Jenny the worker heroine of a novel

Jenny the worker heroine of a novel

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Title: Jenny the worker.

Creation date : 1890

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 150 - Width 102

Technique and other indications: Lithography. Advertisement for a "great novel novel".

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 05-513777 / 61.18.69F

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The development of popular reading and literature in the 19th century

At the end of the XIXe century, the genre of the “popular”, illustrated, easy-to-read and entertaining soap opera, enjoyed immense success, particularly in working-class and urban circles. More and more able to read, workers are thus the clients of choice for this type of literature, and in particular workers for whom "sentimental" novels such as Jenny.

The term "free "And the prices offered do not leave any doubt as to the target intended by the advertisement. The Rouff house is one of the most famous, which sells several thousand copies of the booklets of new novels by Xavier Montépin or Adolphe d'Ennery every week. The mention of the name at the bottom of the poster thus ensures the advertising of the sign, but also guarantees the style and the quality of the novel (the worker knows what kind of books publishes Rouff, and Rouff knows what kind of book his clients are looking for).
Jules Cardoze's new novel is therefore an announced success. The song is then famous, to the point that “Jenny” almost becomes a generic name to designate this fantasized and heroic type of young worker who resists hard knocks and overcomes the misfortunes of life.

Image Analysis

Advertise literature

Jenny the worker, great novel novel is an advertising poster dating from 1890-1891, intended for a very wide distribution, printed by Champenois & Cie (small on the right). Five feet tall and three feet wide, it is made up of bright colors, large, stylized characters and images that draw attention and convey a message clear, quick and effective enough to arouse envy. client.
The poster promotes the new novel written by Jules Cardoze, Jenny the worker, whose title is highlighted in blue letters on a yellow background. It also clearly bears the description of the proposed product: "great novel novel".
Mentioned at the bottom of the poster, the house "Jules Rouff & Cie" which publishes the novel, founded in the early 1880s, specializes in publishing "popular" novels which it sells in the form of small good booklets. market (here "10 centimes") at a generally weekly rate (they often appear on Saturdays, workers' pay day). Whether they are already classic like Wretched, The Mysteries of Paris or "unpublished" like Jenny, these novels are often very voluminous (one evokes here the "great" novel, to mark the quantity as much or perhaps more than the quality), sometimes distributed, according to their success and the continuations which it implies, in several hundreds of booklets. To encourage the reader to subscribe, the advertisement therefore mentions the advantageous price and promises "free" the first two deliveries.
To arouse the desire to read, two representations suggest the kind of adventures and heroes that one can discover. The first shows Jenny healthy, fair complexion, robust, beautiful and radiant with her child. The atmosphere is serene and joyful, an impression reinforced by the circular shape of the medallion. Conversely, the second illustration shows a disturbing scene of nocturnal kidnapping: the colors used, the brown and sinister man who appears there, as well as his square format contrast this image with the one above.


Jenny, symbol of the heroic worker

During the second part of the XIXe century, the number of workers is increasing in France. In 1886, there were more than 3 million of them, employed in the industrial sector, concentrated in the cities. Among them, one third of them are women. Homeworkers performing small trades or employed in the chemical industry, workshops and large textile factories, they are more and more numerous.
Now inscribed in the daily reality of cities, these women strike the collective imagination: subject of debates, reflections and more or less positive fantasies, the figure of the urban worker is essential to become a theme that is also artistic and especially literary. Representations of the working woman in the city then became very common, reflecting and marking the time at the same time.
These women are also potential clients and, therefore, represent a major economic stake. Popular illustrated novels, which were aimed primarily at workers, thus saw their sales increase significantly during the second half of the century.

The poster therefore promises the workers of emotion (see Jenny and her child), action and thrill (twists and scenes of anguish like that of the kidnapping), but experienced by a woman "like them" , a worker ". Based on identification (themes and familiar places), the fantasy of a dream life (these everyday elements are magnified by the adventure) and the positive representation of oneself (all workers are heroic), the poster and the novel which she promotes suggest a certain vision of the working class world by itself.

  • women
  • heroic figure
  • literature
  • working world
  • Ennery (Adolphe d ')
  • working class


Georges DUBY and Michelle PERROT (dir.), History of women, volume IV “The XIXth century”, Paris, Plon, 1991.Michel GILLET, “In the maquis of the journals-romans. The reading of the illustrated novels”, in Romanticism, n ° 53, 1986, p.59-69.Gérard NOIRIEL, Workers in French society (19th-20th century), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points", 1986.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Jenny the worker heroine of a novel"

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