About this Exhibit

The French Enlightenment is often labeled in literary studies as the period where the novel developed and flourished as a distinct genre. This exhibition was part of French 8040, a graduate seminar that sought to problematize this interpretation, by broadening and rethinking the definition of terms such as “novel,” “fiction,” and “literature.” The wide and heterogeneous array of texts and images housed in the W.T. Bandy Center's Wachs Collection, Vanderbilt University’s Special Collections, and the Vanderbilt University Art Gallery, invites an exploration of the question of the myriad ways in which these eighteenth-century works might be understood as literature, and the unexpected forms of literacy or being literary that come from the experience of reading them. Each sub-theme in the exhibition, from a focus on the material production and decoration of books to investigations of how the contents of these books touched readers in both body and mind, reveals the deep connections between the physical form of the work and the culture in which it existed—and that it also helped to create and reform. The Enlightenment literary text was both a representation of, and a tool for, personal, aesthetic, social, and even political change.

Click here for video of Professor Hanna Roman's opening remarks for this exhibition

The Library gratefully acknowledges the generous loans to this collaborative exhibition from Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and private collectors.