The Autodidacts and their Literary Culture:
Working‑Class Autobiographers in Nineteenth‑Century France


The profusion of working‑class autobiographies [*] in the nineteenth century is one clear indication of the growing self‑awareness, and mastery of the printed word, among individual workers who had experienced little formal tuition. They provide a personalized history of the working class in this period, a time when the oral transmission of that history had begun to decline, and before modern oral history had been invented. This paper is part of a study of those working‑class autobiographies, produced in Britain and France during the nineteenth century, and of the general culture of their authors.

Proletarian autobiographers were an articulate elite. In spite of their exaggerated modesty and humble origins, most of them wrote of personal struggles which had led to success. Some had become trade unionists, others journalists, most described the hard road towards individual and collective emancipation. To some extent, therefore, their writing can be situated within the ambiguous ideology of "self‑improvement" — ambiguous because it was expounded by middle‑class writers, promising upward social mobility which would blur or cross class boundaries.

Reading was central to the ethos of self‑improvement. Working‑class autobiographers rarely failed to give a description of their reading, and many of them outlined the detailed reading programmes which had guided and improved them. Louis‑Arsène Meunier, the starving muslin‑weaver from the Perche, read eight hours per day for six years, committing large sections of Rollin's Histoire ancienne to memory. [1] Jacques Laffitte learned many seventeenth-century classics by heart as a clerk, so that he could get rid of his Bayonne accent and make the most of his promotion to Paris. [2] The eager search for book knowledge was vital to the intellectual emancipation on which political action was based; it also provided the knowledge and discipline required for moral, rational self-improvement.

The literary culture of the autodidacts was of a specific kind. Although their early reading was frequently eclectic and indiscriminate, the autodidacts tended to impose a stem discipline on their own reading. They read in an "intensive" manner, that is to say repetitively, closely re‑reading the few texts at their disposal and, in their own well‑worn phrase, "committing them to memory". They taught themselves through memorization, which often depended on reading and reciting aloud. Their relationship with the printed word occasionally resembled the "intensive" mode of literary appropriation encountered by historians in eighteenth-century Germany and Puritan New England. [3]

Autobiography was regarded very much as an English genre. The 1866 edition of the Larousse Dictionary described autobiography as an English invention, still rare in France. [4] Protestantism provided an important boost for working‑class education, and particularly for working‑class self‑education. Many British working‑class autodidacts emerged from a non­conformist Protestant background, which helps to explain why they greatly outnumbered their French equivalents. The influence of religious roots on British trade unionism and the close association of French radicalism with anticlericalism provide the most obvious point of contrast in British and French autobiographies.

I have so far used 19 French autobiographies, out of about 80 under consideration in all. The majority were by skilled workers rather than industrial, factory workers, and the vast majority were male.

All of the autobiographies were published in some form, as books by commercial publishers, or in journal articles. Victorine B.'s memoirs, published at the author's expense in Lausanne in 1909, is a rare French example of private publication. [5] A few have only recently been discovered, like the notebooks of Lejeune, the retired draper's representative, who died in 1918 after keeping the contents of a lifetime's writings a secret even from his wife. [6] Another attempt to delay publication was made by the French socialist Benoît Malon, who ordered that his memoirs should remain unpublished for at least ten years after his death (in 1893). His followers obeyed with interest—they did not appear until 1907. [7]

In France in the 1840s, workers' writing was published in workers' periodicals like La Ruche Populaire and L'Atelier (although even the worker‑poets needed the sponsorship of intellectuals like Lamartine and George Sand). The publication of autobiographies only took off in France after 1848, and reached a peak in the period between 1870‑1914. In 1888, the critic Brunetière complained about the invasion of "littérature personnelle", and its egotism, "le développement maladif et monstrueux du MOI''. [8] This accelerated rhythm of autobiographical production may reflect increasing opportunities for social mobility in the latter half of the century.

They wrote autobiographies for different purposes, to warn, to instruct, to record, to preach, to name but a few. Some were inspired by nostalgia, some by vanity, others by vengeance. They wrote at different times of their life, some reflecting on their past in old age, others taking new stock of themselves as a result of a personal trauma, a few writing to re‑assess themselves, and resolve what we might now call a mid‑life crisis. J.P. Gilland took advantage of a prison sentence to write his Biographie des hommes obscurs in 1849, and Agricol Perdiguier looked back on his life as a victim of Imperial persecution in 1854. Others wrote a brief sketch of their life to preface publication of their poetry or songs.

