Bibliotheque Bleue Texts Digitized

La plaisante et triomphante histoire des hauts et cheualeureux faicts d'armes, du tres-puissant & tres-magnanime, & tres-victorieux Prince Meliadus (Troyes, 1612).

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 ARTFL’s Bibliothèque Bleue Online. Hosted by the University of Chicago, the openly accessible database of now 284 separate livrets (booklets) comprises a single searchable corpus for a representative portion of the vast publishing enterprise which was started by printer-bookseller Nicolas Oudot in the early 17th century in Troyes and quickly spread across Western Europe and flourished through the middle of the 19th century. While the length of the texts are usually quite brief and the content varies considerably, they were always 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 in popular French print culture. Spanning more than 250 years and involving the publication of mass-produced, inexpensive books that were sold for pennies by colporteurs (peddlers), it comprised texts ranging from the practical (recipes, almanacs, and how-to books) to the pious (hagiographies, prayer books, and other religious instruction) and to the entertaining (fiction, chivalresque romances, songbooks, burlesque), and provides a unique insight into the popular culture of France. The most significant collection (some 2570 volumes) of Bibliothèque Bleue material resides at the Médiathèque du Grand Troyes, whose initial digitization efforts form the basis of the Bibliothèque Bleue Online.

The bulk of the Bancroft’s 92 Bibliothèque Bleue texts were acquired by rare books curator Tony Bliss in the mid-1990s. See The Berkeleyan article from 8/27/97 titled “The Old, The Rare, and the Trashy.” The catalog records for each physical artifact (often bound in the same volume) can be located in OskiCat by searching the title phrase “Bibliothèque bleue (Troyes, France)” or by going directly to the collection entry record which collocates all 45 volumes. Texts chosen for inclusion, a project of the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections (CIFNAL), do not duplicate those already contained in ARTFL’s Bibliothèque Bleue Online.

This modest digitization project of approximately 2500 pages of once commonplace yet now scarce historical material involved more people than one might imagine, and plans are underway to add a few more Bancroft texts as well as make the UC Berkeley texts available on the California Digital Library’s Calisphere for even broader use and discovery. This collaborative project would not have been possible without the assistance and support of Tony Bliss, Chuck Eckman, Mary Elings, David Kessler, Steve Mendoza, Charles Stewart, Robert Byler, Randy Brandt, Susan Snyder, Lorna Kirwan, Lynne Grigsby, Sarah Sussman, and the entire team at ARTFL.

Mareschal expert, traitant du naturel, & des marques des beaux & bons chevaux, de leurs maladies & remedes d'icelles. (Troyes, 1781)
Beaugrand, Nicolas [1731]. Mareschal expert,
traitant du naturel, & des marques des beaux
& bons chevaux, de leurs maladies & remedes d’icelles.
Par feu N. Baugrand Augmente d’une seconde partie,
contenant plusieurs recepées tres aprouvées du Sieur de l’Espinet
sic (La Veuve de J. Oudot & J. Oudot, Troyes)

See also:


Andriès, Lise. La Bibliothèque bleue: littérature de colportage. Paris: R. Laffont, 2003.
Main Stacks PQ1125 .A537 2003


La Bible Bleue: Anthologie d’une Littérature “populaire.” / Geneviëve Bollëme; appendice et index ëtablis par Nora Scott. Paris: Flammarion, 1975.
Main Stacks PQ801 .B37

La Bibliothèque bleue et les littératures de colportage. Actes du colloque organisé par la Bibliothèque Municipale à vocation régionale de Troyes en collaboration avec l’École nationale des Chartes, Troyes, 12-13 Novembre 1999 / Réunis par Thierry Delcourt et Elisabeth Parinet. Paris: École des chartes, 2000.
Main Stacks PQ1276.P62 B435 2000

Catalogue descriptif de la Bibliothèque bleue de Troyes (almanachs exclus) / Alfred Morin. Genève: Droz, 1974.
Bancroft Reference Z4.A1 H58 v.7

Martin, Henri-Jean, “The Bibliothèque Bleue: Literature for the Masses in the Ancien Régime,” Publishing History 3 (1978): 70-102.

Sussman, Sarah, “The Bibliothèque Bleue Online: CIFNAL’s First Collaborative Project,” Focus on Global Resources, 28: 3 (Spring 2009).