Modesty and other “antiauthorial” conventions (anonymity, self-effacing prefaces, refusal to profit) tend to be viewed as retrograde concessions to the outdated norms of an antiquated cultural field, which a more modern, assertive, and critical authorial figure will learn to abandon. Yet in the context of the seventeenth century, such gestures were associated with modernity rather than the opposite. This essay reinterprets the significance of authorial modesty by analyzing this disconnect, which calls attention less to the changing strategies of writers than to the evolving expectations and desires of readers to whom the gestures were addressed. It argues that if the aristocratic airs adopted by writers situate them squarely in the Old Regime, the readerly practices to which they appealed (and which they in turn shaped)—individualized and moralized as well as commercialized—might, by contrast, allow us more easily to associate the self-consciously modern yet modest customs of seventeenth-century authorship with our own modernity.
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Research Article| December 01 2011
Geoffrey Turnovsky; Authorial Modesty and Its Readers: Mondanité and Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France. Modern Language Quarterly 1 December 2011; 72 (4): 461–492. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1382230
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