Autobiography has always held a fatal attraction for the non‑professional writer. However uneducated the autobiographers were in a formal sense, they brought a great deal of cultural baggage to the task of writing. They had inherited or acquired a sense of correct literary tone, and they adopted linguistic or stylistic modes encountered in their own reading. They plundered their existing capital of images, metaphors, and narrative techniques for the style best suited to the expression of their own individual identity. A few comments on the nature of autobiography itself are appropriate here.

Autobiography presents both the public, and the private face of the author, in uneven proportions. It is of course the personal, and subjective element, the presence of the "I", which makes autobiography special, but many of our autobiographers were public figures, like the banker Laffitte. His work was a public document which showed his desired public face rather than his private face. [9] It celebrated the achievement of a self‑made man who had played a leading political role after 1830, and had contributed to the arrival of Louis-Philippe on the throne. Laffitte reproduced his political speeches in full in his memoirs, and one chapter was vainly entitled "Le Roi et Moi". Most of his memoirs were confined to the activities of his political persona.

It was very rare for autobiographers to confide in the reader about their private and intimate selves. [10] Women autobiographers tended to be more open about their private faces. From Suzanne Voilquin, for example, we can piece together the story of her first sexual experience (her seduction by a medical student), and her extremely tolerant relationship with her husband, who, she tells us most decorously, infected her with venereal disease. Her miscarriages, and the couple's separation were an essential part of her story. [11]

The autobiographers who had had a public career, therefore, were inevitably conscious of writing history for public consumption, but even for them, writing an autobiography fulfilled an inner need. Autobiography was a step in the process of defining one's identity, both as an individual and as a member of a group or class. The act of writing itself brought greater self‑knowledge, and self-assertion. Autobiography was an affirmation of the self, as a unique individual and as a member of the working class.

Lejeune described autobiography as principally the "history of a personality". He envisaged the autobiography as a pact which the writer makes with himself, [12] in order to redeem a flawed destiny, and to rescue a personality which had doubted its own value. My subject, however, is not just the individual, but also the collective autobiography—the autobiography of the nineteenth-century working class. Benoît Malon looked back on his life at the age of 43, and promised as his "autobiographical pact": "J'entreprends de dire avec sincérité ce que j'ai été, ce que j'ai tâché d'être, ce que je suis." [13] His self‑analysis was unremittingly pessimistic. He saw a childhood darkened by bereavements and the fear of Hell, a miserable youth and a disillusioned adulthood, full of

les remords d'irréparables erreurs, faisant cortège aux amertumes du demisavoir, aux doutes douloureux, aux sombres découragements et quelquefois aux désespérances d'un pessimisme dont le triste spectacle des choses humaines m'a pénétré. [14]

Malon's sufferings, however, were viewed as those of his class, or indeed classes, since Malon had begun life as a peasant before becoming an industrial worker. He had suffered the hunger and homelessness shared by all wage‑earners. His story was not just his own, but "la vie lourde, traversée, bien remplie cependant, d'un déshérité du XIXe siècle".

The rôle of self‑identity and self‑assertion. remains central to the autobiographical enterprise. Any re‑evaluation of its subjective nature has obvious dangers. Autobiographies can hide as much as they reveal about the self. They can fudge details, censor what does not correspond to the desired version of the self, or present a highly‑manicured image for public exhibition. Xavier‑Edouard Lejeune, for instance, was guilty of several deceptions in his autobiography, as research in the Etat‑civil, and amongst his descendants revealed. [15] He had hidden his true origins: he was the illegitimate son of a couturière who had been abandoned by his father. Lejeune included the story in his autobiography, but in a coded version, told as a fictional anecdote, a story which had happened to an acquaintance of his. He further concealed the fact that his mother had lost her sanity, and been confined to an asylum. He did not not reveal the fact that he had co‑habited with Hélène Wolff for seven years, and had four illegitimate children with her. What is more, he had converted to Judaism, and had become circumcised, in order to obtain the Wolff family's approval for their marriage. None of these intimate but fundamental aspects of Xavier‑Edouard's life were entrusted to his private notebooks.

