(Re)Collecting Stories: The Private Libraries of Fin-de-Siècle Paris

By Valerie Mendelson.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The bibliophiles of nineteenth century France were passionate about their books both as texts and as objects. Books were seen as “speaking” to each other, and to their owner as well. Furthermore, the books were written about as “friends” and companions, dear to the heart of their collector. The relationship between book and collector often involved “remaking” the book: rebinding it, commissioning illustrations, stamping it with a personal ex-libris. The resulting almost hybrid nature of the books, was exemplified by the private library, or cabinet de travail, in which they were kept, which contained all kinds of objects, rather than simply books. The principle of organization of the varying collections was often self-consciously personal rather than striving for any objective systemization of knowledge. Indeed the arrangement of the space mirrored the sociability of the space, such that interrelationships amongst the artworks and books were considered important. Photographs document the heteroclite nature of the private library with its mélange of books, furnishings, sculpture, paintings and objets d'art. The portraits that the photographer known as Dornac collected and published as Les Contemporains Chez Eux show the notable figures of Paris in their private cabinets de travail surrounded by artworks, books and often photographs. The idiosyncrasies of the organizational principles of these private libraries were related, this paper will show, to the keen sense of identification with their libraries that these collectors felt.

Keywords: Library, Nineteenth-century France, Book Collecting, Bibliophile

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.39-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 985.578KB).

Dr. Valerie Mendelson

Lecturer, Humanities Department, The New School, Division of General Studies, The New School, New York, NY, USA

PhD CUNY Graduate Center, has taught at Hunter College and CCNY, papers on French artist/art historians, women collectors in France, presented at CAA, NEMLA and Barnard College, among others.


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