Dazzling 19th-Century French Book Advertisements


A popular figure in France’s social scene, and a successful poet and playwright, Victor Hugo spent nearly 20 years planning and composing Les Misérables. It received lukewarm reviews, but the book became a commercial success after its first printing in 1862.

The excitement the novel generated leading up to its publication was unprecedented. Advertisements displayed around the city of Paris introduced passersby to the characters struggling to start anew amid the 1832 June Rebellion in the City of Light. It was a bona fide media frenzy well before the age of the Internet.

A series of 19th-century French book advertisements we spotted on Retronaut offers a peek at several of the ads promoting Hugo’s book — and other famous novels from the time period. We can imagine how striking these posters, with their graphic boldness and dramatic scenes, would have appeared to Parisians strolling the streets and browsing the local shops.