Thirty-two texts of popular French literature from the Bancroft Library’s collection of Bibliothèque Bleue de Troyes have recently been digitized and added to the Bibliothèque Bleue Online. Hosted by the University of Chicago’s Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL), the openly accessible database of now 284 separate livrets (booklets) comprises a single searchable collection for a representative portion of this vast publishing enterprise.
After printer-bookseller Nicolas Oudot started Bibliothèque Bleue in the early 17th century in Troyes, it quickly spread across Western Europe and flourished through the middle of the 19th century. These usually brief texts covered a variety of topics and were aimed at popular consumption. ARTFL’s database, powered by PhiloLogic, includes both the searchable text as well as the digital facsimiles of the often badly worn and cheaply produced chapbooks, which were typically covered in bleue (blue) sugar paper wrappers.
The Bibliothèque Bleue represents a long and storied tradition, and provides a unique insight into more than 250 years of the popular culture of France. Colporteurs (peddlers) sold these mass-produced, inexpensive books that featured texts ranging from the practical (recipes, almanacs, and how-to books) to the pious (hagiographies, prayer books, and other religious instruction) to the entertaining (fiction, chivalresque romances, songbooks, burlesque). The most significant collection (some 2,570 volumes) of Bibliothèque Bleue material resides at the Médiathèque du Grand Troyes, whose initial digitization efforts form the basis of the Bibliothèque Bleue Online.