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samuel baudry et denis reynaud, éds., Nouvelles formes du discours journalistique au XVIIIe siècle : Lettres au rédacteur, nécrologies, querelles médiatiques

Lyon : Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2018. 272 pp. ISBN-13 :978-2-7297-0933-4
Will Slauter
Bibliographical reference

BAUDRY, SAMUEL et REYNAUD, DENIS, éds. – Nouvelles formes du discours journalistique au XVIIIe siècle : Lettres au rédacteur, nécrologies, querelles médiatiques. Lyon : Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2018. 272 pp. ISBN-13 :978-2-7297-0933-4

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1Letters to the editor and other reader submissions were central features of eighteenth-century newspapers, magazines, and journals. In fact, it is hard to imagine eighteenth-century periodicals being able to thrive economically or culturally without the epistolary exchanges sustained through postal correspondence – not to mention the occasional manuscript slipped discreetly under the printer’s door. This volume edited by Samuel Baudry and Denis Reynaud, with contributions by specialists of the French -, English -, and Spanish - language press, makes this point abundantly clear. Through a combination of case studies and broader overviews of different genres (especially letters to the editor, obituaries, and controversies), this volume does more than explore the new forms of eighteenth-century journalism mentioned in the title. By examining the dynamic nature of epistolary exchange in a range of periodicals produced in different periods and national contexts, the book highlights the extent to which epistolary exchanges were the heart and soul of many eighteenth-century periodicals.

2Taken as a whole, the essays also make interesting connections among seemingly disparate genres. For example, obituaries could take the form of letters and/or depend on biographic information sent in by readers, but they could also prompt responses in the form of éloges. In a stimulating essay, Anne-Marie Mercier-Faivre explores how French nécrologies combined elements of the éloge and the biography; her account whets the appetite for further study of the development of obituaries in relation to previous publishing traditions, such as lives of saints and books of martyrs, and later genres, such as dictionaries of national biography. Focusing on submissions about the writer Marivaux after his death, Catherine Ailloud-Nicolas reveals that what we might be tempted to call “obituaries” in fact contained a mix of biography and literary criticism. Religious controversies could also generate a special kind of obituary, as can be seen in Henri Duranton’s vivid chapter on the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, which published a series of accounts of Jansenists who were refused the sacraments at the moment of death. In Britain, theological controversies also played out in letters to the Monthly Review and the Critical Review as analyzed by Baudouin Millet. In the case of the famous rivalry between Rousseau and Voltaire, Olivier Ferret and Myrtille Méricam-Bourdet show that the conventions of periodical publishing, especially the prevalence of anonymity and veiled authorship, set the stage for the kind of quarrel that took place. The rivalry between Rousseau and Voltaire would have taken different forms, and evolved in different ways, if it hadn’t been for the kinds of epistolary exchanges that were encouraged by eighteenth-century periodicals.

3A few of the essays consider the cultural transfer, between Britain and France, of genres or modes of address. For example, Alexis Lévrier analyses the role of epistolary exchanges in various French adaptations of Addison and Steele’s Spectator while Robert Mankin considers how the rivalry between Voltaire and Rousseau played out in the British press. But most of the chapters concern developments in either France or Britain, with one essay focusing on Spain. (Elisabel Larriba analyses the numerous readers’ letters published in the Correo Literario de Murcia [1792-95]). The individual essays contain a wealth of information about the different types of letters, the social background of contributors, the kinds of topics they addressed, and the rhetorical strategies of the editors who framed, altered, or simply fabricated the letters that they published. Taken together, these essays invite comparative reflections on the different editorial conventions, business strategies, and cultural norms that developed around epistolary exchanges. The development of the obituary is a fascinating topic in its own right, and Nigel Starck provides a brief chronological overview of the shift away from moralizing accounts toward more factual and secular obituaries in British newspapers and magazines.

4One recurring theme in the volume relates to contemporary concerns over attribution and authenticity. Although we might assume that some of the letters were heavily edited and that others were fabricated entirely, as the contributors to this volume rightly suggest, too much focus on attribution would divert our attention from the various functions that letters actually played. Another recurring theme is the perception among contemporary editors and newspaper contributors that reader submissions facilitated the dissemination of information as well as critical debate. Samuel Baudry, in the course of a rich analysis of letters to the editor in British magazines, suggests that from the reader’s perspective, “any article could be the starting point for a conversation” (20) because periodicals actively encouraged readers to contribute to an ongoing discussion or to initiate a new one. Focusing on the more commercially-oriented French papers known as affiches, Elizabeth Andrews Bond points out that the very structure of these publications encouraged the kinds of exchanges associated with public markets. She cites a contributor to the Journal de Paris who described that publication as an “agora” through which readers were invited to wander and explore the merchandise, ideas, and practical information assembled for public display. In short, the dialogic nature of eighteenth-century periodicals encouraged the circulation of information and commentary and shaped the way controversies played out.

5After reading this volume, it is hard not to be convinced by the claim, made by several of the contributors, that the incorporation of letters into periodicals and the different cultural norms that developed around epistolary exchanges meant that many eighteenth-century periodicals were participative and collaborative media. Of course, lots of people were excluded from participation, and the contributors to this volume are sensitive to questions of socio-economic status, professional affiliation, and gender. For example, Ghazi Eljorf’s essay focuses entirely on letters by or about women published by the Quotidienne in 1795. But as Denis Reynaud suggests in his introduction, the spread of the Internet and the advent of new forms of journalism has enabled us to look at the eighteenth-century periodical press with fresh eyes, to better appreciate the journalistic innovations of that period, and thereby gain a fresh perspective on shifts in our own media landscape.

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Electronic reference

Will Slauter, samuel baudry et denis reynaud, éds., Nouvelles formes du discours journalistique au XVIIIe siècle : Lettres au rédacteur, nécrologies, querelles médiatiquesXVII-XVIII [Online], 76 | 2019, Online since 31 December 2019, connection on 30 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Will Slauter

Laboratoire de recherches sur les cultures anglophones, Université de Paris – CNRS, LARCA, UMR 8225

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