Occasionally the autobiographers explicitly recognize the fictional element in their work, by writing in the third person, or using a pseudonym or fictional name. Constant Lepage made a transparent anagram of his name—Egapel—, and invented a fictional "friend" who introduced the narrative. [16]

Perhaps all autobiographers recognize a fictional or imaginative element in their work, either implicitly or explicitly, as they "construct" a new life on paper. The act of writing an autobiography "splits" the personality of the writer, creating a new persona on the page, fashioned for a literary purpose. [17]

Joseph Benoît, the Lyons silk‑worker, used an interesting distancing device. He introduced himself in the third person, as a young man observed in the crowd on the Place des Terreaux during the 1830 Revolution. He described his dress and appearance as though watching a stranger:

Sa mise était celle d'un paysan, déjà modifiée par son séjour dans la ville; un air sombre et timide en même temps imprimait à tous ses traits une mélancolique résignation et une douceur passive au sein de ces flots humains irrités. [18]

He shouted "Liberté!" and "République!", but the crowd silenced him. Benoît the author and embittered political exile asked this youthful self‑portrait to personify the revolutionary idealism of 1830 and 1848, —a sentiment which had become unrecognizable to him.

The nineteenth century witnessed an enormous proliferation of autobiographical writing. Burnett, Vincent and Mayall list 801 British working‑class autobiographies in their bibliography. [19] Why did autobiography thrive at this particular historical conjoncture?

Since Rousseau and the Romantic movement, European literature had revalued the subjective self. The examination of one's inner feelings and conflicts had been elevated into acceptable literary subject‑matter. A new emphasis, both on the subjective, and on the assertion of individual identity, encouraged autobiographical writing.

This helps to explain why the nineteenth century was a propitious moment for the flourishing of the autobiographical art in general; it does not explain the new production of working‑class autobiography in particular. To label nineteenth‑century autobiography as a middle‑class genre, as Roy Pascal does, is of no obvious assistance here. [20] Even if the style of working‑class autobiographies was frequently derivative, they expressed specifically proletarian concerns. They reflect the problems of material life with which nineteenth‑century workers commonly struggled: the price of bread and the levels of wages are often detailed. Victorine B. wrote exactly what she paid for butter and potatoes, and she described the illnesses and diet of her children, all vital concerns in the siege of Paris, when she unwittingly found herself eating mouse paté. [21]

Autobiography was, however, an expression of an individualistic culture, specific to European societies where the individual was valued as an autonomous agent, exerting some control over his or her personal destiny. [22] Furthermore, autobiography was the medium to express the idea of becoming an individual, the notion of a process which culminated in the possession of a clear identity. For this reason, autobiography was the ideal genre for the "self‑made" man of Victorian Britain. It traced his achievement in spite of handicaps and difficulties, reflected his glory, and announced his own self‑definition. [23] Autobiography was then especially attractive to workers who embraced the idea of self-improvement, and who were determined to ameliorate themselves morally, materially, or both.

French working‑class autobiographies tended to fall into one of three main genres: the success story of the self‑made man, the mémoires des militants, and the literature of compagnonnage. Many self‑improving autobiographers could measure their success in terms of upward social mobility. They escaped the necessity of grinding manual work to embark on a career as a journalist, a teacher or a radical politician. One function of the autobiography was to demonstrate how this was done. The autobiography as material success story had a pedagogical purpose: it stood as an exemplum for the next generation, teaching the path which led forward and upward, and the virtues required to tread it successfully.

Laffitte claimed huge success for himself, asserting that his efforts had established the Orléanist dynasty in 1830. "Moi", he wrote, "Moi, de simple apprenti charpentier que j'étais, je suis parvenu à fonder une dynastie nouvelle". [24]

Jean‑Baptiste Dumay, the Le Creusot worker who became Socialist deputy for Belleville in the 1880s, wrote with more discretion. He claimed to have composed his autobiography purely to instruct his own family and descendants. [25] Henri Norre, a rare peasant autobiographer, had important lessons to teach. He wrote to instruct his fellow‑peasant, in the virtues of superphosphate. [26]

Self‑improvement led to self‑emancipation as much as to material success, and another genre of autobiography charted the intellectual liberation of the author. His or her gradual radicalization, and perceptions of the sources of oppression were the subject of his or her autobiography. The militant's memoirs were a common French genre of autobiography, as illustrated by that of Victorine Brocher. Her story centres almost completely on the experiences of the Revolution of February 1848, and of the Paris Commune. It is a passionate account of the February Revolution and of the massacres of the Commune, during which she was an ambulance worker. The author gives day‑by‑day accounts of these revolutions, culminating in the discovery that she had been sentenced to death as a "pétroleuse". Hence her book's title, Souvenirs d'une morte vivante.

