Robert Darnton, the distinguished historian of the Book, and author of The Great Cat Massacre, has now produced his long-awaited study of the best seller in eighteenth-century France: or rather of a peculiar kind, the “forbidden” best seller, belonging to the class (a very extensive one, containing a large part of the books the modern reader is likely to have heard of) of books banned by the authorities. His work is an attempt at a new answer to an old question: namely, Was it the books and ideas of the mid-century that caused the French Revolution, and if so, which books? Daniel Mornet, writing in 1910, argued that the Revolution could not have been, as the song has it, the “fault of Rousseau” or the “fault of Voltaire,” since the French on the whole did not read Rousseau (not, at least, the Contrat social) nor, most probably, did they read Voltaire either. They spent their leisure hours on the sentimental novels of Mme. Riccoboni and the adventure stories of Thémiseul de Saint-Hyacinthe.

Mornet lacked a system as a historian of the Book and he got various things wrong. There is a popularized version of the Contrat social in Book 5 of Emile, and this people certainly did read: it became a best seller. Nevertheless, says Darnton, Mornet’s question “What did the French read?” remains the right one; and his own inquiries into a kind of literature that Mornet neglected—pornography, muckraking chronicles, and the like—lead him to the conclusion that books, this kind of books, were a precipitating cause of the Revolution. They were so, not by advocating a revolution, but by discrediting the existing regime. “The ideological origin of the Revolution was a matter of deligitimating the Old Regime rather than anticipating a new one. And nothing sapped legitimacy more effectively than the literature of libel.” When, in 1787, the controller-general Calonne put forward a progressive tax plan that would solve the Crown’s financial problems, it was scurrilous libelles, and antiquated fantasies about the sex life of the departed Louis XV, that decided public opinion against him.

For twenty-five years, Darnton tells us, he has spent every spare summer and sabbatical in the archives of booksellers, but especially those of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) in Switzerland. The STN, a publisher and wholesale supplier to the book trade, occupied an ideal situation for producing illicit French books and shipping them down the Rhône or the Rhine or across the Jura mountains, and its voluminous archives have survived more or less complete. No other such archive exists; but there are reasons, says Darnton, why the picture that it gives of the trade in forbidden books might be considered representative. It was, for one thing, the usual practice of publishers and booksellers of the time to take one another’s books in exchange, treating a sheet of one book as the equivalent in value of a sheet in another.1 As a result, the stocks of such dealers tended to be broadly similar; and this tendency was reinforced by the fact that no “returns” were allowed, thus encouraging booksellers to stock small quantities of a wide range of titles rather than risk large orders of a few.

Darnton has, he says, come to trust his sense of smell, “the pifomètre, as the French call it,” and feels reasonably confident that general conclusions can be based on the STN’s papers. Nevertheless, he continues very sensibly,

I want them to be representative. After 25 years and 50,000 letters, the hunger for significant conclusions can be overwhelming, and that is dangerous, because as soon as a historian desires a certain result, he or she is likely to find it.

Accordingly he has made close comparisons with the registers of confiscated books of the Paris Customs, inventories of bookshops made during police raids, and catalogs of forbidden books from other Swiss publishers, and the results generally confirm his institutions. (The companion volume to the present book gives details of this research.)

In the STN archive, it is a simple matter to separate out the banned books from the rest. For, to the French book trade, illicit books, from grave treatises to pornography, were universally known as “philosophical.” Booksellers, when putting in orders to a wholesaler such as the STN, would mark items as “philosophical,” and they might issue a catalog listing works of this kind that they could supply themselves. Such catalogs, out of caution, gave no details of their source and were intended to be destroyed, but some have survived in the STN’s papers.

In the exchange system, a sheet of a “philosophical” work would be calculated at a higher rate, because of the risks involved, and these, of course, were considerable. Porters caught carrying illegal works might be branded and sent to the galleys, and booksellers employing them could end up in the Bastille. Darnton describes various standard ruses that were employed to outwit the Customs. One of these was “larding,” that is to say interleaving the sheets of respectable works (books generally traveled unbound) with those of illicit ones. (One retailer instructed the STN to “lard” or “marry” Fanny Hill with the Gospel.) A bookseller who wanted to avoid all risk would, at considerable expense, employ an “insurer,” who would command his own team of professional smugglers.


