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Alain Vaillant

During the nineteenth century, not only did the extraordinary development of the printed press transform the cultural environment, but it also brought about major formal changes in literature. This article explores these trasnformations through a focus on the contemporary use of the concept of “modernity.” The word dates back to 1688 at least, but it was mostly employed during the nineteenth century to describe post-revolutionary France and especially to criticize its consumerism and materialistic “bourgeoisie.” Nineteenth-century media culture embodied the triumph of “modernity,” especially in the form of the petite presse (“small press”). Born in a world where censorship still compromised the freedom of speech, the petite presse was an illustrated, satirical, ironical, and wisecracking medium. It aspired to a generalized non-seriousness which would, for a long time, be viewed as the “Parisian spirit.”