During the 19th century a famous satirical quatrain was published, mockingly wondering whether the word feuilleton came from the verb feuilletery to Hick through, or vice versa. The genre had already changed by that date, and feuilleton had come to mean any sort of pamphlet, although it usually denoted an adventure novel, and was an abbreviation of raman-feuilletony which was in turn an expanded form of the original feuilleton. The term’s meaning changed again in the 2.0th century in continental Europe, as it became appropriated to define episodic forms in film and television.
In France, the genre was invented by the Journal de I’Empire (Journal of the empire), which in 1814 became the Journal des Debats (Journal of debates). The early newspapers were simply folded single sheets, printed on both sides, so offering readers four printed pages. The front page was reserved for such matters of public importance as discussions in the Chamber; but on the frequent occasions when there was neither news of sufficient interest to hand, nor anything much to report from current political rhetoric, the editor of the Journal des Debats took to tucking the Abbe Geoffrey’s pieces of theater criticism under a horizontal rule at the bottom of the front page. This slot was thereafter known, throughout the 19th century, as the “ground floor.”
The first feuilletons were, therefore, columns of drama criticism, a subject of riveting interest in a Paris of some 630,000 people in 1815: although almost half this number were literate, in the early part of the century it was the stage that was the principal public forum for the imaginative exploration of social and political attitudes – hence the prominence given to commentary about the stage, even if it appeared only on the “ground floor.” It was an important time for developments in dramatic form: by 1830 neoclassical declamatory drama was being challenged and replaced in the legitimate theater by the Romantic movement’s down market tragedies in verse; and the boulevard theaters performed the (even) less literate cultural functions that were more than simple entertainment.
Balzac was (he first French author to publish a novel in a newspaper: La Vieille Fille (The old maid) appeared in 12 installments of 1m Presse during October and November 1836, and Le Pete Coriot (Old Man Coriot)9 although it originally had six parts, was written to appear in four instalments. Even Flaubert’s Madame Bovary first appeared serialized in the Retme de Paris. The great masters of the genre, after Balzac himself, were Frederic Soulie, Alexandre Dumas pere, George Sand, and above all Eugene Sue, whose Mysteres de Paris (The mysteries of Paris), tracing the relationship between moral values and the social realities of urban life in the capital, was serialized by the Journal des Debats from June 1842 to October 1843* Its success was phenomenal: the newspaper’s circulation doubled from jooo to 10,000, a much greater percentage increase than Balzac had achieved in other journals, Wron saved Le Constituiionnel by outbidding Girardin’s La Prcsse and paying a famously large 100,000-franc fee for Sue’s Le jutf errant (The wandering Jew) serialization, from June 1844 to July 1845, which raised the newspaper’s circulation from 3600 to *5,000 by 1846.
After this heyday of the roman-feuilletony its decline was relatively slow; but the “ground floor” lost all importance after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which few of the large- circulation French newspapers survived.
The feuilleton also flourished in Germany. It is sometimes associated with Christoph Martin Wicland, cofoundcr of Der Teutsche Merkur (The German Mercury) in 1773, and who edited the newspaper until 1800, after which it declined under K. A. Bottigcr. The newspaper ceased publication in 1810. However, the definitive work of Wilmont Haacke, the three- volume Handbueh des Peuilletons (1930-53), regards the feuil¬leton as simply that aspect of the early newspapers dealing with cultural issues and events, and traces the form proper back to 1740 in France. Its precursor, though, he secs in the German liberal journal known as the Vossische Zcitung (Voss’ newspaper), published from 1683 (formally titled the Berliner Priviligierte Zcitung [The privileged Berliner newspaper) from 172,1), which itself had a forerunner in an untitled news sheet of the early 17th century. The German phrase “untcrm Strich,” corresponding to the Aground floor” of the French newspapers, has been traced back to the Nurnberger Correspondenten (Nuremberg correspondent) of 1831. Of modern German writers of feuilletons, the best known is Karl Kraus (1874- 1936), founding editor of the Viennese satirical journal Die Fackel (1899-1936; The torch).
The feuilleton evolved as the “ground floor* enlarged its scope beyond drama criticism to include a gazette of events in the worlds of society, the arts, and politics. Sainte-Beuve’s Lundis (Mondays) first appeared as feuilletons in a scries of newspapers, as he changed his affiliations from the liberal Le Constitutionnel (The constitutional) to the official government organ, Le Moniteur Universe! (The universal monitor), and then to the opposition newspaper, Le Temps (The times). Balzac had already used the term feuilleton for the 1830 news-paper Feuilleton des Jountaux Pohtiques (Feuilleton of polit¬ical journals), which he coedited with Victor Varaigne and £mile de Guardin. And, on 1 July 1836, Armand Dutacq issued Le Siide (The century) and Girardin brought out La Presse at a subscription price of 40 francs, exactly half of what the established newspapers were charging, thereby launching the French popular press.
Novelists had never before written novels as feuilletonny for serialization; when they did, they were led inevitably to introduce cliff-hanging breaks in increasingly episodic narratives, full of incredible adventures, and empty of all but the shallowest psychology. Eventually the adventure novels began to appear on their own in weekly or monthly fascicles; these too were known as feuilletons. In the meantime, and until the law curbed the new development by putting a tax on advertising, competition for the best authors of feuilletons became fierce, and the prices they commanded were huge. In response there was an outcry led by Sainte-Beuvc against the 44industrial” output of literature (and Girardin, fighting what was in effect a battle for the new press, killed Armand Carrel, defending the old style, in a duel).