Ma petite ville ; Le miracle de Bretagne ; Un veuvage d'amour

Year: 1898

Author: Jean Lorrain (1855 - 1906)

Artist: Manuel Orazi (1860 - 1934)

Publisher: Société française d'éditions d'art

Jean Lorrain, Ma petite ville

The adventures of Jean Lorrain supplied the raw materials for a wide range of chronicles under many pseudonyms in various newspapers, the longest running (1895-1905) of which appeared in Le Journal. These columns were often unflinchingly harsh: the voyeur of the fin de siècle period had a sharp eye, a piercing pen and a malevolent attitude. He was easily annoyed, was prone to jealousy and tended towards caricature. The result was a colourful, often comical, sometimes shocking image of a decadent world in an exaggerated style. Lorrain brought to light that which Proust would later hold back. He was the best-paid journalist of Paris in 1896.

He was introduced to the journalistic milieu around 1873, when he met Judith Gautier, the writer Théophile Gautier's daughter. He was a hack and an ether addict. His articles caused a great deal of controversy. He insulted actresses who refused to act in his plays. Caricatures appeared of Lorrain as an effeminate athlete covered in jewellery. In 1897 Lorrain engaged in a duel with Marcel Proust, which wasn't his first duel. In 1886 he refused to engage in a duel with Guy de Maupassant, who thought he recognised himself in Lorrain's novel Très russe, and in 1887 he came face to face with journalist René Maizeroy. In 1888 he managed to escape from a duel with Paul Verlaine. The duel with Proust appears to have been stylized: both fired a bullet, but nobody was hurt, and their enmity evaporated instantly.

A decadent mother's child

Lorrain's best-known novels are Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897), Monsieur de Phocas (1901) and La maison Philibert (1904); as for his countless collections of stories, sketches and fairy tales, the votes are equally divided. This doesn't apply to his poems and plays: they didn't make it; his work for the theatre failed right away, due in part to Sarah Bernhardt, who enjoyed having Lorrain among her staff of writers, but who didn’t like his plays. This was a shock to Jean Lorrain, who worshipped her in spite of his distaste for women. Oddly enough, the people he truly cared about were all women: the genius Judith Gautier, chanteuse Yvette Guilbert (famous from the posters that Toulouse Lautrec made for her)- Lorrain wrote lyrics for her- the 'grande courtisane' Liane de Pougy, the young writer Colette, whom he promoted actively. But above all he loved his mother, the mirror image of the empress Eugénie; she followed him from Fécamp to Paris and ultimately to Nice, where he spent his final years, destroyed by the drinking of ether, but still relatively enjoyably.

This decadent tearaway originated in a highly sedate French village: Fécamp, where he was born as Paul Duval on 9 August 1855. But it was an age of eccentric behaviour: for example, the English poet Swinburne, who landed in the vicinity of Etretat around 1867, and who had the reputation of being a sadomasochistic opium addict who shared a house with a monkey (whom he ended up eating). It is uncertain whether this influenced the young Lorrain, but eccentric figures were sometimes awarded a place in his important novels, as with Bougrelon and Phocas.

Art nouveau

In Ma petite ville, Jean Lorrain described the little town where he spent his childhood. Fécamp is actually called Montforn in Bretagen (Brittany) in the novel. The book also contains two other- and longer- stories: Le miracle de Bretagne and Un veuvage d'amour. The edition of the book from 1898 is typical for French bibliophile book editions of that period. The jacket and the decorations may have been produced by the same hand, but their styles don't match exactly. Léon Rudnicki (the title page erroneously lists his name as Rudincki) created a jacket design in gold printed on white paper. It was supposed to create the impression of a deluxe vellum binding, printed in gold. The art nouveau patterns on the front cover, spine and rear cover are different, but each is based on floral patterns, applied in repeated symmetrical rows. The engravings on the other hand are more traditional: opening and closing vignettes and illustrated initials with viewing holes to the village with a windmill, bridge or other buildings, decorated with floral borders.

The publisher, the Société française d'éditions d'art, also published reference books in the fields of archaeology and art history. This book is one of their more bibliophile productions, appearing in an edition of 300 copies. The light, erotic style of painter, draughtsman and illustrator Manuel Orazi is an excellent match for this anecdotal work by Lorrain. Orazi was born in Rome in 1860, and died in Paris in 1934. He worked for many magazines, but also illustrated novels, such as Aphrodite by Pierre Louÿs (1912) and Les fleurs du mal by Baudelaire (1934). The precise and sensitive aquarelles were adapted for reproduction (steel engraving) by Frédéric Massé, printed by Taneur and subsequently hand-coloured by Saudé. The colophon notes that the book was finished on 20 October 1897. The title page and the jacket however identify its year of publication as 1898.

Colophon of Ma petite ville

Bibliographical description

Description: Ma petite ville ; Le miracle de Bretagne ; Un veuvage d’amour / Jean Lorrain ; ill. à l'aquarelle de Manuel Orazi, grav. à l'eau-forte par Frédéric Massé et impr. sur coul. ; vignettes décoratives de Léon Rudincki [i.e. Rudnicki]. - Paris : Société française d'éditions d'art, 1898. - [49] p. : ill. ; 25 cm

Printer: Édouard Crété (Corbeil), Taneur, Jean Saudé

Edition: 300 copies

This copy: Number 97 of 250 on Rives

Bibliography: Carteret V-124

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 463


  • Ghislain de Diesbach, Proust. Paris, Perrin, 1991
  • Pierre Léon Gaulthier, Jean Lorrain: La vie, l’oeuvre et l’art d’un pessimiste à la fin du XIXe siècle. Paris, Lesot, 1935
  • Hélène Huet, Mapping Decadence [online source]
  • Philippe Jullian, Jean Lorrain ou Le satyricon 1900. Paris, Fayard, 1974
  • Jean Lorrain, Verhalen van een etherdrinker. Antwerpen, Exa, 1986