Nineteenth-century Anglo-French relations were profoundly competitive, as the recurrent Great Exhibitions vividly illustrated. For much of the period, the French clung to their widely perceived cultural (and in particular literary) supremacy. This affected the reception of French novels in a number of ways. The flood of works by popular novelists such as Dumas and Sue in the 1840s led critics to scrutinize the bibliographical statistics of the two nations. Reactions against the perceived greater vigour of the French fiction-writing took many forms, including riots, and reflections on the impact which copyright legislation might have on curbing the dissemination of foreign works. In the 1860s, Taine’s pioneering history of English literature led to very different reflections on French superiority. In contrast with earlier attacks on French immorality, critics responded to Taine by thoughtfully considering the causes of the different paths taken by French and English novelists, and the benefits of each.
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