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2013 Series Panizzi Lectures 1

1. Bourbon France: Privilege and Repression

Censorship left its mark, openly and proudly, on every legal book published in France under the Ancien Régime.

It took the form of privileges, granted by the grace of the king, and approbations, written by the censors. Printed out as required in the text of the book, the approbations make strange reading today. They praise the text, its style and content, instead of serving as a warranty against heretical or seditious passages. The in-house memoranda and private correspondence of the censors confirm their role as middlemen in the dispensing of a royal stamp of approval. What occupied them most was the defence of quality and the danger of coded insults in romans à clef. Censorship was therefore positive. By conferring privileges, it conformed to the basic socio-political principle of the Ancien Régime.

Beyond the realm of privilege, another kind of literature existed. Printed in foreign or clandestine French shops, it circulated in a vast literary underground. Inspectors of the book trade struggled to flush out and confiscate these illegal works, acting in effect as post-publication censors. A broad concept of censorship can be stretched to include police work. In fact, it covers a wide range of activities, which can be compared with those under other authoritarian regimes and open up the possibility of rethinking the history of censorship in general.

Censors at Work: Bourbon France (PDF format)

The Panizzi Lectures

Censors at Work: Bourbon France, Imperialist India and Communist East Germany

A series of three lectures by Professor Robert Darnton

MP3 file, 1 hr 1 mins 32 secs, 24.65 MB