All this first part of Darnton’s Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, dealing with the STN and certain of its customers, and giving a general picture of the book trade, is most impressive in its rigor, and altogether fascinating in its findings. It concludes with seven tables, analyzing the sales of banned books by bookseller, author, and pattern of demand. These have been extracted from the companion volume, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789, where the same data are also broken down in several further ways and in more detail.

The heart of this latter volume, however, is a checklist of 720 “Forbidden Books” which, so Darnton claims, “offers a fairly complete view of the entire corpus of illegal literature.” It is arranged alphabetically by title, and shows, under a standard set of rubrics, the demand for each book among the customers of the STN, broken down by dealer, and showing the total number of copies taken by him and the number of his orders; also the number of times the book appears in clandestine catalogs, in lists of police confiscations, and in lists of Customs confiscations. As Darnton himself implies, there is no end to the ways in which a resourceful reader might interrogate this scrupulously marshaled information.

His list of illegal best sellers, arranged in order of popularity, runs thus:

1. Mercier, The Year 2400
2. Mairobert (?),Anecdotes of The Countess du Barry2
3. D’Holbach, System of Nature
4. Mercier, Tableau of Paris
5. Raynal, History of the Two Indies
6. Mairobert & Moufle d’Angerville, Historical Journal… by K. de Maupeou
7. Du Laurens, Aretino
8. Anon., Philosophical Letter
9. Coquereau, Memoirs of the Abbé Terray
10. Voltaire, The Maid of Orleans
11. Voltaire, Questions About the Encyclopaedia
12. Anon., Memoirs of Louis XV
13. Mairobert, The English Observer
14. Lambert (?), Translation of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (i.e., Cleland’s “Fanny Hill”)
15. D’Argens (?),Thérèse the philosopher
16. Anon., Collection of Merry Songs
17. Linguet, Philosophical Essay on Monasticism
18. D’Holbach, Critical History of Jesus Christ
19. Bérage (?), Translation of The Secretest Mysteries of Freemasonry
20. Linguet, Petition to the Royal Council
21. Franco (?),The Errant Whore
22. D’Holbach, Christianity Unveiled
23. Rousseau, Works
24. Bretonne, The Peasant Perverted
25. Milot, A School for Girls
26. D’Holbach, Good Sense
27. Linguet, Letter to the Count de Vergennes
28. Helvétius, On Man
29. D’Holbach, Social System
30. Lanjuinais, The Accomplished Monarch
31. Voltaire, Portable Philosophical Dictionary
32. D’Angerville, The Private Life of Louis XV
33. Anon., The Merry Lyre
34. Morlière, Ecclesiastical Laurels
35. Latouche (?),History of Dom B., Carthusian Porter

Here, then, are the books. But what, asks Darnton, did their original readers make of them? “Reading,” he argues, is a contentious concept. “We hardly know what it is when it takes place under our nose, much less what it was two centuries ago when readers inhabited a different mental universe. Nothing could be more misleading than the assumption that they made sense of typographical signs in the same way that we do.” He returns to this theme many times, and the sentiments are ones that cultural historians and reader-response theorists are fond of. I think, though, they need a little questioning,

Many years ago I wrote a very amateur study of the best seller myself, and I came to the conclusion that the real rewards of doing so were not, as I might have supposed, sociological, but were literary-critical and self-improving. To get anywhere in such an inquiry the question one needed to ask oneself, I found, was: Is a certain best seller good, i.e., can we take it seriously as a work of art? And the only way to find out was to read the book honestly and on the assumption that it might be. One might then discover that a certain pleasure one got out of the book was false, a trick, perhaps quite a subtle one; and this was so much learned, not just about that book but also about other books and about oneself.

The principle, indeed, seems to extend beyond the best seller. Theories about reader-response, that is to say about what other people might have got out of a book or a class of book, are, I am inclined to believe, only legitimate—assuming they are legitimate at all—if based on what one has got out of it oneself. According to this view, if people in eighteenth century France “made sense of typographical signs” in a way quite different from ourselves, there is nothing much one can say about what they got out of their reading.