The Tour de France, thirdly, provided the framework for the autobiographies of compagnonnage written by Nadaud, Perdiguier, Arnaud and Voisin. They professed to relate the "inside story" of compagnonnage, its rituals, apprentices' songs, customs and jargon. They did not hesitate either, to relate the drinking bouts, internecine quarrels and frequent industrial accidents which were part of the compagnon's life. The authors were well aware, however, that they were recording a disappearing way of life, either to preserve the memory for posterity (in the case of Voisin), or in order to bury it altogether (in the case of Arnaud). [27] Artisans were credulous and prejudiced, according to Arnaud, and his didactic autobiography urged them to put violent professional rivalries behind them. Progress depended, he argued, on working‑class unity which would replace the divisiveness of the societies of compagnonnage.

The self‑taught autobiographers, and the worker‑poets among them, struggled to find the style best suited to carry their messages of self‑improvement, protest or indignation. Some wrote in their local language, or drew on popular cultural traditions. This was a characteristic of several Scottish autobiographers, but it was also true of some French worker‑poets. The coiffeur Jasmin, for example, wrote in occitan, looking ahead to the renaissance of regional languages which occurred in the mid‑nineteenth century. [28] Poetry was closer than prose to popular oral tradition, it could express an emerging class‑consciousness, and it found ready outlets in nineteenth‑century newspapers.

Xavier‑Edouard Lejeune provides another example of a self‑taught writer using the literary models of the great romantics. It was, according to Lejeune, Chateaubriand's Génie du Christianisme which turned him into a writer in the first place. His poetry imitated Hugo, and he copied Balzac in entitling his memories of work in a department store "Scènes de la vie de magasin". The press was another important influence. Lejeune frequently cut out articles from the newspapers which he avidly read between 1860 and 1918. At his death, he left notebooks of newspaper cuttings, which he had collected and glued into the pages. [29] Like all self‑taught writers, he struggled to learn his craft from the models he knew.

Anticlericalism appears in the autobiographies as a central feature of working‑class radicalism. In this, French autodidacts may be contrasted with their British equivalents, many of whom were inspired by Protestant non‑conformity in their quest for self‑improvement. At Le Creusot, Dumay's conspicuous anticlericalism was noted unfavourably by his employers, the Schneiders. Workers who bought their newspapers at his bookshop were sacked, and he was eventually forced to close in 1881. When he tried to exempt his own children from religious instruction at school, he wrote, "ma maison était considérée plus que Jamais comme la maison d'un pestiféré." [30]

J.‑B. Arnaud attributed his loss of faith to the reading he did in his employer's library in Lyons. There he was influenced by reading about various Christian follies: the Crusades, the Wars of Religion and the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day, as well as the inquisition. This was in fact a Protestant library, but it left Arnaud in a determined frame of mind, writing: "Brisons nos idoles pour ne plus nous occuper que de notre bonheur commun". [31]

Sometimes, freethinking views were a response to reading, the influence of an encounter with Holbach or the Abbé Meslier, but Victorine Brocher's anti-religious views developed directly out of her personal experience. In 1868, her invalid (possible alcoholic?) husband died, leaving her with a young son who was unable to walk. Very soon, he too died, and Victorine wrote: "De ce jour, ce fut fini entre moi et Dieu!" [32]

*        *        *        *

The literary culture of the autodidact was improvised and self‑directed. By definition, it owed little, if anything, to formal education. Norbert Truquin had no chance of an education: he was forced by his employer to sleep in a coal‑hole between the ages of 7 and 10, starting work as a woolcarder at 4 a.m., and finishing at 10 p.m. [33] In practice, however, most autodidacts did experience very brief periods of schooling, but educational opportunities for working‑class children were sparse and unreliable for most of the nineteenth century. They had started work as errand‑boys or farmhands as soon as practical, which usually meant at any time after their eighth birthday. The autodidact's education was always secondary to the needs of the family economy.

