Willa Z. Silverman, The New Bibliopolis: French Book Collectors and the Culture of Print, 1880-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Twenty-five years later, in 1894, another notable book collection was brought to the block at the Hôtel Drouot, this one featuring not livres anciens but contemporary works, exclusively. The library’s owner was a par- agon of bibliophilia in late-nineteenth-century France, Octave Uzanne. Uzanne’s collection boasted what he and many in his circle had come to consider perhaps ‘the most beautiful [book] of the century’ (Q 82): His- toire des quatre fils Aymon, très nobles et très vaillans chevaliers, a medieval chan- son de geste updated in 1883 with 240 dramatic four-colour illustrations by Eugène Grasset (1845–1917) (figure 0.2).
Linked semantically to ‘cosmopolis’ and ‘metropolis,’ Uzanne’s neologism, typical of his quirky style, was meant to conjure the image of a self-contained, urbane polity in which an elite group of col- lectors produced for one another small numbers of contemporary illus- trated works, distinguished by their luxurious material quality. In the new bibliopolis, a retrospective, accumulative approach to collecting would be banned. It would cede to a forward-looking method in which individual amateurs played a vital role in crafting volumes designated in advance as collectible.
In a series of thematically organized chapters, I set out to examine the elaboration of what Beraldi in an 1897 essay termed ‘creative’ or ‘prospective’ bibliophilia. For Beraldi, creative bibliophilia was an especially significant manifestation of profound changes both in the field of book production, largely due to the impact of mechanization, and in French society and culture, owing in part to
the new prominence, with the advent of the Third Republic in 1870, of conspicuously consuming, upper-bourgeois elites.
In contrast to an increasing division of intellectual labour characterizing commercial publishing in France at the fin de siècle – for example, the professions of publisher (éditeur) and bookstore owner (libraire), once exercised in tandem by one person, were now often separate – the field of fine book production was tending toward an ever greater concentra- tion of the functions involved in making livres de luxe.
The new bibliopolis bears many characteristics of what Bourdieu describes as a ‘market of symbolic goods.’ 7In this small-scale market, producers (in this case of luxury books) produce solely for other producers of such products as opposed to a mass market…
Renewing the libertarian and egalitarian traditions of the French Revolution, in 1881 the regime reinstated freedom of the press and publishing after nearly a century. At the same time, the Republic eased its influence on aesthetic canons by allowing competing artistic salons to coexist with the official, state-sponsored ones. In 1884 unions, including those representing the book trades, were legalized. The liter- ary field, and the subfield of fine book production within it, was thus lib- erated from governmental interference in the form of censorship, officially sanctioned genres or styles, and restrictions on labour. Given this recently gained autonomy, and rebelling as well against the profit- making ethos of commercial book production in this era of industrial capitalism and rapid expansion of a public of reader-consumers, the new bibliopolis fashioned itself as an economic world reversed. In this milieu profit and mass production were disdained – ‘any idea of lucre banished,’ declared the critic Pierre Dauze in the inaugural issue of his Revue Biblio-Iconographique – and commercial failure viewed as success.
The ethos of l’art pour l’art characteristic of the new bibliopolis inten- sified in the late 1880s in reaction to a crisis in the field of commercial book production, as will be discussed in the first two chapters of this study. Triggered in part by overproduction, le krach, as it came to be known, rippled through the milieu of fine book production, reinforcing its elitist tendencies.
In this rarefied world, the taste for the new livres de luxe needed to be both inculcated and approved by members of a peer group. It was logical, then, that authors of these works should also be their critics, that a publisher become a collector, that creators be consumers, and so on, in order to constantly confirm the judgments of these unusual goods.
…the new technologies transforming book production during this period did not create an uncrossable divide between the ‘industrial’ and the ‘luxury’ book. On the contrary, many new bibliophiles, foremost among them Uzanne, were fascinated by how judiciously applied photo- mechanical techniques could enhance the cachet of the newly ‘rare’ book…
Further blurring the distinction between these two sectors of book production was the inclusion of many livres de luxe, including the Quatre Fils Aymon (figure 0.2), at the Paris World’s Fairs of 1889 and 1900, both shrines to France’s technological progress and commercial might.
Far from being an entirely self-contained world, then, the new bibliopolis in fact maintained an intimate yet tense connection with commercial book production. Its example thus provides a novel perspective on how elite and mass culture interacted during this period.
Any emphasis on a book’s materiality was liable to deepen the association between livres de luxe and other types of ‘goods’ produced, and often reproduced, in greater quantities during this era, whether bicycles, foodstuffs, lottery tickets, or cheap paperbacks. As mass-reproduced commodities, books were now being severed from a long tradition that had endowed the printed word with prestige. It was precisely this ‘tremendous shattering of tradition’ and ‘withering of the book’s aura,’ hallmarks for Walter Benjamin of the age of mechanical reproduction, that led some new bib- liophiles to place livres de luxe squarely in the domain of pure art, or even of the sacred, rejecting any attempt to ‘bibelotize’ the book.
Finally, for some, bibliophlia as bibelotage was a feminine practice, asso- ciated with the beautification of the home. In an era of shifting concep- tions of gender epitomized by the intertwined figures of the femme nouvelle and the femme fatale, the gendered language of book collecting, the subject of chapter 6, served both to stigmatize certain collecting styles as ‘unmanly,’ just as it united a brotherhood of ‘bookmen’ around a common object of desire, the ‘female’ book.