It is important not to misunderstand the nature of the “implied reader” described by Wolfgang Iser in his book of that name. This reader of Iser’s, upon whom an author like Bunyan or Fielding is performing cunning tricks and moral manipulations, is a function of the given work’s rhetoric or form (and not fundamentally different from the implied reader in Paradise Lost, as described by Stanley Fish). He or she is not, that is to say, some imaginary eighteenth-century reader, miraculously resurrected by the skills of the social historian. He is, rather, ourselves, when we are reading the book rightly (and the need for knowledge comes in because it enables us to respond fully to the author’s ploys). We can no more get some imagined robot to do our reading for us than we can, in the words of the hero of Axël, get our servants to do our living for us.

But then, unless reading is a very special case, Darnton’s approach would also seem to imply that the eighteenth-century French were utterly alien to us and only to be made understandable by some mighty effort of historical reconstruction. Now, to anyone fond of the letters of Diderot or Mme. De Graffigny or the abbé Galiani, or even of the Memoirs of Saint-Simon, this seems a very strange view; for one laughs at the jokes and sympathizes with the hopes and distresses of these writers and altogether becomes thoroughly involved with them. Epistemologically they are certainly very different from us, as Foucault has convincingly shown, but this does not turn them into Martians or the members of another species. Hence it does not seem to be such an utterly daunting task to discover what they got out of Mercier’s utopian Year 2400 or the pornographic Thérèse the Philosopher or the scabrous libelle or “secret history” Anecdotes of the Countess du Barry. There will be a large clue in what we get out of them ourselves.

I mention these three works because in the last part of his book Darnton offers extensive extracts from them, as case studies. He is particularly interested in Thérèse the Philosopher (Thérèse philosophe), a work published in 1748 and probably written by Voltaire’s friend the Marquis d’Argens. Thérèse is writing an account of her sexual education for the eyes of her love, the Count ___. In Part One, the innocent, convent-trained Thérèse is initiated into sex by watching from behind a curtain as her young convent friend Eradice is taught to mortify her flesh by her rascally confessor, Father Dirrag. (The names allude, anagrammatically, to a famous law-suit brought by the real-life Catherine Cadière against her confessor Father Girard.) Sample chapter-headings run “Father Dirrag Flagellates her while Reciting Verses”; “He is embarrassed by the Choice presented to him by the Two Orifices of Eradice. Prudence rules over his Natural Predilection”; “Eradice and Father Dirrag Swoon with Pleasure. The Young Woman believes herself to be enjoying a purely Celestial Happiness.”

In Part Two her friend Mme. C. and the abbé T. teach her (more voyeurism on her part) the joys of masturbation. In Part Three the warmhearted whore Mme. Bois-Laurier instructs her in the varieties of polymorphic perversion. In Part Four she retires to the country as the mistress of the count, who proves to her the efficacy of coitus interruptus, and they live happily ever after “without a problem, without a worry, without children.” In the process, Thérèse becomes a philosophe, and the narrative is threaded through with a parodic vision of “philosophic” themes, such as determinism, materialism, and atheism

This, perhaps, is the right moment to remind the reader that the term philiosophe, as used in France in the mid-eighteenth century, meant not so much “philosopher” as something like “radical intellectual.” As such, for Voltaire and Diderot, it was a term of pride and a rallying cry. A philosophe in their eyes was a man who not only reasoned but lived by reason, and was thus a preeminently sociable and civic-minded person. On the other hand, for the orthodox and the devout, the term had a sulphurous aroma, signifying—according to a contemporary definition in the Dictionary of the Académie—“A man who, by libertinism of mind, places himself above the duties and ordinary obligations of civil and Christian existence.” Now, since, in the oppressive regime of eighteenth-century France, any characteristic work by a philosophe was certain to be banned (with varying degrees of firmness), as would any work of pornography or scurrilous “secret history,” it is not hard to see why booksellers should have lumped them together under the same convenient label “philosophical.”

Darnton believes there is a problem for us in understanding how Thérèse the Philosopher would have been read at the time. “Pornography,” both the word and the concept, belongs, he says, to “the bowdlerization of the world undertaken in the early Victorian era”: the French in the eighteenth century did not recognize it as a genre distinct from other forms of fiction. Again, the eighteenth-century reader would probably have detected intellectual niceties in Thérèse the Philosopher hidden from a modern audience. In Father Dirrag’s jugglings with matter and spirit such a reader might have perceived a reference not just to the Christian opposition of soul and body, and to neo-Aristotelian notions of form and substance, but also, specifically, to Cartesianism. On the other hand (and here Darton’s argument goes into reverse) the modern reader should have no difficulty in enjoying the book, for these forbidden best seller of the mid-eighteenth century are “naughtier, funnier, bolder or bizarrer than most of the book on best-seller lists today.”