The autodidacts pursued their desire for study and self‑improvement with a determination that was sometimes obsessive. Indeed, it had to be, if they were to overcome the immense material handicaps that stood in their way. Poverty, lack of time and lack of privacy made study impossible for all except the most dedicated. The opposition of their employers, particularly in France, was a frequent handicap.

Autodidacts embarked on the pursuit of knowledge with vast enthusiasm and little discrimination. They confessed to a ravenous appetite for literature of all sorts, which they admitted in retrospect was poorly directed. Only later did some of them organize their study into a pattern with fixed objectives. Autodidacts improvised a culture with the help of informal contacts with sympathetic relatives or patrons. They borrowed books from friends, neighbours, priests, schoolteachers, employers; they obtained motley collections of reading matter from all available sources.

Poverty deprived them of all but a smattering of formal education, and condemned them to improvise. They stole time to read, and they carved out moments of privacy from the continuous stream of demands from families or employment. By exploiting the generosity of relatives and assorted patrons, they manufactured their own culture.

*        *        *        *

What, then, did they read, in their dedicated pursuit of self‑education and intellectual emancipation?

We might expect them, perhaps, to have a good knowledge of contemporary socialist thought, and of political and economic affairs. One or two fit this pattern. Nadaud read the workers' journal L'Atelier, and he also recalled being asked to read Cabet's journal Le Populaire aloud in Parisian wine‑shops in 1834. [34] Genoux, a chimney‑sweep turned printer, was familiar with the Christian socialism of Buchez, [35] while Lamennais was a strong influence for Victorine Brocher's father. Fabien Magnin, carpenter and mechanic, become a protégé of Auguste Comte, after attending his Sunday classes on astronomy at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. Comte invited Magnin to his house, and during the Second Empire, Magnin became a founder of the Cercle des prolétaires positivistes. [36]

Rousseau was an ever‑present influence, for Arnaud, Benoît, Suzanne Voilquin and many others. Victorine Brocher surprisingly reported that she was inspired by Hugo's Les Misérables, which she read in a cabinet de lecture in the mid‑1860s and re‑read annually thereafter. [37] Fiction and recreational literature, however, is not the sort of literature we might normally expect serious autodidacts to be reading. "On lisait", Victorine rather grimly recalled, "on lisait les journaux avancés". [38]

These examples of socialist and rationalist literary influences, however, should be seen alongside reading that appeared to have no direct connection with the immediate needs of aspiring artisans and mechanics. They read Corneille, Racine, the masterpieces of the classical seventeenth century. They studied dead and foreign languages. Claude Genoux's reading, for example, included Dante and Petrarch, Cervantes, Kant and De Staël, or at least so he claimed (but he had plenty of time for this reading while employed as a ship's cook on a whaler to Peru and Kamchatka). [39]

There was no sign here of a specific worker's literary culture. Self‑education had opened up a world of literary classics which the autodidacts devoured. They turned to the official monuments of French and European literature. The self-improving artisan, therefore, was acquiring a bourgeois or learned culture which was alien to him. Lejeune was inspired by Chateaubriand, when he received the Génie du Christianisme as a school prize, and he devoted his reading to

des oeuvres des grands hommes de toutes les époques et de tous les pays: historiens, philosophes, poètes, fondateurs des nations et de religions. [40]

The autodidacts must therefore be seen as cultural intermediaries, standing between the learned culture which became accessible to them, and their working‑class roots, from which their education had partially detached them. Self-improvement could lead to the embourgeoisement of the working‑class reader (we have seen this happen in the case of Jacques Laffitte). At the very least, it could create an ambiguous relationship with one's fellow‑workers. Nadaud saw himself as a member of a working‑class vanguard, consisting of proud and intelligent leaders, who "aiguillonnaient les masses et leur faisaient honte de leur indolence et de leur apathie". [41] This was a typically ambiguous position: Nadaud could lead the workers while still apparently despising their inertia.