Vehemently disdaining the tradition of anti- quarian book collecting associated with Baron Pichon, Goncourt looked toward both the French Rococo movement and Asia as sources of a revival in book design.
In a beautiful twelve-page book illustrated by Paul Avril and entitled Lettre d’un candidat ou l’entrée à bibliopolis (figure…
Silverman - 1 - The New Bibliopolis
One of the foremost themes in the writings of Octave Uzanne and other new bibliophiles was a concern for the effects of technology on book pro- duction. Superficially at least, Uzanne seemed optimistic about the many possibilities for creativity afforded by technological advances. He proba- bly warmed to Félicien Rops’s suggestion that the pair visit the 1882 Exposition des Arts Industriels because, as Rops informed Uzanne, ‘they have machines there that are quite interesting for us! – We’ll make two beautiful colour books for next year.’ 2What such machines would help the two rebels bring about, as Rops declared in an exalted letter that reads like a manifesto, was nothing less than ‘[the] total reform of the illustrated book.’
Rops warned an older breed of bibliophiles: ‘Tough luck for the archaeologicians [sic] of the book … We’re going to trash and trample all of it.’4
These ‘pretty things’ were featured prominently at the 1894 state-sponsored international exhibit of the book- and paper-making industries, which was held at the Palais de l’Industrie in Paris and fea- tured over one thousand exhibitors. Such novelties included colour illustrations, machine-made bindings, and chemically tinted paper. Sim- ilarly, the 1900 Paris World’s Fair confronted visitors with machines for folding, sewing, and gluing together sheets of paper; gilding and round- ing the corners of covers; laminating, watermarking, engraving, type- setting, enlarging, and reducing images – and executing many other procedures previously done manually. 5These inventions exemplified the culmination of technological changes that had been radically trans- forming the book trade throughout the nineteenth century to meet the demands of the burgeoning market for print.
Uzanne valued the increasing sophistication of printing processes and other such technological innovations. But he did so only to the extent that they helped advance an elitist aesthetic of the book based on originality, novelty, and fantasy.
Rather than merely coexisting in opposition to one another, the sectors of commercial and fine book production were in fact closely interrelated, with technology serving as an essential link between them.
The eighteenth-century revival thus led Uzanne backward, relying on his erudition and bibliographic talents to pay homage to the lesser- known authors of that century and the aristocratic culture that produced them.
Uzanne’s affinity for the eighteenth century, and for historical pas- tiche in general, were on display in one of his earliest works, Le Bric- à-brac de l’amour (1879)…
In 1850 Charles’s father, Firmin, had developed the process known as gillotage, or zincography, whereby a line-drawn, etched, or lithographic image is transferred to a zinc relief plate. Gillot fils adapted his father’s invention to the photographic image.
While gillotage would soon become the procedure most commonly used for book illustration by printers in France, in 1879 its use was still quite limited. Indeed, Uzanne’s reliance on relief photoengraving placed him on the cusp of the photomechanical ‘revolution’ brought about by new technologies and prepared by a half century of experi- mentation.
The difficulty of adding shading and gradation to these illustrations was resolved initially with the use of textured paper and most importantly in the 1880s with the introduction of halftone screens, anticipating the ‘colour revolution’ soon to come.
It was not technology per se that Uzanne rejected, then. After all, as Mariani’s exam- ple proved, even an industrialist could be an aesthete. Rather, Uzanne wished to distance himself from technology’s association with ‘American- ization,’ a term that in his day equated the American republic with gigan- tism, mass production, industrial capitalism, ugliness, and conformity.
…beyond.’ 15Characteristically, in his bibliophilic pur- suits Uzanne continued to turn to more esoteric, often hybrid photo- mechanical procedures developed in the 1890s – phototypography, photolithography, photozincography – in search of the livre unique.
Among the consequences of mechanization repellent to Uzanne, overproduction seemed especially pernicious. Compounded by compe- tition from the popular press, overproduction triggered the krach that destabilized the book market during a general economic downturn in France from the late 1880s through about 1900.
What this expanding public read was changing, too. The massive out- put of print coincided with the consecration of a formerly maligned but now burgeoning genre, the ‘bourgeois’ realist novel, and the decline in prestige of such a classical genre as poetry, soon to be reclaimed by bib- liophiles (published plays were also suspect for Uzanne; why read a play when one could see it in person?).
Finally, Uzanne blamed the crash on various other phenomena: com- petition from new leisure activities; the practice of printing the same book in a variety of formats; the small size of Parisian apartments in rela- tion to the flood of publications now available.
Mass production and commercialism, then, Uzanne and others felt, had led to not only overproduction but also a lowering of the material quality of many types of books, accompanying the drop in manufactur- ing costs and sale prices.
On one hand, then, Uzanne denigrated technology to distance
himself from popular readers and the industrial literature they favoured. On the other, though, he championed the products and techniques of modern industry to distinguish himself and like-minded bibliophiles from a different group of reader-collectors, that of traditional, estab- lished bibliophiles as embodied by the Bibliophiles François.
…2 ‘Books worthy of this era,’ for Uzanne and many other new bibliophiles, encompassed those relying for their fabrication on the latest techniques – essential to freeing books from ‘typographical and iconographic … tra- ditions and prejudices’ – thus setting Uzanne’s group apart from its pre- decessor…
During this climactic era of European nationalism and imperial- ism, international competition was enacted symbolically at the World’s Fairs and other ‘universal’ exhibits in part through displays of each coun- try’s technological prowess. Applications of photography to book illustra- tion, for example, appeared prominently in a section devoted to ‘Photographie et arts graphiques qui en dérivent’ at the 1894 Paris Expo- sition internationale du livre moderne et des industries du papier.
