Turnovsky’s latest work offers up a fascinating vision of how the connection between writers and their readers began to be forged in ancien régime France. As his title announces, Turnovsky’s focus is the literary market. Although the word ‘market’ can evoke images of merchants on the make, Turnovsky firmly separates his literary market from the economic realities of the book trade. He remains conscious of the material world but sees the literary market as a rhetorical construct which evolved over time as wordsmiths sought to define themselves and their craft.
Through an exploration of the experiences of specific authors at work in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Turnovsky thoughtfully examines the role played by commercial images in the fashioning of intellectual self-identity. He contests the conventional narrative of eighteenth-century authors realising an innate desire to be free from the fetters of courtly patronage and substitutes it with a more nuanced picture. Turnovsky contends that the links between authors and patrons were much more enduring that has yet been recognised. Moreover, he asserts that the real impetus to the commercialisation of the book trade came more from authors themselves than from a growing demand for printed matter. It was only once authorial perceptions of their own autonomy and legitimacy began to shift that writers started to see the open competitiveness of the market as a viable option. Before authors physically turned away from patronage, they first embraced a new rhetoric of autonomy and this posture of independence was a necessary prerequisite for its realisation.
This endeavour is divided into two parts. The first shines light on relations between writers and patrons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and explains that writers derived their legitimacy from emphasising their inclusion within an aristocratic coterie of patrons. Politeness, wit and being of le monde were crucial components of authorial identity. The latter section concentrates on the maturation of these relationships and their impact on the development of the literary market as conceptualised by Turnovsky. The literary market emerged; it is claimed, as a result of the efforts of particular writers to define themselves as outsiders from the establishment who demanded to be taken seriously. Turnovsky’s thesis rests primarily on literary sources and he builds his case by reconsidering the ideas and careers of the playwright Corneille, the philosophe Helvétius and other well-known writers who were among the first to engage with the marketplace.
Turnovsky’s efforts to advance understanding of the commercialisation of letters via authorial discourse are innovative and his portrayal of the literary market is both complex and convincing. The premise of this work builds upon Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘literary field’ and its subtle analysis encourages the reader to consider the unstated assumptions and conventions upon which the world of letters turned. Turnovsky’s research presents a strong challenge to the accepted chronology in the historiography of authorship which still tends towards the idea that authors increasingly turned away from patrons across the eighteenth century. He is careful to underscore that the transition was much more complicated and explains how fluctuations in the idea of what it meant to be a writer affected an author’s self-presentation, as well as his interaction with court patrons and publishers.
This work cannot answer all the questions it poses but it does suggest potential avenues for further research. The author signals that the patterns he has discerned could stretch back into Renaissance France and it also seems pertinent to consider whether outsider authors were just as influential in other regions of Europe as they appear to have been in eighteenth-century France. Turnovsky attests that his findings have implications for our understanding of modern literary culture but there could be more elaboration on this point. Yet the main issue with The Literary Market is an unfortunate tension between evidence and conceptualisation. Turnovsky criticises historians who rely on ‘exceptional’ figures to substantiate their arguments but nevertheless chooses to justify his own thesis with detailed analysis of the somewhat atypical careers of individuals like Diderot and Rousseau.
Despite the questions surrounding Turnovsky’s use of evidence, The Literary Market is an ambitious and impressive work. It constitutes an important companion to more empirical studies and reminds us how far implicit expectations and meanings impact upon the production and dissemination of literature. Although he centres his attention on discourse, Turnovsky is clearly at home with the everyday workings of the print trade in old regime France and he engages with the historiography to reach a meaningful conclusion on the emergence of the literary market. This book will have particular resonance for the many scholars working on the Enlightenment era but it also has a wider significance for those interested in notions of authorial identity and intellectual property, both in the past and present.