Dolorine et les ombres

Year: 1911

Author: Jean de Bosschère (1878 - 1953)

Artist: Jean de Bosschère (1878 - 1953)

Publisher: Bibliothèque de l'Occident

Dolorine et les ombres, cover

The central theme of Dolorine et les ombres (1911) is the contradiction between dreams and life, and between divine and worldly love. They are incompatible in this poetic book by Jean de Bosschère (later spelled De Boschère). The old alchemist Palamoune - Dolorine's father - tries to imitate the universe using colours. He strives for higher things and seeks purity. His student - and son-in-law - Tristan Terne-Soron shares the old man's ideals. The world, life and love hurt him, and he ultimately opts for dreams. Dolorine, who values life, must suffer for her father and husband's impossible quest. When Palamoune and Tristan attempt to return to reality, it emerges that they are unable to go back to their previous spot, and they remain phantoms. Dolorine gives birth to a freak, symbolising the failed union between life and dreams. Ultimately, Palamoune dies and Tristan - completely disillusioned - commits suicide.


The author of this book, Jean de Bosschère, born in the Belgian town of Ukkel, wrote in a letter to his friend André Suarès that he identified with the tragic Tristan. He too felt lonely and suffered from life. He too strived for purity, for a metaphysical reality. Biographer Monique Fol did indeed remark that many of De Bosschère's texts could be taken as a quest to find his inner self. In any case, this 'prose poem' - the story is repeatedly interrupted by poetry that seems to exist separately from the story - is clearly a poetical manifesto, in which De Bosschère bids farewell to symbolism. This art movement, with which he came into contact through friends like Paul Valéry, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, ultimately disappointed him.

Binding by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek: upper and lower cover

De Bosschère was not only a writer, he also worked as a graphic artist and then mostly as a book illustrator. He illustrated works by the likes of Oscar Wilde and Antonin Artaud. From 1905 onwards he also regularly produced engravings for his own books, such as Édifices anciens (1908), Twelve occupations (1916) and Job le pauvre (1923). He also illustrated Dolorine et les ombres himself. He worked in the 'art nouveau' style, also known as 'Jugendstil' or 'modern style'. The latter term is probably the most appropriate, as De Bosschère's style is most similar to the work of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898). De Bosschère drew lots of waving, ornamental shapes and stylised plants, like Beardsley, and he made clever use of the black-and-white division of the page. The drawings, printed in black ochre in Dolorine et les ombres, testify to De Bosschère's interest in the occult and the obscure.


Thanks to the fact that the writer and artist are the same person, the illustrations to the story match the text perfectly - there is even a textual quote below most drawings. The deliberateness of De Bosschère's methods is also evident from the long preface in which he elaborates on the interplay of words and images. But the unity that emanates from the book is also due to the book's publisher and printer. Inspired by William Morris and his famous Kelmscott Press, De Bosschère and printer Paul Buschmann strove for a perfect external form for the book, which was published by the Bibliothèque de L'Occident. This publisher was specialised in exceptional works and was related to the magazine L'Occident - which Gide considered a precursor of the Nouvelle Revue Française. The publisher strove for a harmony of text and illustrations, and also published sober typographical works such as Cinq grandes odes (1910) by Paul Claudel. The publisher's special attention to paper and typography suited the fashion of the 'Book Beautiful', which the Kelmscott Press had popularised. The absence of advertising in the book also matched this, although the publisher did not pass up the opportunity to promote some of De Bosschère's other books. The editions of these beautiful publications were usually no larger than 300 copies; the costs were often paid by the authors themselves. Famous writers who had their work published by L'Occident, which was founded by André Mithouard and Albert Chapon, included for instance André Gide, Maurice Barrès and Francis Jammes.

The printer wasno stranger to the (Belgian) circle of bibliophiles; the work was printed by the Antwerp-based printer J.-E. Buschmann, the 'house printer' of the Antwerp Société des bibliophiles. By 1911 the printing business was being led by his son Paul, who also took care of the typesetting: the story's dark atmosphere is heightened by the use of the uncial letter in which the text was set. The Antwerp-based artist René Leclercq (1880-1944) provided Dolorine et les ombres with a portrait of Jean de Bosschère. The copy in the Koopman Collection is number 237 of the 250 copies printed on English paper. An ochre-coloured marble pattern was used for the binding. On the binding, as in the book, De Bosschère’s name is still spelled 'De Bosschère', following his name’s official spelling. From 1944 onwards, the artist/author however spelled his name with one 's', and later critics of art and literature have copied this spelling.

Bibliographical description

Description: Dolorine et les ombres / Jean de Bosschère ; avec un portr. par René Leclercq, - Paris : Bibliothèque de l'Occident, 1911. - [213] p. : ill., 26 cm

Printer: Buschmann, Paul

Edition: 300 copies

This copy: Number 237 of 250 on Anglais

Bookbinder: M. Spaans (Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

Bibliography: Bénézit 2-597

Shelfmark: Koopm A 871


  • Christian Berg, Jean de Boschère ou le mouvement de l’attente: étude biographique et critique. Bruxelles, Palais des académies, 1978
  • G.-Jos. Buschmann, Une officine anversoise. Anvers, Buschmann, 1924
  • Monique Mol, Jean de Boschere ou le chemin du retour. New York, Lang, 1987
  • Wolfgang Sachsenröder, Adrien Mithouard und seine theorie des "occident": Zum Traditionalismus in der französischen Literatur vor dem ersten Weltkrieg. Bonn, Romanisches Seminar der Universität, 1973
  • Jean Warmoes, Jean de Boschère: le centenaire de sa naissance. Bruxelles, Archives et Musée de la Litterature, 1978