Such sizing up of France’s diplomatic allies and enemies through the barometer of technological clout was standard fare for these pre–First World War exhibitions. And the prickly tone of the French critics may con- vey to some extent the uneasiness with which they observed French indus- trial production lagging behind that of Germany, England, and the United States.
The prominent Japanese art dealer and Art Nouveau impresa- rio Siegfried Bing, for one, hoped that his important 1896 exhibit devoted to international modern fine book production – its organizing committee included both Uzanne and Gallimard – would foster exchange among artists of the book from many countries.
That illustration had become such an integral fea- ture of book production was apparent in the exhibits the Cercle de la Librairie devoted to specific illustrators and in the inclusion of ‘Beaux- Arts’ as one of the main groups in the 1894 Paris Exposition du Livre.
Art and industry at these exhibits, then, often appeared at opposite ends of the spectrum of book production.
Thus, in this era of high bibliophilia the Republican organizers of these exhibits attempted to reposition fine book production in France as prolonging a tradition associated with luxury craft manufacture and imbued with its cachet, but now updated through reliance on the most modern technologies. In this way, paradoxically, the goals of both the egalitarian and demo- cratic Third Republic and the cultural elites clustered around Uzanne converged.
To be modern meant creating not a new democracy but a new aristocracy of taste, a snob’s paradise from which would be barred both France’s tradi- tional aristocratic cultural elites and the expanding population of con- sumers of mass print culture. ‘Modernity’ entailed lauding the marriage of industry and the book, but only to better renew a tradition of French preeminence in luxury craftsmanship. And it meant conceiving of the book not necessarily as agent of instruction and edification, but as object, artwork, fetish even.
Technical panache and flouting of tradition, then, were to be the hallmarks of the new livres de luxe.
Les Quatre Fils Aymon broke new ground not only stylistically but also technically, as it marked the debut of four-colour printing in France.
Grasset’s work in this large-format book revealed his simultaneous enthusiasm for both the medieval artisanal ideal and the most modern techniques of any era, from medieval weaponry and fortifications (visu- ally depicted in great detail in Les Quatre Fils Aymon) to nineteenth- century colour printing.
Like the photomechanical revolution and in fact intertwined with it, the riot of colour appearing in print by the fin de siècle had been prepared by nearly a century of experimentation in France, beginning with Godefroy Engelmann’s 1837 patenting of colour lithography. But it was only at the end of the century that several trends converged to foster the flowering of colour in print. These included political developments (the 1881 French law on the freedom of the press legalizing the placement of post- ers anywhere except on official buildings, and requiring their printing on tinted paper); aesthetic currents (the captivating influence on many artists of Japanese colour woodblock prints); and, again, technological advances (the invention, for example, of presses capable of holding very large lithographic stones). Soon colour was enlivening the range of artistic techniques and print media. These included both the photome- chanical technique of chromotypogravure, used for example to pro- duce colour images for the 1881 Christmas issue of the mass-circulation newspaper, L’Illustration, and the traditional techniques of wood engrav- ing, etching, and especially lithography, the privileged medium of 1890s printmakers and poster-artists.
Unlike Uzanne, many in the artistic establishment disdained chro- molithography, associated with reproductive, industrial printing. For this reason, until 1899 colour prints were banned from the official French artistic Salon. At the same time, however, networks were emerg- ing whose activities helped legitimize colour printing as an artistic medium.
He lauded the colour revolution, the avant-garde artists who embodied it, and its technological underpinnings. But he did so, ironically, only to promote what this phenomenon might contribute to elite culture – the limited edition and not the wall print, the collec- tor’s portfolio versus the cheap facsimile, form versus function.
His own ‘research in coloration, tints, inks … the first experiments in heliography, printing on papers of varying weights’ materialized in a collection of loose pages he printed himself in preparation for his 1882 and 1883 books, L’Éventail and L’Ombrelle – le gant – le manchon, illustrated by Paul Avril, another of Uzanne’s partners in
experimentation. 71Uzanne considered these printed sheets ‘a document for the future’ (Q 161). Another edition of L’Éventail featured marine blue paper, while a third, produced solely for Uzanne at his request, was printed in monochrome, black ink on black paper – feats of technical bra- vura that caused Uzanne to complain that ‘the material side of [L’Éven- tail] has gluttonously eaten up all my time.’
So unusual did these case bindings (cartonnages) appear initially that they came to represent the avant-garde of binding, indeed furnish- ing a model for art binding until the last decade of the century, when the situation reversed.
Uzanne reserved special praise for three binders from Lorraine’s ‘Rococo’ city, Nancy. Camille Martin, René Wiener, and Victor Prouvé, all close in age to Uzanne, were at the forefront of reviving the decora- tive arts at the turn of the century.
Technical perfection concerned Uzanne little. He thus approved, for example, Meunier’s unorthodox practice of refusing to polish down the coarse grain of the leather he used, resulting not in a smooth surface but in a handmade look. ‘Let us not tolerate any longer only what is well made,’ Uzanne urged. ‘True talent is always a bit exces- sive, frisky, innovative, uneven.’
