En Bombe. Roman modern. Illustrations photographiques.

Paris, Nilsson, Per Lamm, [1904].

8vo, pp. 256; photographic illustrations throughout; a very good copy in contemporary red morocco-backed boards with marbled sides, spine lettered directly in gilt, ribbon place-marker, with the original halftone photographic wrappers bound in; contemporary postcard (140 x 90 mm) from Willy to ‘Mon ami Pierrot’ loosely inserted.


US $776€712

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First edition of these vignettes of bohemian life in fin-de-siècle Paris by author and critic Willy, illustrated by nearly one hundred photographs of the author himself, as well as Marcel Boulestin, Marcelle Rossat, and Colette’s famous French bulldog, Toby-Chien.

In 1893 Willy married Colette, the author of the renowned semi-autobiographical Claudine novels, published under Willy’s name between 1900 and 1903; they separated in 1906. ‘Willy the voyeur was a pioneer of what would become the “illustrated novel”, publishing in 1904 a work that presented itself as a “modern” attempt to include in the novel many “photographic illustrations”, in which the author himself can be recognized’ (Kristeva, Colette (2004), p. 473, n. 74). Willy blurs the distinction between reality and imagination in these images, in which figures move beyond the confines of photographic borders, and through the character of Henry Maugis, both a figure who appears repeatedly in the Claudine novels and another of Gauthier-Villars’s pseudonyms.

His attempts at self-promotion in En Bombe ultimately rely upon the commercial success of Colette’s novels; contemporary advertisements, likely authored by Willy himself, ask readers: ‘Who hasn’t read the Claudine books? Who doesn’t want to get to know these enigmatic characters, portrayed by Willy with such wit and daring? En Bombe, with its 100 photographs, is not only a book, but an album: L’Album des Claudine’ (cited in Bartl, Kraus, and Wimmer eds., Skandalautoren (2014), p. 444 trans.).

A loosely inserted postcard bearing a photograph of Willy and Colette perhaps attests to Willy’s reputation as something of a libertine. Here, he jokes with his friend and former secretary Pierre Varenne about his latest dalliance with a ‘jolie Russe’, adding that he wouldn’t mind if her fiancé caught typhoid fever or cholera.

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