Les Lettres édifiantes jésuites dans les mains des éditeurs : le « fatras » et l’information
For 18th-century Europe, the Jesuit Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, religious and scientific accounts written by missionaries, were an almost exclusive source of knowledge regarding China. In the reception of these texts, two approaches clashed. The public was eager to receive any snippet of information regarding China – Jesuits were esteemed as sources of such information, though criticized by some readers for an ideologically driven presentation of China. Inversely – particularly where and when the Jesuits were less appreciated – many readers disliked the “edifying” content of these letters: lengthy stories of conversions and martyrdoms. In this essay, I study the prefaces of several 18th-century French and English editions – both complete editions and selections from the Letters – to explore how the editors tackled the double nature, scientific and religious, of these texts. The prefaces highlight a range of editorial intentions, aimed at directing the readers in their interpretation of both aspects of the text.