Auriol’s work was featured on the cover of Uzanne’s Contes pour les bibliophiles (1895), coauthored and illustrated by the futurist writer Albert Robida (figure 1.8). To cre- ate the audacious mix of upper and lower case characters – an unortho- dox break with the traditional typographical unity of the page typical of French publications at that time – Auriol relied on photographic enlargements and reductions of his original designs to permit greater accuracy in the engraving of the characters.
A decade earlier, the same application of photography to typography had enabled, surprisingly, the experiments of the ferociously anti-industrial designer William Morris, whose typographical innovations Uzanne great- ly admired, and who appeared to distinguish between machines that abased humanity and those that merely served as tools to simplify the task of book designers.
– seems informed by the same simultaneous acceptance and rejection of new technologies that is a leitmotif in Uzanne’s writings and activities.
Morris thus shared with Uzanne a dual longing for past eras of artisanal excellence com- bined with a desire to rely on the most modern industrial technology to attain an aesthetic, non-commercial goal. However, the elitist Uzanne shared none of Morris’s socialist convictions. Indeed, it was only for an intimate circle of like-minded bibliophiles, not for the popular classes, that Uzanne destined those of his works boasting striking Art Nouveau lettering and typographical ornamentation.
…as he both declared and warned, ‘the bibliophile who accepts [photomechanical procedures] betrays his good name.’ 93Clearly, then, by the end of the century Uzanne had come to feel that not all read- ers were deserving of the ‘books worthy of our era’ – perhaps ‘his era’ is more fitting – that he envisioned.
Whereas prior to the nineteenth century,
for example, printed illustrations had appeared at the two ends of a spec- trum – in works for either an aristocratic elite or an often semi-literate peasantry – in the nineteenth century technology enabled images to per- meate the variety of printed products and genres destined for a highly diverse readership. By the end of the century some of these illustrations, in the form of colour lithographs, showed up both as inexpensive wall prints and in collector’s portfolios.
While technology provided one means to dissolve the contradictions exemplified by the previous examples, in the end it led to the creation of new ones. Under the banner of contemporaneity, Uzanne, for one, proved eager to appropriate technology to achieve the spectacular effects desired by an elite clientele and to enhance the prestige value of the book. In the end, then, the livre unique existed not only in spite of – but because of – technology.
Uzanne eschewed the democratizing potential associated with technol- ogy by the French Third Republic and with craftsmanship by William Morris and his followers. Instead, he looked to both these means as marks of distinction and basis for a haut bourgeois elite culture, given physical form in the ‘new’ luxury book.
…while Uzanne and others in his cohort were devotees of ‘newness,’ they nevertheless shared with their predecessors preoccupations common to all book collectors: What makes a book rare and collectible? What, and who, determines its value and beauty? The struggle between ‘old’ and ‘new’ bibliophiles at the fin de siècle thus often took the form of a sym- bolic contest over questions of taste, definition, and worth. And in this contest originality provided by the most unusual applications of technol- ogy became one of the distinguishing signs of a newly ‘rare’ book.
– was the Société des Bibliophiles François.
The society Pichon presided over was founded in 1820 by a group of amateurs and érudits, among them the playwright Guilbert de Pixérécourt and the entomologist and geographer Charles-Athanase de Walckenaer. As throughout the society’s history, in the late nineteenth-century aristo- crats and military officers, the Prince von Metternich and Marshal Louis Lyautey among them, still comprised the majority of its twenty-nine mem- bers, which included five foreign associates; a few prominent upper- bourgeois men had also been admitted. Those actually involved in book trades, however, were excluded from membership.
The private and familial libraries of the Bibliophiles François set the tone and provided materials for the society’s publishing program. An 1881 facsimile edition of the Suite des œuvres poétiques de Vatel, from the original manuscript owned by the Duc d’Aumale, for example, helped fulfil the society’s goal, as its statutes indicated, of publishing or reprint- ing ‘unpublished or rare works, but especially those of interest for the study of French history, literature, or language.’ Moreover, the society aimed to perpetuate in its publications ‘the traditions of old French printing.’ 8Such allegiance to an artisanal tradition of French printing was apparent in the society’s practice of using original matrices once owned by eighteenth-century Dutch printers.
9Of less interest to the society as a defining feature of a printed work was illustration, and the collabora- tion between author and illustrator concerned the society little.
Fin-de-siècle bibliophile societies often worked in tandem with publisher- bookstore owners who shared their aesthetic vision and often occupied similar positions in the field of fine book production.
The typical profile of many vendors of commercial books during this period was that of a petit bourgeois shopkeeper rather than a savant, per- haps enhanced somewhat by the culturally prestigious nature of their wares. Libraires specializing in livres anciens and livres de luxe, however, despite their provincial and petits bourgeois roots, were known in the cap- ital as not only book purveyors but also érudits, bibliographically savvy and often well versed in both Latin and modern languages. Further dis- tinguishing the new group of fine book dealers from other small shop- keepers were their activities as collectors, which helped foster relations of fellowship with their clients.
Morgand’s bookshop quickly became a meeting place for bibliophiles whose allegiance in the late 1870s tended towards the antiquarian.
Boldly brandishing the banner of modernity – ‘Everything to the moderns’ (figure 2.2), his pamphletlike publications proclaimed – Uzanne con- demned the antiquarian orientation of the stuffy albeit erudite Biblio- philes François.
