Performance reviews, pictures and advertisement: La scène (Paris, 1877-1888)

Cambridge University Library recently acquired the French periodical La scène: revue des succès dramatiques, décorations complètes, costumes coloriés, directed and illustrated by Jules Gaildrau and written by his colleague E. Grand, ranging from October 1877 to January 1888 (Rare books, 8000.a.95). The publication (43 issues in total) was intended to appear twice a month; in reality, though, it was more irregular, with fewer reviews in 1880-1882 and 1885-1888 (and no review at all in 1887). It is a very rare set, as far as we know, only held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

T. 1 no 1, 1877: Review of the opéra-comique Les cloches de Corneville (Robert Planquette), p. 1

La scène is a wonderful source recording the Parisian theatrical life of the second part of the 19th century, telling us of its “dramatic successes”, and including information such as the date and place of the first performance, the names of music directors, costume designers, dressmakers, set designers, as well as those of the actors. Each issue is made up of four pages of text summarising the plot and reviewing the performance of the actors or singers and the staging, with black and white illustrations of the different sets; four pages of advertisements; and a coloured plate divided into four levels featuring the actors in their costumes. The periodical was available for purchase (for 1 franc, and later 1 franc 50) at the head office as well as in bookshops, and customers could pay for subscriptions of three months, six months, or a year. In the later period, advertisements encouraged the retrospective purchase of a whole set of the publication. Continue reading

“Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible” May 1968 France

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S950.c.201.1213

“Be realistic, ask the impossible” was one of the many slogans of the French unrest in May-June 1968. May last year was the 50th anniversary of the upheaval, which arouses mixed feelings in French society, depending on the political ideas of each individual. There was a debate in 2017 about Emmanuel Macron’s idea of celebrating May 68, when it had been an anti-governmental, non-institutionalised movement; it certainly led to many cultural events in 2018, including the BnF exhibition: The spirit(s) of May 68. Cambridge University Library purchased many of the publications on May 68 which came out around the time of the anniversary, including 1968 : de grands soirs en petits matins (C214.c.7787) and L’esprit de mai 68 (C205.d.9998). Here we highlight some of the books we have received in the past year or so. Continue reading

The Martin Stone collection of French illustrated poetry, 19th-20th centuries at Cambridge

Cambridge University Library has just acquired a collection of about 230 French illustrated poetry books ranging from 1841 to 1970 and beyond. They were collected by Martin Stone, an English guitarist as well as rare books dealer and collector who passed away in 2016. The collection consists mainly of outstanding first editions, many of which printed on special paper and containing signatures and dedications by and to prominent figures of the Parisian art world (Cocteau, Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin etc.). It is very strong from a literary perspective, with major or lesser-known French and Belgian poets, ranging from Symbolist and Decadent writing to the 20th century Modernist avant-gardes, which reverberated across the globe.

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Poèmes de Jean Lorrain. Paris: Léon Grus, 1896. Sheet music. Composer Gabriel Pierné. Cover by Lucien Métivet.

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Judging books of the Liberation of France by their cover: a new feature of Cambridge University Library catalogue

Book covers, originally designed to protect the pages of a book, now serve a commercial purpose: they attract the gaze, aiming at inducing the purchase and reading of a book. Their design and appearance are determined by national or sectorial rules and traditions: academic versus popular publishing, paperbacks versus hardbacks. In this blog, I will explore some of the characteristics of current French book covers’ design, the growing importance of book covers images in social media and digital collections, and a specific project designed at Cambridge University Library: adding pictures of book covers to catalogue records of the Liberation collection, 1944-46. Continue reading

Education and publishing: the legacy of Pierre Larousse (1817-1875)

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GDU’s frontispiece (Z900.a.86.1)

Last week was the Semaine de la langue française et de la francophonie, so it is a good occasion to consider the famous French lexicographer and publisher Pierre Larousse (1817-1875).

The son of a blacksmith and an innkeeper, Pierre Athanase Larousse was born in Toucy (Burgundy) in 1817. He was a very good student and, not surprisingly, an avid reader at a time when books were distributed by peddlers. To some extent he was a free spirit, out of the conventions of his time. He cohabited for many years with Suzanne Pauline Caubel, before marrying her in 1872.

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