“Une imprimerie, c’est comme un théâtre”: Victor Roger’s Thomas l’imprimeur (1843)

Thomas l’imprimeur, an 1843 drame mêlé de chansons by Victor Roger, took advantage of vaudeville conventions, which relied on language with multiple meanings and physical comedy, to comment on the Tarif of 1843, an agreement that Parisian printers and print-shop owners had made about establishing uniform rates for typesetting and composition. By reading Thomas with the Mémoires of Joseph Mairet, one of the printers involved in negotiating the Tarif, we can account for the play’s generic fluidity. The vaudeville-style opening scene prepares audiences for a degree of critical distance that allows them to see the Tarif behind a plot that acts it out rather than speaking of it, and the melodramatic virtue of the printer hero invites admiration for the social efforts print workers are making. Both approaches show the physical heroism of printers, whether or not they speak directly of the forms that heroism has taken most recently.

Cary Hollinshead-Strick
American University of Paris