Parlez-Vous Francais? Visit to The Wolfsonian by FIU Professor and French Club
This past Saturday, The Wolfsonian rare book and special collections library hosted thirteen members of Florida International University’s French club, arranged by Modern Languages Professor Maria Antonieta Garcia. Professor Garcia has been serving as advisor for the French club for a number of years and has regularly organized visits to The Wolfsonian by the club, Le Cercle Francais, and students taking her French Advanced Conversation and French Writing courses.
For each of these visits, we have endeavored to lay French language materials on the main reading room tables, either specifically designed to complement Professor Garcia’s curricula, or, to provide club members with some fresh and interesting materials.
For the group arriving last Saturday, we pulled a wide variety of French items that had only recently been sent from museum founder Mitchell Wolfson’s apartment in Paris, and had not yet been seen by any scholars or researchers given that we were just beginning to catalog them. Today’s post will highlight just a few of these items.
After the cessation of hostilities of the First World War, Europeans still had to face up to the lingering nightmares, horrors and scars of the carnage. While wartime propaganda lauded and romanticized Red Cross nurses as angels of mercy dedicated to healing and alleviating the suffering of wounded soldiers, one very curious book published immediately in the aftermath of the Great War characterized nurses and the hospitalization experience in a far more macabre light.
Au Royaume du Bistouris [In the realm of the scalpel] opens with a preface by Marcel Proust and features unflattering cartoon illustrations of unattractive nurses.
Postwar Paris attracted great authors, artists, and bibliophiles. French publishing houses began catering to collectors of deluxe illustrated books. Some of these featured elaborate Art Deco leather bindings; others features special numbered editions, often inscribed by the author or illustrator, and frequently containing an extra suite of plates at the end of the text block.
One such example put on display for the French club was Albert Samain’s Hyalis: le petit faune aux yeux bleus [Hyalis: the little fawn with blue eyes], published in Paris in 1918.
As was typical of books of this era, the story drew on classical Greek mythology with characters ranging from satyrs and centaurs to sirens.
The work was illustrated with reproductions of engravings by Eugene Louis Charpentier (1811-1890) colored by illustrator Gustav Adolf Mossa (1883-1971).
The French club also had the chance to peruse several recent acquisitions that documented France’s overseas empire in the 1920s and 1930s. One of these was the 1926 Annuaire du syndicat des planteurs de caoutchouc de l’Indochine [Annual of the union of rubber tree planters of Indochina]. The beautiful cover illustration shows two Indochinese natives: one wearing a pith helmet as he taps a rubber tree; the other wearing a more traditional hat while driving a tractor.
The publication is well-illustrated with photogravures of French planters and native agricultural workers.
Professor Garcia and the French club members were particularly interested in a children’s book on the table: Au Temps où les bêtes parlaient breton: histoire en images et dessins amusants [In the days when animals spoke Breton: story in pictures and fun designs] by Benjamin Rabier; with a Breton adaptation. Published in Landerneau, Bretagne towards the end of the Second World War, the book used cartoons, comic strips, and pictorial wit and humor in its efforts to promote the language and traditions of a region intent on preserving its distinct cultural identity.