Something odd and, I cannot help thinking, unconvincing is going on in this apologia. Darnton is perfectly right, of course, that Thérèse the Philosopher is clever in its fooling with serious “philosophic” themes (which would be one good reason for its getting onto the best-seller list). It is clever, too, in the “double-take” of making its action turn, importantly, on the effects of reading pornography. The book is also, to me, very repellent, but no need to brood too much over that. But is Darnton justified in suggesting that (for all that he encourages us to enjoy it) it is so remote from us that it poses a complex hermeneutic problem? I would, on the contrary, have thought that pornographic writing presented less of a hermeneutic problem than most kinds. Some pornographic books, after all, go on being best sellers for centuries. The essential aim of the genre is simple, it is to produce a fever of frustration in the reader and to lead him or her to masturbate. If it includes a smack of blasphemy, as it often does, this will be primarily to increase the aphrodisiac thrill. Writing of this kind is not likely to go out of fashion. It would be perfectly possible, if one wanted to, to excite oneself with Thérèse the Philosopher or Fanny Hill even today.

Darnton’s approach to pornography strikes me as an example of a kind of “lumping” and homogenizing that tends to infect eighteenth-century studies in general. In a curious passage, he asks himself what was the palce of philosophy proper among the so-called “philosophical” books, answering: “Everywhere and nowhere—that is, omnipresent as a critical spirit but barely visible in the form of systematic thought embodied in treatises.” But as we see above, in the third place in his list of forbidden best sellers (well above Thérèse) is the Baron d’Holbach’s System of Nature, a lengthy exposition of atheism and materialism. This is a systematic philosophical treatise if ever there was one, and a very grueling one; and further down the list we find Helvétius’s Of Man, of which much the same can be said.

Again, Darnton mentions that Thérèse the Philosopher came out “precisely at the moment when the first great barrage of Enlightenment works burst into print,” proceeding to name various works by Montesquieu, Diderot, La Mettrie, Buffon, and Rousseau, etc. A few sentences later, though, he asserts that “Diderot and Thérèse belonged to the same world—the bawdy, naughty, cheeky world of the early Enlightenment, where everything was held up to question and nothing was sacred.” Now, one asks oneself in bafflement, where on earth is the “bawdiness,” “naughtiness,” or “cheekiness” in Buffon’s Natural History or Montesquieu’s On the Spirit of Laws or Rousseau’s First Discourse (any more than in the magical tenderness and sobriety of Chardin’s painting, a product of the same moment)? The fault lies in that world “world,” which is a false concretion. There are no such “worlds.”

The question that troubled Daniel Mornet, like many other cultural historians, was: “What was the relation of the Enlightenment to the Revolution?” On this, Darnton has some very sensible words. It is, he says, a question mal posée (a badly framed question):

For if we put the issue that way, we are likely to distort it, first by reifying the Enlightenment as if it could be separated from everything else in eighteenth-century culture; then by injecting it into an analysis of the Revolution, as if it could be traced through the events of 1789-1800 like a substance being monitored in the bloodstream.

I would want to go further and claim that the twentieth-century coinage “the Enlightenment,” with its intrusive “the,” has brought more confusion into eighteenth-century studies than almost anything else. Here, supremely, seems to be a “lumping” or a false concretion; and all the eloquence of Ernst Cassirer in his The Philosophy of the Enlightenment is not going to persuade us that, at bottom, and in a long-term perspective, D’Alembert and Rousseau and Diderot were really saying the same things. On the contrary, what is most significant about them is the ways in which, irremediably, they differed. The effect of the formula “the Enlightenment” is to reduce eighteenth-century thought to a lowest common denominator, a collection of no longer very interesting truisms.

