Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France

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University of Toronto Press, Nov 8, 2019 - Books and reading - 408 pages

Victims of the Book uncovers a long-neglected but once widespread subgenre: the fin-de-siècle novel of formation in France. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, social commentators insistently characterized excessive reading as an emasculating illness that afflicted French youth. Novels about and geared toward adolescent male readers were imbued with a deep worry over young Frenchmen's masculinity, as evidenced by titles like Crise de jeunesse (Youth in Crisis, 1897), La Crise virile (Crisis of Virility, 1898), La Vie stérile (A Sterile Life, 1892), and La Mortelle Impuissance (Deadly Impotence, 1903). In this book, François Proulx examines a wide panorama of these novels, as well as polemical essays, pedagogical articles, and medical treatises on the perceived threats posed by young Frenchmen's reading habits.

Fin-de-siècle writers responded to this pathologization of reading with a profusion of novels addressed to young male readers, paradoxically proposing their own novels as potential cures. In the early twentieth century, this corpus was critically revisited by a new generation of writers. Victims of the Book shows how André Gide and Marcel Proust in particular reworked the fin-de-siècle paradox to subvert cultural norms about literature and masculinity, proposing instead a queer pact between writer and reader.

 

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Contents

Reading Anxieties
3
Youth in Crisis Case Study Crise de jeunesse 1897
17
The Three Dangers of Literature Case Study Les Trois Legrand 1903
87
Forming the Reader Case Study LÉcornifleur 1892
169
The Afterlives of Bad Masters
244
Notes
247
Bibliography
357
Index
377
Copyright

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About the author (2019)

François Proulx is an associate professor in the Department of French and Italian at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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