The nineteenth century, Uzanne insisted, would soon replace the seventeenth and eighteenth as literary and artistic reference points: ‘Let the renaissance of Bib- liophilia … no longer bloat us,’ he declared, leaving behind the alle- giances of his early c…
The ‘bibliophilic frenzy’ of the fin de siècle was coupled with an equally zealous production of sale catalogues, specialized bibliophile reviews, and bibliographies providing detailed, erudite descriptions for amateurs. This new genre of ‘bibliophilic bibliography’ played an important role in iden- tifying certain books as collectible and, conversely, in rendering many other books virtually unsellable.
Given the saturation of the bibliophilic sphere and its rigid codification, com- pounded by the prohibitive prices of certain livres anciens, many book col- lectors were forced to develop alternatives. They adapted to the changing market initially by compensating for the dearth of antiquarian volumes – the traditional fare of bibliophiles – with a turn towards illustrated books of the first half of the nineteenth century. Then, under the influence of Uzanne and his followers, they responded with an almost obsessive insis- tence on novelty and contemporaneousness, legitimizing as collectible the luxury edition designated in advance of its publication as rare, and privi- leging the work of late-nineteenth-century authors and illustrators.
This unfortunate hybrid – the commercial luxury book – owed its appearance, then, to several agents. In Uzanne’s analysis, demand for such books was increasing among certain sectors of the conspicuously consuming bourgeoisie, ‘false amateurs,’ as he labelled them, ‘vague, vain … dilettantes … who have been accumulating old books in a frenzy just like lottery tickets are bought in Italy.’
It was this sordid coupling between producers and consumers of books, then, by-product of a transforming social structure and new busi- ness practices, that had spawned the fin-de-siècle invention of the ‘genre’ of ‘livres pour bibliophiles.’ Until the 1860s, according to Uzanne, this genre had existed solely as a tacitly accepted category of books and not as a marketing tool. In a type of mimesis of previous generations of collectors, the taste for reeditions of livres anciens had replaced the patient search for first editions associated with the Biblio- philes François, the copy substituting itself on the original. But, as Uzanne admonished, ‘reeditions cannot be imposed on curious, independent-minded people, just as books from another era cannot be illustrated; artistic reconstitution always misses the point and betrays bri- colage, no matter what one does.’
until leaving to form the Bibliophiles Contemporains: the Société des Amis des Livres.
Given its conception of book collecting as bibelotage, the society’s short- lived initial model of a learned society, publishing antiquarian or unpub- lished works of historical, literary, or linguistic interest and not unlike the Bibliophiles François, soon ceded to the model of a social circle.
Overlapping in their attendees with literary and publishing dinners, bib- liophile banquets conformed closely to this model of upper-class sociabil- ity. While meetings of English book-lovers, wrote Ashbee, ‘are of a business-like, utilitarian kind, [those of the French] are animated by socia- bility and enlivened by conviviality.’
The sense of mise en scène on display during bibliophile dinners was conveyed by a distinctive object that served both to set the dinner’s tone and showcase the talents of the artist whose work adorned the book launched at these dinners: a menu.
…such menus were souvenirs. Yet like the illustrated the- atre programs, invitations, calling cards, and birth announcements pro- liferating in Paris during this ‘age of paper,’ and which featured the most up to date photomechanical and lithographic techniques, such mementos often became collector’s items, too, much like the mural posters that were in a way oversized versions of this hand-held ephem- era…
Hefty and tightly bound, books bound by Trautz were often difficult to open and thus, presumably, to read. His skill in creating individually crafted replicas of rare bindings from the past, echoing the vogue for imitation characteristic of the decorative arts under the Second Empire and implicitly rejecting the industrial bindings becoming popular dur- ing the same period, proved immensely successful among wealthy col- lectors with a preference for retrospective bibliophilia. The adulation directed toward him, dubbed ‘Trautzmania,’…
This con- tinued migration of collector’s books and prints from Left to Right Bank, ‘from the neighbourhood of bouquinisme to that of curiosities and paintings,’ Beraldi noted, was ‘very significant’ (EL 251), as it indicated a shift in the geography of the Parisian book market.
Representing the upper- most echelons of the professional bourgeoisie of the ancien régime, these newly wealthy artistic and literary patrons, among the most successful men in the kingdom, had used their substantial revenues to commission unparalleled editions of La Fontaine’s works, illustrated by painter- engravers such as Hubert Gravelot, then finely printed and luxuriously bound.
Certainly, bibliophile patrons of the past, such as the fermiers généraux, had been known to finance book production for their own enjoyment or that of friends. However, the amateurs of the fin de siècle were among the first to engage them- selves directly in the artistic process, often through the bibliophile soci- eties they founded for this purpose.
Gallimard and other amateurs thus exercised a preponderant influ- ence on the creation, publication, and collection of highly original, lux- urious volumes during this period of effervescence in the history of the illustrated book. These wealthy purveyors of symbolic goods possessed both the artistic temperament and the financial means and leisure time to pursue such activities. In part a sociological phenomenon related to the development of a conspicuously consuming upper bourgeoisie, the emergence of the amateur as privileged interlocutor of the illustrator also relates to changes in the field of book production at the fin de siè- cle, most notably the emergence of fine book production as an autono- mous and ‘reversed economic world,’ opposed in many ways to the burgeoning field of ‘for profit’ commercial book production. Faced with a commercial sector that valorized the largest market and the great- est profits, these rich patrons championed the smallest market possible, and economic indifference.