Darnton would not go along with this view, I think. He sees the danger of reifying “Enlightenment” but is more trustful of the word “philosophical.” The fact that printers and publishers, for their own very practical and pragmatic reasons, lumped together Thérèse the Philosopher and d’Holbach’s System of Nature as “philosophical” convinces him that we should do likewise. If we try to look at their books in this way, he says, “the seemingly self-evident distinction between pornography and philosophy begins to break down.” Though to project ourselves into this alien way of thought will, of course, require an enormous effort of historical re-orientation, and we are handicapped by a shortage of the right kind of evidence: by the “lack of documentation about the inner experience of reading” and the vagueness of our sense of “how readers construed texts.”

One wonders, though, whether that insight into “the inner experience of reading” might not be a will-o’-the-wisp. (Does one have insight into the “inner experience of reading” of one’s contemporaries in 1995?) At one point, indeed, Darnton’s researches throw up a definite piece of evidence, seemingly somewhat of the kind he is wanting. A reviewer of Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s Tableau of Paris (1783), an attractive and still much-quoted piece of reportage on the Parisian scene, a little like Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, wrote that “this is not a libelle; it is the work of a courageous and sensitive citizen.” Mercier, however, far from taking this as a compliment, was furious at the mere association of his name with something so odious as a libelle (a muckracking “secret history”). This, if not giving us “the inner experience of reading,” was a strong personal reaction. It would seem that, for Mercier, the booksellers’ label “philosophical” did not obliterate some essential discriminations. Darnton, however, explains this away as mere touchy defensiveness of Mercier’s part.

The danger of “lumping” comes home to one vividly when one thinks how the grossly exploitative Thérèse the Philosopher might be confused with Diderot’s wonderful D’Alembert’s Dream. For one of the controlling themes, very subtly presented, in Diderot’s extravaganza is, here again, the sexual education and emancipation of its heroine. In Julie’s prolonged conversation with Doctor Bordieu at the bedside of her lover d’Alembert, the doctor, a pratictioner of the “wait and watch” approach to medicine, has a secret purpose: it is to gently bring on a crisis, not in his ostensible patient d’Alembert but in Julie herself. His louche and indecent jokes, which at first quite pass over her, eventually bring her to think the thoughts that do not generally get aired and to let conjecture take her where it wants. By the end he has convinced her that there are no thoughts that one dare not think. He has taught her to “listen to herself,” a duty close to that “quitting of one’s self-inflicted nonage [or state of immaturity]” which was Kant’s answer to the question, “What is Enlightenment?”

Like Darnton’s study, though from another angle, Arlette Farge’s Subversive Words is also concerned with censorship. Her book, first published in 1992 as Dire et mal dire: L’Opinion publique au XVIIIe siècle and now very competently translated, was inspired by Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Habermas argues that in the eighteenth century there came into being a “bourgeois public sphere” (or “public space”) in which “enlightened” opinion could make itself heard: a sphere “constituted by private people putting reason to use.” There was, he said, no equivalent plebian public sphere, or at least it was “suppressed in the historical process.” The word “suppressed” caught Farge’s eye. For if this sphere was suppressed, she argued, it must have existed; and her book is an attempt to identify and articulate “popular” public opinion.

As a phenomenon, she argues, such opinion was plagued by paradox. Enlightened philosophes were not much more inclined than grand siècle magistrates to speak well of the “people” and their opinions: the supreme progressivist Condorcet defined popular opinion as “that of the stupidest and most miserable section of the population,” and Voltaire was not much kinder. As for the monarchy, it at one and the same time claimed that such opinion did not exist (for “people” had no right to hold opinions) and showed, by its swarm of police spies and informers, a furious desire to know what it was.

In seeking for evidence of popular opinion, she writes, she found it necessary to avoid two traps: the blanket assumption that the underprivileged everywhere and at all times grumble at their masters and their living conditions; and the teleological error of reading the Revolution back into the decades which preceded it. What was needed was to look closely and without hindsight at the different events and “sites” which focused popular criticism, and at the different motives and mechanisms at work among those who recorded it.

Every depository of this kind of opinions structures them in its own way and appropriates them to different end: chroniclers and memorialists deride or worry about them; the police watch them and are ready to pounce; the news-sheets use them to inform; the underground press uses them as ammunition against the opposition; the king ponders them so as better to govern the realm (as he thinks)…

Among the sources which she studies are chroniclers and diarists (Jean Buvat, Mathieu Marais, and the well-know Edmond-Jean Barbier); police and police informers’ reports; handwritten news-sheets; the illegal Jansenist journal or pamphlet series, Nouvelles ecclésiastiques; and Bastille dossiers.

