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Styles of Enlightenment

Taste, Politics, and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France

Styles of Enlightenment argues that alongside its democratic ideals and its efforts to create a unified public sphere, the Enlightenment also displayed a tendency to erect rigid barriers when it came to matters of style and artistic expression. The French philosophes tackled the issue of the hierarchy of genres with surprising inflexibility, and they looked down on those forms of art that they saw as commercial, popular, and merely entertaining. They were convinced that the standard of taste was too important a matter to be left to the whims of the public and the vagaries of the marketplace: aesthetic judgment ought to belong to a few, enlightened minds who would then pass it on to the masses.

Through readings of fictions, essays, memoirs, eulogies, and theatrical works by Fénelon, Bouhours, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Mercier, Thomas, and others, Styles of Enlightenment traces the stages of a confrontation between the virile philosophe and the effeminate worldly writer, "good" and "bad" taste, high art and frivolous entertainment, state patronage and the privately sponsored marketplace, the academic eulogy and worldly conversation. It teases out the finer points of division on the public battlefields of literature and politics and the new world of contesting sexual economies.

About the Author

Elena Russo is a professor of 17th- and 18th-century French literature at the Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of several books, including La Cour et la ville de la littérature classique aux Lumières and S keptical Selves: Empiricism and Modernity in the French Novel.

Endorsements

One of those irresistable books which uncover significant and unmistakable but hitherto undetected patterns in well-known material. After reading Elena Russo, it is impossible not to see the French Enlightenment through her revealing prism.

- David Bell, Johns Hopkins University

Reviews

Clear, well-documented book... Highly recommended.

- Choice

Illuminating and original, Styles of Enlightenment is a welcome addition to eighteenth-century studies.

- Julia Douthwaite - Clio

This absorbing, well-written study will be of tremendous interest to a wide range of readers.

- Geoffrey Turnovsky - H-France

The success of the book lies in Russo's ability to stitch together eighteenth-century literary and ethical theory with Augustinian theology and sociology.

- N.B. Leddy - Modern Language Review

What makes her contribution to eighteenth-century scholarship particularly noteworthy, even groundbreaking, is the new light it sheds on the entire movement of ideas known as the Enlightenment.

- Karlis Racevskis - Substance

Drawing on recent scholarship by Jay Caplan, Gregory Brown, and Joan DeJean, as well as on an abundance of lively quotations from the literature and art criticism of this period, Russo demonstrates that the philosophes' lofty condemnation of modern taste did not prevent them from succumbing to its appeal.

- Giulia Pacini - Eighteenth-Century Life

Russo offers a new and critical perspective on the Enlightenment.

- Rori Bloom - South Atlantic Review

Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics, and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France rewrites the history of a style that has all too often been dismissed as a marginal by-product of a decadent Regency.

- Giulia Paccini - Eighteenth-Century Life
Johns Hopkins University Press
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