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Home ›Studies› The birth of children's editions: the example of Jules Hetzel
Title: Jules Hetzel.
Author : HUGO Charles (1826 - 1871)
Dimensions: Height 95 - Width 73
Technique and other indications: Salted paper proof circa 1852/1853.
Storage location: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web
Picture reference: 98-001971 / Pho1986-123-138
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski
Publication date: July 2007
The situation of children's books at the beginning of the 19th centurye
We are witnessing the XIXe century, to the development of primary education, thanks to the Guizot law of 1833 and then above all to the Jules Ferry laws in the 1880s. While education is still largely done at home, primary school is developing.
This development fosters the growth of an important new readership, that of children, and will not be without consequences for literature and publishing. This last domain will make the fortune of Hachette editions.
At first, if we recognize the specific needs of the child, we try above all to impose a conventional moral code on him, through didactic literature that emphasizes gentleness towards animals, courage, honesty. , fidelity and especially family solidarity. The works are grouped into different categories according to their content and whether they are illustrated or not: moral works with illustrated frontispieces, illustrated alphabet books, images of Epinal or abstracts, agendas, atlases and encyclopedia of knowledge. Children's books also benefit from the development of illustrative techniques.
But illustrated works are often not very educational, educational works remain poor in illustrations and illustrated and educational works, with rare exceptions, are rarely entertaining. Among the men who will renew the children's book is Jules Hetzel.
Jules Hetzel, the Hugo family and photography
Jules Hetzel truly binds with Victor Hugo in 1851, during their exile in Brussels. After the reestablishment of the Empire following the coup d'etat of December 2, 1851, the two men were in fact wanted for their Republican positions at the time of the events. A long friendship and a fruitful collaboration began, as Hetzel edited several of the writer's works (The punishments, Contemplations), also pushing him to write a text for children.
Charles Hugo, one of the poet's sons, follows in his father's footsteps, also embracing the republican cause and writing. Jules Hetzel also published in 1856 his tale The pig of Saint-Antoine. In 1852, Charles embarked with his father for Jersey, where the family lived after his exile. It is there that Victor Hugo encouraged his sons and Auguste Vaquerie to open in their house, a daguerreotype workshop, then a photography on paper, for which one can rightly speak of romantic photography, in particular by virtue of the attention paid to the rendering of the inner world of the portraiture. This is where this portrait of the publisher will be taken, in those same years.
Hetzel appears in it full-length, three-quarter length, leaning on his cane, his gaze out of focus, absorbed in his thoughts. It stands out against a crumpled sheet, a particularly sober setting for the time. By its sobriety, a use of light highlighting the contrasts of the face, the natural dimension of the pose and the intimate expression of Hetzel, this photograph is reminiscent of the portraits made by Nadar at the same time, when he devoted himself to the “pantheon of contemporary artists and writers”.
Hetzel’s contribution to children's literature
First committed to the bookseller Paulin, Jules Hetzel was entrusted in 1837 with responsibility for the first 6 volumes of the Children's book, a collection of traditional tales, the first illustrated book printed with a mechanical press. From that moment, Hetzel was convinced of the importance of the childish clientele, and will not stop devoting books and magazines to it. He is thus the first to have carried out a real editorial policy in the field of children's literature.
In the first half of the XIXe, the texts recommended for the education of children are still those of the authors of the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries. The Fables de La Fontaine were, for example, at the top of sales during this period. One of Hetzel's ambitions will therefore be to entrust the writing of texts for children to great contemporary authors, in order to constitute quality literature. He thus called upon George Sand, Alexandre Dumas, Balzac or Victor Hugo, and wrote himself under the pseudonym of P. J. Stahl.
Wishing to produce works that are both entertaining and instructive, he pays particular attention to illustration, again calling on the great names of his time such as Tony Johannot or Gustave Doré.
Thanks to him, as well as to Curmer and Hachette, the functions of publisher and bookseller became clearer. Among his main publications for children, we can cite the Extraordinary trips by Jules Verne, the Tales by Perrault illustrated by Doré, or the review The education and recreation store, carrier of secular and republican values.
- Hugo (Victor)
- Balzac (Honoré de)
- Dumas (Alexandre)
- tale (story)
- Nadar (Tournachon Gaspard-Félix, aka)
- Perrault (Charles)
- Sand (George)
- Verne (Jules)
Guglielmo CAVALLO and Roger CHARTIER (dir.), History of reading in the Western world, Paris, Seuil, 2001. Jean-Paul GOURÉVITCH, Hetzel, The good genius of books, Paris, Editions du Rocher, 2005.
To cite this article
Cécile PICHON-BONIN, "The birth of children's editions: the example of Jules Hetzel"