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Gustave Lanson

collection description


Lanson reading

*Illustration from December 6, 1908 issue of Les Annales available in the Lanson Collection Pamphlets v. 165.

Gustave Lanson (Orléans, 1867 - Paris, 1934) was a professor of French literature at the Sorbonne and a director of the École Normale Supérieure known for his work in literary criticism. Lanson's method of criticism was analyzed in Gustave Lanson: Theory and Practice of Literary History, a Duke dissertation by Elizabeth Poole.

Lanson wrote critical studies on Bossuet, Boileau and Corneille, among many others. His most well-known work is the Histoire de la littérature française which by 1912, as the edition of that year notes, had sold 150,000 copies since its initial publication in 1893. Lanson's Histoire continued to be influential in the field of literary criticism well into the 1960s as evidenced by its numerous reprintings.

From October 1911 to January 1912, Gustave Lanson spent three months in the U.S. at Columbia University in New York City. For being the first "Visiting French Professor" at Columbia, Lanson received a doctorate honoris causa. In 80 days, both at Columbia and at other universities in the Northeast, Lanson gave a total of 60 lectures on both French literature and culture. Lanson's recollections and observations from these three months formed the basis of his Trois mois d'enseignement aux États-Unis.

Upon retiring at age 70 in 1927, Lanson decided to sell his vast library of 11,000 volumes. Lanson's agent, Auguste Picard, supplied a description of the collection which classifies these volumes as "chiefly in the domain of modern French literature and of French literary history...[with] numerous works bearing on the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries...[and with] authors' dedications in various contemporary works." Former University Librarian B.E. Powell would note that the Duke University Library Lanson Collection "was the first major collection of books the University bought after it became a university."