In this way, Gallimard, Uzanne, and other grands seigneurs of publishing proved greatly influential in cre- ating and sustaining interest in previously undervalued texts and, as the following examples illustrate, in cultivating taste.
Lucien, a painter and engraver hoping to establish himself autono- mously, had left France in 1890 to participate in the flourishing English Arts and Crafts movement as it pertained to the book; the small presses of William Morris (Kelmscott), Charles Ricketts (Vale), T.J. Cobden- Sanderson and Emery Walker (Doves), and C.R. Ashbee (Essex House) were all founded there between 1890 and 1900. With his wife Esther, Lucien established the Eragny Press near London, named after the Normandy village where the Pissarro family owned a home.
He discussed these features of book design in his own work, De la typographie et de l’harmonie de la page imprimée (1898), for which Floury was the Parisian distributor.
Such a subsuming by one person, himself a book collector, of most of the creative, financial, and administrative functions involved in fine book production, then, was characteristic of the new bibliophilia of the fin de siècle. For Beraldi it represented a penultimate form of biblio- philia, surpassed only by limiting the number of copies produced to one.
Following the First World War, the important publishing functions amateurs had exercised at the fin de siècle appeared to be taken up pri- marily by art dealers such as Vollard and Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler in their creation of livres de peintre.
In Montesquiou’s case, these questions of social practices and menta- lités cannot easily be separated from a consideration of his aesthetics. Both his library and his attitudes toward the printed word and its mate- rial manifestations and accessories – not only binding, paper, illustration, and typography, but also the furniture and accoutrements of reading – conveyed his conception of beauty.
For Montesquiou, books were polysemic objects whose value changed according to their status, alone or in combination, as gifts, heirlooms, emblems of social distinction, sources of information, or objets d’art. And his book-related practices – whether commissioning a unique binding, reclining in a reading chair of his own design, decorat- ing, organizing, or describing his library – in turn provide a nuanced appreciation of his aesthetics.
Into what closely resemble scrapbooks, each notice from the printed sale catalogue has been cut and pasted sequentially. Following each notice are documents belonging to Montesquiou – iconography, let- ters, notes, his own writings – which appear to illuminate the significance specific books held for him. A reading of the sale catalogue and its docu- mentary intertexts, contained in the scrapbooks, helps identify several often overlapping criteria influencing a book’s worth for Montesquiou: its authorship, its usefulness as a tool for his own writing, its provenance, and its uniqueness as a material object.
Goncourt’s incantatory love song to the contents of his hôtel in the boulevard Montmorency was permeated with his tenderness toward things. In La Maison d’un artiste he catalogued and described in astoundingly profuse detail the cornucopia of objects he collected, including 10,000 books, representing his dual passion for the eigh- teenth century and East Asian culture. Part museum catalogue, part aesthetic manifesto – ‘I am writing the history of industrial art of the Occident and Orient and … I am assuming the direction of one of the great movements of taste for today and tomorrow,’ he proclaimed in 1880 – La Maison d’un artiste championed the interior as a solitary, mas- culine space, a haven from the ‘combative life’ and its attendant feelings of ennui that Goncourt found inherent in modern urban existence.
Although the prac- tice of singularizing books through the addition of autographs, extra illustrations, and other materials was not new, the Goncourts’ systematic practice of such inclusions made of each book not only part of their larger book collection but also a miniature collection in itself, consisting of related items collected, assembled, and encased in a binding.
Montesquiou’s library was intended not only to foster these intellectual activities, but also to serve as their emblem. ‘Bound’ in leather, this room
was to be ‘read.’ In this sense the room functioned much like the books it contained, like the mottos Montesquiou had inscribed on lintels in his apartment, and even like the socks and ties he displayed in his dressing room; in an allusion to works produced by the celebrated family of Dutch printers, these garments were ‘folded and lined up like Elzevirs, in de luxe libraries.’
Fasci- nated by all stages of book production, as the scrapbooks in his collec- tion devoted to bindings, illustration, and book arts attest, Montesquiou was especially sensitive to what Goncourt described in the following way as the ‘seduction’ exercised by a book’s finery (parure), its binding…
59Another standard marker for nineteenth- century bibliophiles, luxury bindings served both to preserve and singu- larize individual copies of books (at the same time rendering homage to their authors), while often doubling or tripling them in cost.
Such often exaggerated efforts to imbue a book’s cover with the sin- gular personality and eccentricities of its owner, moreover, were also an expression of ‘bibliopegic dandyism,’ the cultivation of the individual- ism, eccentricity, even abnormality associated with dandyism as mani- fested through taste in book coverings, among other potentially distinctive features of livres de luxe.
Montesquiou often led carefully chosen groups of friends to Meunier’s atelier in the rue de la Bienfaisance to observe the craftsman at work.
Defence and illustration of Uzanne’s precepts, Montesquiou’s library contained numerous works by nineteenth-century authors, which he had bound by the master artisan much admired by many new biblio- philes, Charles Meunier.
Much like the work of a decorator of interiors, who conveyed and encased an idea through the use of suggestive material objects, the task of the binder, for Montesquiou, was also to ‘dress our dreams.’ 70Indeed, he asserted, ‘this miller so skilful in refi…
Questions of Montesquiou’s talents aside, the collapsing of bound- aries between art, decor, and life that characterized his aesthetic found expression in the books he created, where binding and text harmo- nized, and where text and image merged in watermarked paper covered with poems and bats.
