Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics, and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France (review)


It can be both useful and rewarding to study the past in light of certain key themes that allow us to gauge the distance separating us from bygone eras. When it comes to the Enlightenment, as Elena Russo’s book shows, few concepts are as revealing as the notion of taste. While Russo is obviously not the first scholar to survey this theme, what makes her contribution to eighteenth-century scholarship particularly noteworthy, even groundbreaking, is the new light it sheds on the entire movement of ideas known as the Enlightenment. Her approach reveals the importance of an under-appreciated aspect of the age, and thus proposes a reorientation in our customary ways of viewing and interpreting the eighteenth century. To put it succinctly, Russo sees the century in terms of two antithetical halves, each marked by a particular aesthetic philosophy. As a result, Russo’s perspective brings with it a number of consequences for contemporary critical approaches to the Enlightenment.

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