Various newspapers Various newspapers
Source: JPRESS and University of Michigan Libraries

What Is a Feuilleton?


From the early decades of the nineteenth century, the feuilleton was one of the most popular and most controversial forms of writing in newspapers throughout the world. The French word feuilleton is a diminutive of feuillet (“leaf” or “page”); hence, feuilleton means “small leaf,” in reference to its mode of inclusion in newspapers. At first, the feuilleton was a sheet added to the newspaper, with a variety of short articles and announcements on events in Paris around the time of the French Revolution. In 1800, instead of being a detachable addition to the newspaper, the feuilleton became part of it, yet still visibly marked as different by a line. This demarcation happened on the pages of the Parisian paper Journal des débats, where it quickly became evident that the feuilleton had the potential to transform the newspaper industry. Readers would buy the paper to read the latest installments of the feuilleton every day or every week.

Within a few decades, the feuilleton had spread across Europe and beyond, rapidly establishing itself as the urban genre of the new mass-oriented press and wildly popular with the emerging educated bourgeoisie—Jews included. While it accelerated the proliferation of the popular press in major cities and was a key space for the expansion of the “public sphere,” it also helped establish a uniquely Jewish public sphere in the press over the course of the nineteenth century. The feuilletons’ place in the space en rez-de-chaussée (“ground-floor level”) or unter dem Strich (“below the line”) indicated that feuilletons could be cut off and read separately, independent from the rest of the paper and the political news that were subject to censorship. By 1900, the feuilleton had become a site for literary and polemical performances in the newspaper, featuring wide ranging topics: cultural and political criticism, articles of literary and scientific nature, as well as stories, sketches, travel accounts, local reportage, and poetry.

The feuilleton intersects with Jews and modern Jewish cultures in a number of intriguing ways. Many Jewish writers, journalists, and political figures wrote feuilletons, often side by side with literary, philosophical, and political works. As a result, over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the feuilleton became associated — both in Jewish and antisemitic discourses — with Jews and Jewishness and was understood by some to be a “Jewish” genre or form. Feuilletons were written by Jewish writers in both Jewish and non-Jewish languages. Importantly, the feuilleton was an important feature in the creation of a transnational modern Jewish press as well as an important vehicle for Jews to partake in national cultures across Europe, such as in France and Germany.

Feuilletons were multilingual, transnational, and published in a remarkable number of languages across the globe. By the early twentieth century, the feuilleton was a key site for discussions of national character, portraits of urban life, and cultural innovation and aesthetic experimentation. While the feuilleton is an historical phenomenon, its role in shaping modern Jewish cultures and a Jewish public sphere raises questions about changing modes of cultural communication, the distinction between news and commentary in mass media, and the formation of both Jewish cultural discourse and secular political discourse. These issues are all the more relevant since the advent of digital media and the digital age.

What’s Jewish About the Feuilleton?

Perhaps because of the special status of the “written word” in traditional Jewish society, intellectuals created a Jewish public sphere in the press over the course of the nineteenth century, often in feuilletons that mediated between the people and the state, as well as between transnational Jewish communities. With its relatively high representation of Jewish writers, the feuilleton was increasingly perceived as a Jewish form in Europe, both by Jewish and non-Jewish writers and observers. These associations led to attacks by antisemitic writers such as Heinrich von Treitschke, who associated Jews with the feuilleton as harbingers of modernity and a superficial, divisive, and ultimately dangerous journalistic form.

The feuilleton also traveled with Jewish writers, accelerated by nineteenth century Jewish migrations. Jewish writers used the feuilleton as a means to import European culture to places like Salonika and British India, via Ladino and Judeo-Arabic translations of French and German roman-feuilletons. Other Jewish writers used feuilletons as social and political commentary in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine, North and South America, and South Africa. As a result, the feuilleton in the context of modern Jewish cultures demonstrates the global circulation of this form of media, and the linguistic and stylistic malleability that facilitates its wide dissemination.

