French playwright, novelist, activist, and journalist Louis Sébastien Mercier (1740–1814) passionately captured scenes of social injustice in pre-Revolutionary Paris in his prolific oeuvre but today remains an understudied writer. In this penetrating study—the first in English devoted to Mercier in decades—Michael Mulryan explores his unpublished writings and urban chronicles, Tableau de Paris (1781–88) and Le Nouveau Paris (1798), in which he identified the city as a microcosm of national societal problems, detailed the conditions of the laboring poor, encouraged educational reform, and confronted universal social ills. Mercier’s rich writings speak powerfully to the sociopolitical problems that continue to afflict us as political leaders manipulate public debate and encourage absolutist thinking, deepening social divides. An outcast for his polemical views during his lifetime, Mercier has been called the founder of modern urban discourse, and his work a precursor to investigative journalism. This sensitive study returns him to his rightful place among Enlightenment thinkers.
About the Author
Michael J. Mulryan is an associate professor of French at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. His research focuses on the representation of urban space and the marginalized in eighteenth-century literature. He is the coeditor of Eighteenth-Century Escape Tales: Between Fact and Fiction (Bucknell University Press) and coeditor and cotranslator of an educational treatise by Mercier.
“A comprehensive exploration of Mercier’s wonderfully entertaining ‘tableaux de Paris’ and his lively, passionate, and multi-faceted commitment to social justice. In this highly informative, highly necessary study, Mulryan demonstrates with great clarity and precision why Mercier is a major late Enlightenment writer.” — Laurence Mall
“This original investigation into pre-and post-Revolutionary Paris and its festive, social, and artistic spaces vividly captures Mercier’s journalisme engagé. A fascinating study worthy of this eclectic, pivotal author.” — Fabienne Moore
“Mulryan’s book might as well be about the unannounced birth of sociology some fifty years before Auguste Comte. Through his reading of the urban space of Paris and his representation of the different strands of Parisian society, Mercier exposed in great detail the existence of inequalities, abuses, and injustices that had hitherto mostly been treated theoretically; and as Mulryan shows quite dexterously, this practical, urban approach allows Mercier to give practical solutions to the woes of France, before and after the Revolution.” — Fayçal Falaky
“Mulryan analyzes the social divisions and the reforming policies that are expressed through the representation of urban space. One of the most important contributions of this book lies in the exploration of unpublished texts and of perspectives little addressed by critics such as the religious anchoring of Mercier's thought.” — Geneviève Boucher