In most of the French examples, however, the autodidacts rarely lost contact with their origins, in spite of the cultural shift they had made. Consider Jérôme‑Pierre Gilland, the adamant locksmith of the faubourg Saint‑Antoine, who wrote:

J'aime mon état, j'aime mes outils et alors même que j'aurais pu vivre de ma plume, je n'aurais pas voulu cesser d'être ouvrier serrurier. [42]

Reading and writing were unusual activities, which demanded a huge sacrifice and frequently risked ostracism by fellow‑workers. But the acquisition of a bourgeois literary culture did not necessarily deflect the autodidact from the political struggle. On the contrary, it could have a revolutionary purpose. As Norbert Truquin urged in a plea with which a historian can only sympathize:

Il est urgent que tous ceux qui travaillent et souffrent des vices de l'organisation sociale ne comptent que sur eux‑mêmes pour se tirer d'affaire et se créer un présent et un avenir meilleurs par la solidarité. Il importe donc que chacun d'entre eux apporte sa pierre à l'édifice commun, en publiant ses notes, ses cahiers, ses mémoires, en un mot tous les documents qui peuvent contribuer a détruire les iniquités du vieux monde et à hâter l'avènement de la révolution sociale . [43]

University of New South Wales


*     This paper was originally given to the conference on Literature and Society in Nineteenth-Century France held at the University of Adelaide, 7‑9 July 1992. [—> main text]

1.    Louis‑Arsène Meunier, "Mémoires d'un ancêtre ou les tribulations d'un instituteur percheron, 1801‑1887 ", Cahiers percherons, nos 65‑66, 198 1, p. 38. [—> main text]

2.    Jacques Laffitte, Mémoires de Laffitte, 1767‑1844, ed. Jacques Duchon, Paris, Firmin‑Didot, 1932, pp. 7‑8. [—> main text]

3.    Rolf Engelsing, Der Bürger als Leser. Lesergeschichte in Deutschland, 1500‑1800, Stuttgart, J.B. Metzler, 1974; and David Hall, "The Uses of Literacy in New England, 1600‑1850", in William L. Joyce et al., Printing and Society in Early America, Worcester, American Antiquarian Society, 1983, pp. 1‑47. [—> main text]

4.    Grand Dictionnaire Larousse, 1866 ed., I, p. 979. Quoted byJ.H. Buckley, The Turning Key: autobiography and the subjective impulse since 1800, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1984, p. 38. [—> main text]

5.    Victorine B., Souvenirs d'une morte vivante, préface de Lucien Descaves, Paris, Maspéro, 1976. [—> main text]

6.    Xavier‑Edouard Lejeune, Calicot, enquête de Michel et Philippe Lejeune, Paris, Montalba, 1984. [—> main text]

7.    B. Malon, "Fragments de Mémoires", Revue Socialiste, XLV, janvier‑juillet 1907, pp. 1 sqq. [—> main text]

8.    Philippe Lejeune, "La Cote Ln27", in his Moi Aussi, Paris, Seuil, 1986, pp. 264 sqq. [—> main text]

9.    Laffitte, op. cit. [—> main text]

10.  D. Vincent, "Love and death and the nineteenth‑century working class", Social History, 5,1980, pp. 223‑47. [—> main text]

11.  S. Voilquin, Souvenirs d'une fille du peuple ou la Saint‑Simonienne en Egypte, introduction by Lydia Elhadad, Paris, Maspéro, 1978 (1st edition, Paris, E. Sauzet, 1866). [—> main text]

12.  Philippe Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique, Paris, Seuil, 1975. [—> main text]

13.  B. Malon, "Fragments de Mémoires", p. 1. [—> main text]

14.  Ibid., pp. 100‑101. [—> main text]

15.  X.‑E. Lejeune, Calicot. [—> main text]

16.  X. Egapel, Soixante Ans de la vie d'un prolétaire, Paris, Vanier, 1900. [—> main text]

17.  Robert Elbaz, The Changing Nature of the Self: a critical study of the autobiographical discourse, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1987, p. 11. [—> main text]

18.  J. Benoît, Confessions d'un prolétaire (Lyons 1871), Paris, Éditions Sociales, 1968, pp. 33‑4. [—> main text]

19.  John Burnett, David Vincent & David Mayall, eds, The Autobiography of the Working Class: an annotated critical bibliography, Brighton, Harvester, 1984‑7, 2 vols, vol. I. [—> main text]

