The Novel and La Mode: Marketing Novelties 1670–1720 (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2006 semester seminar.

In 1678, the French fashion industry officially came into existence: the first fashion season was proclaimed, and the members of the newly formed (1675) guild of seamstresses invented a revolutionary new garment for women, the manteau. That same year, the work known as the first modern novel in French, La Princesse de Clèves, was published. All year long, both these events were chronicled in the monthly installments of the first periodical to resemble a modern newspaper, Le Mercure Galant. This seminar explored the ways in which these three institutions—the novel, the fashion industry, and the newspaper—took on their modern incarnations together at the beginning of the long eighteenth century. Newspapers marketed fashion and advertised novels; novels featured the latest fashions; engravings designed to show off each season’s new outfits also promoted the reading of newspapers and novels. Participants read French and English novels and newspapers and fashion engravings in order to see how novel, newspaper, and fashion shaped each other. Among the subjects that interested the seminar: how the definition of “news” helped redefine the novel; how new trends in fashion influenced the depiction of characters; how newspapers trained readers to read novels. Later sessions incorporated participants’ own research on these questions. This seminar was devoted primarily to French materials, and a reading knowledge of French was assumed. Comparative projects dealing with other national traditions were also welcome; however, as many materials are available in English translations from the period (save for Le Mercure Galant).

Director: Joan DeJean is Trustee Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include the award-winning The Reinvention of Obscenity: Sex, Lies, and Tabloids in Early Modern France (2002), and Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour (2005).