Nicolas-Edme Rétif de La Bretonne

RestifRétif de la Bretonne (1734 – 1806) , a French writer who repeatedly tested the limits of censorship during the Eighteenth Century, is experiencing a positive revival of his literary reputation. Critics and scholars are reevaluating his work, which comprised more than 186 volumes.  His treatise Le Pornographe  (1769), which referred to prostitution, is the work from which the word “pornography” is derived.

Rétif also coined the psychosexual term “fetish” with his detailed descriptions of small feet and shoes. Much of his writing, which was autobiographical, broke boundaries by describing and focusing on intimacy and female sexual pleasure.  Considered a literary rival of the Marquis de Sade, who advocated anarchy and destruction of the church, nobility and ruling classes, Rétif sought through Le Pornographe, to improve the lives of the women he knew in the Biblical sense.

Although Rétif’s numerous books were not known for their literary prose and he is criticized for promoting incest or sex among family members, he did advance new ideas that have been implemented into>many country’s laws and regulations.

His books, Monsieur Nicholas (1794-97), which is his autobiography, and La anti-Justine (1798), have been translated into English.

It could be said, that Rétif was self-published in a very literal sense. He often composed his books, as he stood at his printing press in his small Paris apartment on the rue de la Bucherie.