20.  R. Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography, London, RKP, 1960, p. 51. [—> main text]

21.  Victorine B., Souvenirs d'une morte vivante, p. 113. [—> main text]

22.  G. Gusdorf, "Conditions and limits of autobiography", in James Olney, ed., Autobiography: essays theoretical and critical, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. 28‑48. [—> main text]

23.  Elbaz, op. cit., pp. 43‑4. [—> main text]

24.  Laffitte, op. cit., p. 2. [—> main text]

25.  Jean‑Baptiste Dumay, Mémoires d'un militant ouvrier du Creusot (1841‑1905), ed. Pierre Ponsat, Grenoble, Maspéro, 1976, p. 75. [—> main text]

26.  Henri Norre, Comment j'ai vaincu la misère: souvenirs et réflexions d'un paysan, présentés par Emile Guillemin, Paris, Editions Balzac, 1944. [—> main text]

27.  Joseph Voisin, dit Angoumois, Histoire de ma vie et 55 ans de compagnonnage, Tours, Impr. du progrès, 1931; J.‑B.E. Arnaud, Mémoires d'un compagnon du Tour de France, Rochefort, Giraud, 1859. [—> main text]

28.  Alphonse Viollet, Les Poètes du Peuple au XIXe siècle, ed. M. Ragon, Paris, Librairie française et étrangère, 1846; François Gimet, Les Muses Prolétaires, Paris, Fareu, 1856. [—> main text]

29.  P. Lejeune, "En Famille", in Moi Aussi, pp. 199‑200. [—> main text]

30.  Durnay, op. cit., pp. 298, 302‑3. [—> main text]

31.  Arnaud, op. cit., pp. 226, 236. [—> main text]

32.  Victorine B., op. cit., p. 77. [—> main text]

33.  Norbert Truquin, Mémoires et Aventures d'un Prolétaire à travers la Révolution: l'Algérie, la République argentine et le Paraguay, Paris, Librairie des Deux Mondes, 1888, p. 14. [—> main text]

34.  Martin Nadaud, Les Mémoires de Léonard, ancien garçon maçon, Paris, n.d., p. 96. [—> main text]

35.  Claude Genoux, Mémoires d'un Enfant de la Savoie, suivis de ses chansons, with preface by Béranger, Paris, Le Chevalier, 1870, p. 275. [—> main text]

36.  Noë Richter, La Lecture populaire et ses Institutions: la lecture populaire, 1700‑1918, Le Mans, Editions Plein Chant & l'Université du Maine, 1987, pp. 121‑2. [—> main text]

37.  Victorine B., op. cit., pp. 62‑3. [—> main text]

38.   Ibid., p. 34. [—> main text]

39.  Genoux, op. cit, pp. 99, 107, 113. [—> main text]

40.  Lejeune, Calicot, pp. 13, 101. [—> main text]

41.  Nadaud, op. cit., p. 174. [—> main text]

42.  Michel Ragon, Histoire de la littérature prolétarienne en France, Paris, Albin Michel, 1974, p. 82. [—> main text]

43.  Truquin, op. cit., p. 273. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Lyons, Martyn. "The Autodidacts and Their Literary Culture: Working-Class Autobiographers in Nineteenth-Century France", Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, Sept.-Dec. 1991, pp. 264-273.

©1991, 2003 Martyn Lyons. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author and journal.

Note: The content of this article has been absorbed into the author's indispensable book listed below. Related works by this author:

Lyons, Martyn. "La Culture litteraire des travailleurs. Autobiographies ouvrieres dans l'Europe du XIXe siecle" [The Literary Culture of Workers. Worker Autobiographies in 19th-Century Europe], Annales [Paris, ISSN 0395-2649], vol. 56, no. 4-5, July-Oct. 2001, pp. 927-946.

Lyons, Martyn. Readers and Society in Nineteenth-Century France: Workers, Women, Peasants. New York: Palgrave. 2001. xi, 208 pp.

Lyons, Martyn. The Reading Experience of Worker-Autobiographers in 19th-Century Europe. Paper presented to International Congress of Historical Sciences, Oslo, 2000: Panel on The Social Practice of Reading & Writing. 32 pp.

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