As an evocation, or what Mercier would call a tableau, of the dramas, financial “bubbles,” ceremonies, miracles, and riots of the city—of the phenomena, that is to say, most adapted to provoke “popular opinion”—the book is really very good value. Particularly vivid is Farge’s account of the frantic life of the production of illicit news-sheets. These, to use her words, were loose, handwritten, undercover productions, which competed with official journals, being produced in substantial numbers by means of a gang of copyists. She describes how their authors would send news to foreign countries to be printed there, before bringing it back to be hawked about Paris and the provinces; how some would masquerade as musicians and would live in chambers where the fire was always lit, so that copy could be destroyed at a moment’s notice; how they would keep only a single copy of a news-sheet at home, secreting another in their mistress’s stocking or between her thighs; and how, if after all arrested and imprisoned, they would reconstitute their editorial office in their cells, or perhaps get themselves arrested for nonexistent debts for the sake of the quiet and privacy. Their sheets were, says Farge, “a sort of underground resistance movement, as elusive to contemporaries as to historians.”

Nevertheless, it has to be said that Farge does not achieve what she claims to, and “popular opinion” eludes her. The language in which she announces her discoveries is elaborate and grandiose. The narrative style of the Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, she says, created a “cement” for the words of the man in the street:

Or, better than a cement, a pedestal, which could later become a launching pad as the words, once read, diffused, even into domains other than those of Jansenist polemic…

Again, apropos of the same journal, she asserts that it put one into contact with “individuals in their own right, in all their singularity, enmeshed in their own adventures.” In practice, though, the results of her effort are altogether meager and not at all what her claims suggest. They amount to not much more than reports such as that “everywhere people cry that Fleury [the chief minister] and Noailles [the archbishop] are imbeciles and heretics,” or that humble people, even women drinking water or crocheting before their doors, “speak out openly” against the Pope’s bull condemning Jansenism. It is rare for any actual words to be reported at all.

The truth is there is a paradox at the heart of Farge’s book even deeper than the one she speaks of, and it proves fatal. Why she has so little success in finding the words of the “people” is, I strongly suggest, because the “people” did not exist. Despite the rhetoric of Condorcet and Voltaire, there was no “common people,” no populace, no “mob.” Raymond Williams once wrote, “There are no masses, only ways of seeing people as masses,” and it is a truth never to be forgotten. Crowds are a different matter. Street crowds would form, and later disperse, in Paris as elsewhere, and it is very proper of George Rudé and other to try to analyze their composition. It is the “mob,” the permanent mass of “ordinary people,” that is the fantasm and figment of rhetoric, and because of this Farge’s language cannot escape sounding patronizing. “Paris gobbled rumours and spectacles with a voracious greed,” she writes. “New items and criticisms constantly appeared in response to the lively social life of the streets”; “His [the Parisian reader’s] eagerness to know more and more was inseparable from his fear of being deceived, and this mixed reaction, far from discouraging him, only increased his fervent devotion to the sheets which were furtively thrust into his hand.” How often have we read the same condescending accents in a certain kind of social history—as when the medieval scholar Kenneth Sisam writes that the fourteenth century was “an age greedy for entertainment that fed a rich sense of comedy on the jostling life around it… Her [the Church’s] real power to suppress books was ineffective to bind busy tongues and minds.”

“The people were seldom unanimous,” Farge writes, in this vein. “The people never expressed its judgment en bloc and with a single voice, without any nuance or possibility of modification.” One gets “a glimpse into the heart of the people” from a police report of 1729. According to this police observer the “common people” rejoiced as one person at the news of the birth of the dauphin; yet this same observer “goes on to make a whole series of remarks indicative of a climate of disagreement and anxiety among the people.”

How regal is this language about “the people,” and how little it is able to convey! We see here (to be harsh) why, compared with Richard Cobb’s rich studies of the Revolution period, Farge’s findings seem so thin. It is plainly Cobb’s view that the right way of writing French Revolution history (and perhaps any history) is through biography, a profusion of biographies; and bound up with this is a conviction, in which Balzac and Dickens would certainly support him, as I would myself, that there are no “ordinary people.”

This Issue

June 8, 1995