, wearing Notre-Dame de Paris, an allusion to his masterpiece published in 1831, Alexandre Dumas Père, turning his back on the Academy and Honoré de Balzac (swinging on the mats of two of his heroines). But the triumph of the Romantic movement in public opinion soon forced the Academy to revise its position, and Victor Hugo was the first to join it in 1841, after 3 successive failures. From then on, he will never stop supporting the candidacy of his friends, with more or less success: Vigny and Musset are finally elected, respectively in 1845 and 1852, while Dumas Père and Balzac will never enter. . Officially recognized, romanticism turned, after 1848, into a movement of combat in favor of the republican ideas defended by Victor Hugo. A fierce opponent of Napoleon III, he was condemned to exile in 1851. Back in Paris thanks to the proclamation of the Republic on September 4, 1870, he was elected republican deputy the following year, then, in 1876 , senator from Paris. At that time, he occupied an eminent social position, as evidenced by this engraving published in the Illustrated Chronicle of October 18, 1875 representing Victor Hugo in his salon at 21 rue de Clichy surrounded by a large number of prominent writers and politicians. One recognizes there among others a generation of republicans forty-eight: Victor Shoelcher, who abolished slavery in 1848, the former secretary of Lamartine Paul de Saint-Victor, the socialist Louis Blanc, as well as the great politicians of the Third Republic, Léon Gambetta, Jules Simon and Camille Pelletan. In the center of the living room, decorated in a pompous style, sits an elephant which evokes the oriental taste of the time, on the eve of the colonization of Indochina by Jules Ferry.


The social situation of men of letters

These two documents each illustrate in their own way the struggle which men of letters fought for the recognition of their status throughout the 19th century.e century. Through his exceptional career and his political commitment, Victor Hugo embodies the ideal of social success to which every intellectual aspires. The symbolic aura surrounding the leader of the Romantic movement arouses a large number of literary vocations among the younger generation, as well as the financial successes of authors such as librettist Eugène Scribe, vaudevillist Eugène Labiche or novelist Eugène Sue. More and more men of letters are basing their hopes on literary success to ensure their social position, and the number of writers continues to grow during the second half of the 19th century.e century: from 407 writers in 1865-1875, it rose to 540 in 1876-1885 then 592 in 1886-1890. However, not all of them achieve financial autonomy and social recognition, due to the growing competition between the ever-increasing number of authors and the vagaries of the economic situation. At the same time, a cleavage is established between those who use the resources of industrial literature such as the serial novel published in large-circulation newspapers to reach a large popular audience and thus make a living from their pen, and the proponents of the avant-garde. guard who are aimed at a small group of insiders and must exercise a complementary profession to ensure their financial autonomy. These differences testify to the extreme diversity of the literary field which was constituted during the XIXe century and its submission to the principles of liberal economics.

  • Vigny (Alfred de)
  • Balzac (Honoré de)
  • Napoleon III
  • exile
  • Labiche (Eugene)
  • Sainte-Beuve (Charles-Augustin)
  • French Academy


Paul BÉNICHOU,The coronation of the writer,Paris, J. Corti, 1973. Paul BÉNICHOU,The time of the prophets, doctrines of the romantic age,Paris, Gallimard, 1977 Christophe CHARLE,Birth of intellectuals (1880-1900),Paris, ed. of Midnight, 1990.Christophe CHARLE,Social history of France in the 19th century,Paris, Le Seuil, 1991 Christophe CHARLE,Intellectuals in Europe in the 19th century,Paris, Le Seuil, 1996. Roger CHARTIER and Henri-Jean MARTIN (dir.),History of the French edition,t.III, Paris, Promodis, 1985.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "The social status of the writer in the XIXe century "

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