success won by reason of merit and critical respect rather than by popularity.
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British Dictionary definitions for succès d'estime
success, as of a book, play, etc, based on the appreciation of the critics rather than popular acclaim
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012