Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France
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.
- Series: University of Toronto Romance Series
- World Rights
- Page Count: 408 pages
- Illustrations: 7
- Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.5in x 9.1in
"In our own century, it is hard to imagine parents and teachers wanting to discourage boys from reading. As educators debate the problem of how to engage boys who ‘won't read,’ and parents bemoan the fact that children today spend too much time indoors in front of a screen, it is hard to imagine a time when it was a problem that boys were enthusiastic about literature. But in Victims of the Book, François Proulx makes the case clearly and illustrates, with close textual analysis, how reading could be a dangerous activity for young and impressionable male minds. Whether it is giving boys ideas ‘above their station’ that threaten class stability, or encouraging male-centered identifications that disrupt the heteronormative social order, books are a powerful resource to be respected."
Melanie C. Hawthorne, Department of International Studies, Texas A&M University
"Among men in late-nineteenth-century France, we knew the poet, the priest, the warrior, the scientist, the physician, the philosopher, the journalist, and so on; but we barely knew the reader of fiction, whose passivity and impressionability are stereotypically associated with women like Madame Bovary. Victims of the Book makes us better acquainted with this figure who challenges many assumptions about masculinity, in the nineteenth century as well as today."
Nicolas Valazza, Department of French and Italian, Indiana University Bloomington
Author InformationFrançois Proulx is an associate professor in the Department of French and Italian at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Table of contents
List of Illustrations
Note on Translations and Previously Published Material
Introduction: Reading Anxieties
Part I: Youth in Crisis
1. Contagions and Cures
2. Representing the Fin-de-Siècle Reader: Exhaustion, Deviation, Impotence
Part II: The Three Dangers of Literature
3. Vallès, the Déclassé, and the Pitfalls of Education
4. Bourget, the Chambige Affair, and the Queer Seductions of the Novel
5. Barrès and the Ghosts of Balzacian Ambition
Part III: Forming the Reader
6. Martin du Gard, Tinan, and the Uses of Irony
7. Gide and the Novel as Formation
8. Proust and the Fantasy of Readerly Recognition
Epilogue: The Afterlives of Bad Masters
Subjects and Courses