Selected Bibliography

Scholarship on Feuilletons, Journalism, and Jewish Cultures

  • Artiaga, Loïc. Le roman populaire: des premiers feuilletons aux adaptions télévisuelles (1836-1960) [The Popular Novel: From the First Feuilletons to Television Adaptations] (Éditions Autrement, 2008).
  • Calhoun, Craig J., ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1992).
  • Dianina, Katia. “The Feuilleton: An Everyday Guide to Public Culture in the Age of the Great Reforms,” The Slavic and East European Journal 47, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 187-210.
  • Elyada, Ouzi. Hebrew Popular Journalism: Birth and Development in Ottoman Palestine (London: Routledge, 2019).
  • “Feuilleton,” in: Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture Online, Original German Language Edition: Enzyklopädie Jüdischer Geschichte und Kultur. Im Auftrag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig herausgegeben von Dan Diner (Stuttgart/Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland 2011–2017).
  • Gaug, Christa. “Chronicles of Vienna: Urban Memory in Daniel Spitzer's Wiener Spaziergange," Modern Austrian Literature 38, no. 1-2 (2005): 19-28.
  • Gough, Hugh. The Newspaper Press in the French Revolution (London: Routledge, 1988).
  • Haacke, Wilmont. Handbuch des Feuilletons [The Feuilletons Handbook] (Emsdetten: Verlag Lechte, 1951).
  • Habermas, Jurgen. Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit: Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (Neuwied: Hermann Luchterhand, 1962).
  • Hatin, Eugène. Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France [Political and Literary History of the Press in France] (Paris: Poulet-Malassis et De Broise, 1859).
  • Hess, Jonathan M. Middlebrow Literature and the Making of German-Jewish Identity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010).
  • Holmes, Deborah. “Joseph Roth's Feuilleton Journalism as Social History in Vienna, 1919–20.” Austrian History Yearbook 48 (2017): 255–65.
  • Huyssen, Andreas. Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).
  • Jakoby, Ruth. Das Feuilleton des Journal des Débats von 1814 bis 1830 [The Feuilleton and the Journal des Debats from 1814-1830] (Tübingen: G. Narr, 1988).
  • Jung, Simone and Kernmayer, Hildegard. Feuilleton: Schreiben an der Schnittstelle zwischen Journalismus und Literatur [Feuilleton: Writing in the Interface between Journalism and Literature] (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2017).
  • Karniel, Zvi. Ha-felyeton ha-ʻivri: hitpatchuto shel ha-felyeton ba-sifrut ha-ʻivrit [The Hebrew Feuilleton: The Development of the Feuilleton in Hebrew Literature] (Tel Aviv: Alef, 1981).
  • Kernmayer, Hildegard, Barbara Von Reibnitz, and Erhard Schütz. “Perspektiven der Feuilletonforschung. Vorwort.” Zeitschrift für Germanistik, Neue Folge 22, no. 3 (2012): 494-508.
  • Kernmayer, Hildegard. Judentum im Wiener Feuilleton (1848-1903): Exemplarische Untersuchungen zum literarästhetischen und politischen Diskurs der Moderne, [Judaism in the Viennes Feuilletons (1848-1903): Exemplary Studies in Literary-Aesthetic and Political Discourse of Modernity] (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1998).
  • Kouts, Gidéon. The Hebrew and Jewish Press in Europe: Select Problems in Its History (Saint-Denis: Suger Press-Université Paris VIII, 2006).
  • McLaughlin, Kevin. Writing in Parts: Imitation and Exchange in Nineteenth Century Literature (Stanford University Press, 1995).
  • Miron, Dan. Ben hazon le-emet: nitsanei ha-roman ha-ivri veha-yidi be-me’ah ha-tesha esrei [Between Vision and Reality: Beginnings of the Hebrew and Yiddish Novel in the Nineteenth Century] (Mosad Bialik, 1979).
  • Orbach, Alexander. New Voices of Russian Jewry: A Study of the Russian-Jewish Press of Odessa in the Era of the Great Reforms, 1860—1871 (Leiden: Brill, 1980).
  • Penslar, Derek, ed. “The Press and the Jewish Public Sphere,” Special Issue of Jewish History 14, no. 1 (2000).
  • Penslar Derek, “Theodor Herzl, Race, and Empire". In Making History Jewish, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020).
  • Pinsker, Shachar. A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture (New York: NYU Press, 2018).
  • Pinsker, Shachar, “Coffeehouses, Journalism, and the Rise of Modern Jewish Literary Culture,” Prooftexts 38, no. 2 (2000).
  • Popkin, Jeremy D. Revolutionary News: The Press in France, 1789-1799 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990).
  • Queffélec, Lise. Le roman-feuilleton français au XIX siècle (ser.) Que sais-je? (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1989).
  • Reitter, Paul. The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008).
  • Rokem, Na’ama. Prosaic Conditions: Heinrich Heine and the Spaces of Zionist Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2013).
  • Samuels, Maurice. The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth Century France (Cornell University Press, 2004).
  • Stadler, Helmut. Siegfried Kracauer: Das Journalistische Werk in der ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ 1921-1933 (Königshausen & Neumann, 2003).
  • Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in Russian and Ottoman Empires (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).
  • Stern, Alexander. “The Art of Thinking in Other People’s Heads,” Humanities 38, no. 1 (Winter 2017).
  • Terpitz, Olaf. “Russisches Feuilleton und Jüdische Selbstverständigung: Kulturgeschichtliche Annäherungen an Die ‘kleine Form’”, Leipziger Beiträge zur Jüdischen Geschichte und Kultur (Leipzig: Simon-Dubnow-Institut für Jüdische Geschichte und Kultur an der Universität, 2010).
  • Todorow, Almut. Das Feuilleton der “Frankfurter Zeitung” in der Weimarer Republik. Zur Grundlegung einer rhetorischen Medienforschung [The Feuilleton of the Frankfurter Zeitung in the Weimar Republic: Toward a Foundation of Rhetorical Media Research] (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1996).
  • Todorow, Almut. “‘Wollten die Eintagsfliegen in den Rang höherer Insekten aufsteigen’? Die Feuilletonkonzeption der ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ während der Weimarer Republik im redaktionellen Selbstverständnis.” [Do the Mayflies Want to Enter the Ranks of Higher Insects? The Conception of the Feuilleton of the Frankfurter Zeitung and Editorial Self-Understanding during the Weimar Republic], DVLG 62, no. 4 (1988): 697–740.
  • Van Horn Melton, James. The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Weissberg, Liliane. “Newspaper Feuilletons: Reflections on the Possibilities of German-Jewish Authorship and Literature,” in The Future of the German-Jewish Past: Memory and the Question of Antisemitism (West Lafeyette: Purdue University Press, 2020), 147-160.