The Politics of Publishing During The Second Empire

The Trial of Madame Bovary Revisited

in French Politics, Culture & Society
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The limited objections raised by members of the book trade to the press law at the time of the trial of Madame Bovary serve to highlight some fundamental characteristics and contradictions of liberalism in mid-nineteenth-century France. In general, liberalism in this time and place emphasized commercial freedom and property rights, at the expense of freedom of speech. In contrast to Anglo-American liberals, French liberals readily sacrificed this last freedom in the interest of "order," which was deemed necessary to promote the growth of commerce. As some of the most recent scholarship on the political culture of the Second Empire (and early- to mid-nineteenth-century France more generally) has shown, property, alongside education, was the main priority for liberals. It was only because property and education seemed to require it that freedom of the press eventually became important to French liberals and republicans. Intellectual freedom entered the political culture, for authors and publishers as well as statesmen, only through the back door of economic liberalism.

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