Louis-Sébastien Mercier Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Louis-Sébastien Mercier was an incredibly prolific writer, if somewhat repetitive. He published a wealth of material in almost every genre that was used in the eighteenth century and classified his works according to the following scheme: novels, political treatises, moral or philosophical works, historical plays, dramas, comedies, fantasies, polemics, newspaper articles, academic discourses, dialogues, poetry, and translations.


In contrast to his own predictions, Louis-Sébastien Mercier has been remembered neither as the prophet of the French Revolution nor as the greatest French author of his time. Nevertheless, the versatile writer did promote ideas that led to the formation of the new republic, and he is still remembered as the most outspoken advocate of the eighteenth century’s major theatrical innovation, le drame.

Mercier earned this reputation in 1773, when he defined the new genre in his controversial treatise Du théâtre: Ou, Nouvel essai sur l’art dramatique. Though he borrowed many ideas for this study, he expressed them with a precision and vigor that set this study apart from similar eighteenth century works, including those by the more original dramatic theoreticians Denis Diderot and Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Mercier’s essay was also more provocative than the works that had come before it. Calling for a complete break with the strict neoclassical tradition, he surprised even his fellow reformers with the scorn he displayed for such established reputations as those of Jean Racine and Nicolas Boileau. The document immediately created a scandal, and the extravagance in Mercier’s attacks eventually brought him ridicule. Nevertheless, in the stifling atmosphere projected by eighteenth century French theatrical institutions, the young reformer’s fervor and audacity served to encourage his contemporaries in their drive to reinvigorate stage performance.

A number of the principal elements of le drame have...

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Majewski, Henry F. The Preromantic Imagination of L.-S. Mercier. New York: Humanities Press, 1971. Majewski provides criticism and interpretation of Mercier’s works, while focusing on his pre-Romantic qualities. Bibliography.

Pusey, W. W. Louis-Sébastien Mercier in Germany: His Vogue and Influence in the Eighteenth Century. 1939. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1966. Pusey examines Mercier’s influence on German literature in the eighteenth century. Bibliography.

Wilkie, Everett C. Mercier’s “L’An 2440”: Its Publishing History During the Author’s Lifetime. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Library, 1986. This short work, in detailing the publishing history of Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred, a banned book, sheds light on the political aspects of Mercier’s work.