Fiction as a Medium of Social Communication in 19th Century France


  • Sabina Pstrocki-Sehovic EHESS- Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales and Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV
  • Sabina Pstrocki-Sehovic EHESS- Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales and Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV



social communication, books on trials, censorship, 19th century France, Dreyfus affair, novel, the characteristics of language, politics, landscapes, cities and architecture, interactions between literary world and society, legislation


This article will present the extent to which literature could be viewed as means of social communication – i.e. informing and influencing society – in 19thcentury France, by analysing the appearance of three authors at different points:  the beginning, the middle and the end of the century. The first is the case of Balzac at the beginning of the 19th Century who becomes the most successful novelist of the century in France and who, in his prolific expression and rich vocabulary, portrays society from various angles in a huge opus of almost 100 works, 93 of them making his Comédie humaine. The second is the case of Gustave Flaubert whose famous novel Madame Bovary, which depicts a female character in a realist but also in a psychologically conscious manner, around the mid-19th century reaches French courts together with Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire and is exposed as being socially judged for its alleged immorality. The last is the political affair of Dreyfus and its defender Emile Zola, the father of naturalism. This case confirms the establishment of more intense relations between writer and politics and builds a solid way for a more conscious and everyday political engagement in the literary world from the end of the 19th century onwards. These three are the most important cases which illustrate how fiction functioned in relation to society, state and readership in 19th century France.


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Painting of the Eiffel tower