‘Women bibliophiles!’ fumed Octave Uzanne in an 1889 chat on the topic. ‘I know not of two words that clash more when finding themselves together in our social circles.’ 3In decrying the ‘absolute irreverence of woman for the book’ (Z 33–4), Uzanne was not…
7Yet Uzanne’s and Verlaine’s were merely two of the loud- est voices in a shrill chorus intent on proclaiming the natural enmity between women and books.
First articulated so damningly by de Bury, the theme of women as biblio- phobes, motivated by jealousy and utilitarianism, and hopelessly philis- tine, was to become a familiar trope. But it proved particularly pervasive among both European and American book collectors during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Such invective was conveyed by what came to constitute a minor literary category of works disparaging female book lovers and warning against any contact between women and all but the most banal, poor quality books.
The exclusionary discourse elaborated by this brotherhood of book- men coexisted with another one that, paradoxically, designated the
material book not as inimical to women but in fact as women them- selves, to the extent that both were perceived as objects of physical desire and possession, even as fetishes.
One of its primary functions was to create bonds of solidarity among the male – and ideally unmarried – members of Bibliopolis and to legitimize book collecting as a masculine social practice, character- ized by the adoration of a specific material object.
While the rhetorical underpinnings of the fin- de-siècle language of book love, then, often stressed rivalry between men, they ultimately served as vehicles for the formation of ‘homosocial’ bonds designed to safeguard both relations between members of the same sex and the sociocultural prestige and traditions associated with their book-collecting pursuits.
The anger character- izing these writings may have been based in part on a perception that these New Women were infiltrating the field of book production itself, not only as authors, as has been well documented, but also as printers, binders, library and bookstore workers, illustrators, and of course read- ers. From this perspective, women represented another breed of femmes fatales, encroaching dangerously on the traditionally male domains of the private library and book club, and from there to the entire territory of book production.
…, crumple it, turn it over.’ 23Women, then, it was charged, evinced a practical, lackadaisical attitude toward books, and failed to distinguish between the devalued printed product represented by the newspaper and its culturally esteemed pendant, the book.
It is easy to view this doleful chorus of writers condescendingly, and to dismiss them as retrograde misogynists. However, their diatribes against women readers may contain a recognition of the new female reading practices that had developed by the end of the century. Instead of stress- ing possession, competition, and hierarchy, as well as a taxonomic, ‘pos- itivist’ approach to collecting, the female aesthetic emphasized the connection between texts, domestic work, and daily life.
A culture of women’s reading and specifically female reading prac- tices developed in tandem with the immense growth of a female reading public in nineteenth-century France. This growth was itself in part a product of both educational reforms – the first lycées for girls were founded in 1880 and the first normal school for women the following year – and technological advances responsible for an influx of inexpen- sive printed materials.
28In contrast to the image of the solitary male reader, indulging his passion for books in guilty privacy, female readership was often, although hardly always, shared and collective – feuilletons circulated among groups of women or were read aloud while
certain domestic activities took place.
For at the fin de siècle ever more frequently authors represented books not merely as women but as predominantly sexual beings too, in fact as lovers.
Desire to physically penetrate and possess the virgin book might even find an outlet, finally, in the act of affixing to it one’s ex libris after open- ing it up for the first time, in an expression of what Uzanne termed, in English, ‘Book-plate’s love’ (NB 223). Perhaps not coincidentally, the vogue for bookplates burgeoned at the fin de siècle, Uzanne observed, ‘with an intensity that is hard to measure, but which seems excessive to us’ (NB 225), as evidenced by the flourishing of publications and societ- ies devoted to these marks of ownership.
The fetishization of the book as female body took a macabre turn with the shadowy practice of binding volumes in human, specifically
female, skin. While legends abounded concerning the curious punish- ments of tanning aristocrats’ skin during the French Revolution to bind copies of Rousseau’s Du Contrat social, and that of criminals to bind law books, female skin bindings seemed to exercise a peculiar fascination over nineteenth-century bibliophiles.
It was perhaps not surprising, then, in 1895 to find a human skin binding encasing a copy of Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ in the London shop of Leonard Smithers, purveyor of high end erotica and publisher of the British Decadents, most importantly Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. 63Or to read in the diary of Wilde’s contemporary, the British novelist George Gissing, that in 1893 his own publisher, H.W. Lawrence, showed him an edition of Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death that Lawrence ‘had just had bound in human skin – silly fellow.’
Like locks of hair of departed loved ones, these casings of female skin seemed to function in one sense as lugubrious keepsakes or memento mori. At the same time, however, they appear to be a perverse form of punishment for women’s sexual sins, as well as for suicide. Such titillat- ing gothic tales, finally, perhaps embellished in successive retellings, may well have heightened a sense of kinship among those engaged in the ‘men only’ activity of book collecting.
Even when the possibility of female book collecting was admitted, then, it was considered a separate and unequal social practice, focused on procuring visual and social rather than spiritual satisfaction, and devoid of the passion, erudition, and innate savoir-faire distinguishing the mere collector from the true bibliophile.
The considerable effort expended by Uzanne and others in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that women could not be bibliophiles may convey an attempt not only to solidify the masculine bases of ‘Clubland’ but at the same time prevent a socially taboo lesbian gaze on the ‘female’ book.
