chapter  2
24 Pages

Moving Beyond Pleasure: Writing (In) the Libertine Novel

In 1748, in the France of Louis XV, a short volume by an anonymous author appeared in print. This same year saw the publication of a few famous Enlightenment titles; Diderot’s Bijoux Indiscrets was published in 1748, as was Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois, La Mettrie’s L’Homme-Machine, and across the channel, Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Yet this short novel-under one hundred pages in contemporary editions-became a widely read best seller during the ancien régime, and its mixture of philosophy and eroticism most likely reached more eighteenth-century French readers than any of the aforementioned works. This novel also became a favorite item of contraband, for if it was widely read, it was not widely legally sold, and potential owners and sellers of the work could be faced with police harassment as well as imprisonment in the Bastille. Its fate scarcely improved in the centuries that followed. If it became a classic, it was a classic of a certain genre, a classic of the “enfer” of the Bibliothèque Nationale, that holding place of all books banned, scandalous, or simply pornographic. The ancien régime “forbidden” best seller in question is Thérèse Philosophe, and its persecution (and its popularity) mirrors the fate of many eighteenth-century French libertine texts.1