Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

9/1/2015 - 5/31/2016

Funding Totals

$37,800.00 (approved)
$37,800.00 (awarded)

Reading and French Masculinity at the Fin de Siecle

FAIN: FA-58550-15

Francois Proulx
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL 61801-3620)

Victims of the Book offers the first investigation of young men's excessive reading habits as a subject of grave social concern in fin-de-siecle France. It examines a corpus of over 70 novels, most of which have not been studied -- as well as essays, articles, and medical treatises -- that feature these troublesome young male readers. I propose that this literary corpus was a response to national anxieties about the formation of future French citizens. Against this cultural backdrop, I illuminate what was at stake in representations of the young male reader by novelists of the era 1880-1914, from Jules Valles to Marcel Proust. Situating Proust's representation of reading in its historical and cultural context, I show how his pathbreaking ideas about reading profoundly challenged cultural norms about masculinity and literature. The book contributes to 19th century French literary history and cultural studies, and to the broader fields of book history and masculinity studies.

Media Coverage

Book examines dangers of reading for young men in late 19th-century France (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jodi Heckel
Publication: Illinois News Bureau
Date: 2/11/2020
Abstract: French professor François Proulx examines the social concern over young men’s reading habits in late 19th-century France, and the forgotten novels that proposed to address the issue, in his new book “Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France.”

Victims of the book : reading and masculinity in fin-de-siècle France (Review)
Author(s): C. B. Kerr
Publication: Choice
Date: 5/23/2020
Abstract: Outstanding Academic Title, Community College Recommendation

Victims of the Book. Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France by François Proulx (review) (Review)
Author(s): Diana Holmes
Publication: French Forum
Date: 2/23/2020

Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Si`ecle France. By FRANC ̧OIS PROULX. (Review)
Author(s): Andrew Counter
Publication: French Studies
Date: 2/23/2020
URL: http://doi:10.1093/fs/knaa161

François Proulx, Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France. (Review)
Author(s): Robert D. Priest
Publication: H-France Reviews
Date: 5/23/2021

Dubois on Proulx (2019) (Review)
Author(s): Philippe Dubois
Publication: Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Date: 2/23/2021

Associated Products

Reading the Improper in Jean Santeuil (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Reading the Improper in Jean Santeuil
Author: Proulx, François
Abstract: The unfinished and untitled text now known as Jean Santeuil was begun by Proust in 1895 and largely abandoned by the end of 1899. Proust had misgivings about the text’s generic status: ‘Puis-je appeler ce livre un roman ?,’ he writes in an unlabeled, incomplete manuscript page that stops mid-sentence. Bernard de Fallois, the editor of the first published version (1952), tidied up Proust’s disorderly manuscript into a narrative that followed the conventions of a novel of formation. A later version edited by Pierre Clarac (1971) attempted to restitute some the fragmentary nature of the text, but largely maintained Fallois’s reorderings. As noted by Jean-Yves Tadié in his update of Clarac’s version (2001), a complete critical edition of Jean Santeuil remains to be done. Proust’s strikethroughs and revisions, most notably, are not fully transcribed in any published version; the recent digitization of the manuscript (2014) makes them visible for the first time. The manuscript reveals the young Proust’s hesitations in matters of gender as well as genre, particularly around questions of reading and desire. Love scenes are rewritten to erase hints of gender ambiguity. Scenes of shared reading – precursors to the solitary reading scenes in À la recherche du temps perdu – can be dated to 1895, when Proust was enamored with the composer Reynaldo Hahn, since these sections of the manuscript are written on the same paper used by Proust and Hahn to write letters in the fall of that year. Considering Jean Santeuil less as a novel than as a composite text, alongside Proust and Hahn’s letters, allows for unexpected insight into the Proustian theory of reading, through its links to Proust’s experiences and conceptions of queerness. By undoing earlier editorial efforts toward generic purity and returning to the manuscript, we uncover a different text, and a different way of reading Proust.
Date: 11/7/16
Primary URL:
Conference Name: Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium

Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France (Book)
Title: Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France
Author: Proulx, François
Abstract: Victims of the Book uncovers a long-neglected but once widespread subgenre: the fin-de-siècle novel of formation in France. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, social commentators insistently characterized excessive reading as an emasculating illness that afflicted French youth. Novels about and geared toward adolescent male readers were imbued with a deep worry over young Frenchmen’s masculinity, as evidenced by titles like Crise de jeunesse (Youth in Crisis, 1897), La Crise virile (Crisis of Virility, 1898), La Vie stérile (A Sterile Life, 1892), and La Mortelle Impuissance (Deadly Impotence, 1903). In this book, François Proulx examines a wide panorama of these novels, as well as polemical essays, pedagogical articles, and medical treatises on the perceived threats posed by young Frenchmen’s reading habits. Fin-de-siècle writers responded to this pathologization of reading with a profusion of novels addressed to young male readers, paradoxically proposing their own novels as potential cures. In the early twentieth century, this corpus was critically revisited by a new generation of writers. Victims of the Book shows how André Gide and Marcel Proust in particular reworked the fin-de-siècle paradox to subvert cultural norms about literature and masculinity, proposing instead a queer pact between writer and reader.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Publisher: University of Toronto Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781487505479
Copy sent to NEH?: No


Humanities Research Institute Prize for Research in the Humanities
Date: 4/10/2020
Organization: Humanities Research Institute
Abstract: Faculty Prize for “Bourget, the Chambige Affair, and the Queer Seductions of the Novel,” from Victims of the Book: Reading and Masculinity in Fin-de-Siècle France (University of Toronto Press, 2019)