The confusing androgyny associated with women’s writing and owning books seemed symptomatic of what Barbey condemned as this ‘world that has lost its virility,’ a weakened world in which women encroached on male social and professional terrain – and owned property, too.
In casting books as female lovers and themselves as the ‘he-men’ who pursued and conquered them, then, the clubby discourse of these book- men may have served to help distance them from a ‘feminine’ collect- ing style deemed socially and sexually problematic for men because of its association with homosexuality, and thus abnormality. At the same time, however, such a discourse reinforced the homosocial bonds that allowed book collecting to remain a prestigious ‘men only’ territory.
Indeed, the sense of a destabilized equilibrium between public and private spheres that women’s reading seemed to herald may have reflected a broader anxiety generated by a perception of women’s increased entry into the field of the printed word.
Book publishing was exclusively masculine. A handful of women ran binderies, but they were exceptional.
Women were pushed to the fringes of the almost exclusively male world of printers, binders, and others in the book trades. They comprised about 7 per cent of type-setters in 1906, and were otherwise limited to the traditionally feminized, unskilled work of folding paper to make book pages, sewing bindings, and embroidering covers.
Unlike the situation in England, few French women designed bindings before the First World War.
A small num- ber of women distinguished themselves as librarians, beginning a trend leading to the characterization of such professionals as ‘bookish.’ Marie Pellechet, for example, a specialist of early printing, bibliographer, and honorary librarian at the Bibliothèque nationale, produced an erudite, three-volume Catalogue général des incunables des bibliothèques de France.
One purpose this rhetorical sleight of hand served was to help clarify gender roles in an era when they were becoming significantly more mutable. Describing collectors as lovers, hunters, sultans, rapists, and other he-men helped designate book love as a male – yet not homo- sexual – activity just as it eliminated any possibility of female (person) on female (book) contact.
Barring women from the spaces associated with all but the most denigrated literary genres or material forms of the book (and from high culture more generally) represented part of a broader attempt to minimize the perceived disruptive influence of the femme fatale.
What types of practices might develop to help connoisseurs cordon off collector’s editions from their commer- cially produced pendants?
Has the discourse about these transformations, alternating between ide- alistic enthusiasm for new forms of print and nostalgia for bygone ones, changed in a century? How do new technologies affect the form of the book, and with what results?
Robida lacked Verne’s knowledge of science but compensated for it with the prodigious, fanciful imagin- ings evident in the futuristic trilogy Robida wrote and illustrated: Le Vingtième Siècle (1883), La Guerre au vingtième siècle (1887), and La Vie élec- trique (1890)…
Among the sublime inventions Robida anticipated for the twentieth century, alongside X-rays and flying machines, was the téléphonoscope, a device that likely provided a starting point for Uzanne’s own musings on the future of the book.
Based on Graham Bell’s miraculous telephone of 1876, which first became available in Paris in 1881, Robida’s contrap- tion consisted of a small crystal plaque attached to a flexible auditory tube. The word ‘telephonoscope’ had first appeared in 1878 in the Brit- ish magazine Punch in the title of a drawing by Georges du Maurier depicting a bourgeois couple ensconced at home using the new inven- tion to chat with their daughter while simultaneously watching her on a tennis court. Robida’s embellished version of this invention would allow thousands of interlocutors worldwide to both see and hear, in the com- fort of their homes, theatrical performances direct from the Parisian (or Viennese, or London) stage.
Robida’s own models for the téléphonoscope may have been works pub- lished in the French popular scientific press on the télectroscope, a machine also attributed to Graham Bell that was capable of transmitting images at a distance.
…théâtro- phone invented by Clément Ader, one of the founders of the French Société générale des téléphones. This lightweight, transportable machine, equipped with two reception devices, had excited curious visi- tors observing the latest technological marvels at both the 1881 Paris Exposition internationale de l’électricité and the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. Much like Robida’s imaginary téléphonoscope but lacking its visual dimension, this spectacular machine transmitted, for a fee that bought
ten minutes of listening time, live performances from Parisian theatres.
Would the telephone be used only for conversations between two interlocutors, or would it find other uses? Who would have access to new technologies, and at what cost? What social and cultural practices would they engen- der? Did they signify progress, or rather regression? What level of tech- nical quality would the public deem acceptable?
Many of those in Uzanne’s real-life bibliophile circle indeed shared a giddy fascination with the new phono- graphic technologies. An after-dinner phonographic ‘session’ in April 1898, for example, provided captivating entertainment for Henri Vever and his dinner companions.
The revolutionary potential of technology was made clear to Uzanne when during an 1893 trip to the United States as a correspondent for Le Figaro he had the opportunity to visit Thomas Edison in his Orange Park factory. A brief first meeting of the pair had occurred four years earlier in Paris, during Edison’s triumphant attendance of the 1889 World’s Fair, which featured a pavilion devoted to telephones. In Orange Park Uzanne observed ‘the ingenious inventor of the phonograph’ – whom he described not as the evil sorcerer of his fictional tale but as an eccen- tric, baby-faced, unpretentious charmer – surrounded by a staggering number of new or updated inventions.
Uzanne thus foresaw technological change transforming the material form of the book. He also envisioned such change leading to a redistri- bution and consolidation of functions in the cycle of book production, a phenomenon familiar to him from his activities in the bibliophile milieu. Such consolidation, he predicted, would in turn lead to a redefi- nition of conventional notions of ‘author’ and ‘authorship.’