Le voyage d'Urien

Year: 1928

Author: André Gide (1869 - 1951)

Artist: Alfred Latour (1888 - 1964)

Publisher: The Halcyon Press

Cover of Le voyage d'Urien.

In December 1926, André Gide received a request from a Dutch publisher under the patronage of the author Larbaud to allow publication of one of his texts. Larbaud's intervention was redundant, according to Gide, who wrote to the publisher right away to let him know that he knew and appreciated his publications. A.A.M. Stols (1900-1973) was indeed hardly a stranger to French literary life: he had published five texts by Valery Larbaud in 1926 alone, and as many as ten by Paul Valéry, all editions that appeared with outstanding typography, some of which feature innovative and perfectly printed illustrations. But the French publishers were not keen on this new form of competition, telling authors that Stols either produced books that were too expensive (Larbaud), or that he worked below market price (Gide). But André Gide was undeterred, although he did reserve his first editions for French publishers. Stols had to make do with reprints, for which he paid Gide handsomely. The first book in this short series was Le voyage d'Urien, originally published in 1893 with illustrations by Maurice Denis (now a highly valued achievement). Stols commissioned Alfred Latour for the illustrations in his new edition. Besides Le voyage d'Urien, Stols also published Gide's La symphonie pastorale and printed an edition of Paludes for the NRF in 1930, of which he also published a clandestine Dutch edition in 1943: Moer, masterfully translated by poet Martinus Nijhoff.

Legacy from his childhood

Gide had developed from a relatively esoteric young Symbolist into a highly original, typically French writer and thinker of international stature. He made his major leap forward, away from the suffocation of imposed morality and literary style, in the winter of 1893/1894 with Les nourritures terrestres (1897), an extravagant appeal for experiencing earthly pleasures based on personal ethical views, which wouldn't have an impact until twenty years later. L'immoraliste (1902) elaborates more closely on these thoughts in narrative form, while simultaneously criticizing them: there is always a battle in Gide's work between unbridled individualism and a strong Protestant mysticism, which was a legacy from his childhood. Novellas like La porte étroite (1909) and La symphonie pastorale (1919) are examples of this, and also of the classical style that he would later continue to use with complete conviction. Les caves du vatican (1914), a hilarious anti-clerical history that would cost Gide his relationship with his Catholic friends, is considered a technical study for his great innovative novel Les faux-monnayeurs (1925). For that reason alone, contemporary literary critics call Gide the textbook example of modernism. One of the most beloved 'modernist' techniques is the insertion of diary fragments. Gide also kept a diary throughout his life, which some consider his masterpiece. It provides a pictureof its age and testifies to a life that was filled to overflowing.

In Le voyage d'Urien, the main character Urien's voyage is described, but it is also a pun on Le voyage du rien: 'the meaningless voyage' or 'the voyage to nowhere'. The ending reads: we haven't made that voyage, it was only a dream, we were reading a book. The voyage of Urien and his twenty friends carries them among enchanted islands where beautiful women seduce a number of them, who subsequently die of a contagious disease. Twelve of them survive, sailing across a sea that is covered in seaweed, where Urien meets his sister Ellis. She is reading Kant and Leibnitz, but he throws her books away because they are seductresses in disguise. Ellis pales and vapourizes. Seven friends remain for the third and final chapter, which takes place on a sea of ice. After the physical infections of the 'Océan pathétique' and the spiritual death of the 'Mer des Sargasses', they subsequently find themselves in the land of Eskimo zombies, where scurvy rules. An elixir of life heals them of this and the real Ellis predicts that all voyages lead to God, but the ending is a disappointment to them. They chip away the ice from the grave of a man who holds a note in his hand. This proves to be a blank piece of paper.

Art of abbreviation

Alfred Latour, painter in watercolours, landscape artist, engraver and illustrator, learned his trade from Auguste Lepère and Carlègle (C.E. Egli). He was the co-founder of the Association du livre d'art français, and exhibited his work regularly in broad circles. He originally painted Impressionist tableaux. From 1940 onwards, he focused mainly on typography and decorations (woodcuts), bookbindings, posters and advertisements. Innumerable illustrated works (from 1922), bookplates, and printed fabrics for the haute couture were the result. He ultimately opted for abstract painting. The Koopman Collection includes books with simple woodcut decorations for Émile Chamontin's publisher Le Livre, for instance Jacques de Lacretelle's Dix jours en Ermenonville (1926). Some of those vignettes play with typographical and calligraphic elements. The woodcuts created for Blaise Cendrars' Comment les blancs sont d'anciens noirs, published by Au Sans pareil in 1930, were much more sophisticated. These illustrations were printed in two colours. Latour's decorations for Le voyage d'Urien were initially unable to please the author, who was so fond of 'typographie pure', until his friends managed to convert him. They admired the tight design and the use of colour. The woodcuts were printed in two stages: first in black, and subsequently in red or blue. The borders were also divided into two parts, one corner of which was printed in black, and the other in colour. The vignettes feature a highly sophisticated design, and their presentation is abstract with suggestive figures, like ships, clouds, waves, and mountains. By way of advertising for this edition, two proof sheets were added as glued-in appendices in the magazine Arts et métiers graphiques. The accompanying article praises his calm working method, his 'art of abbreviation' and his use of colour. Latour also designed the publisher's emblem for Halcyon Press for this edition. The colourful edition of Le voyage d'Urien was held out to other- more frugal- publishers as a shining example.

Bibliographical description

Description: Le voyage d'Urien / par André Gide ; [orné de grav. sur bois par et de lettrines Alfred Latour dess. par Alphonse Stols]. - Maestricht : Halcyon Press, 1928. - [94] p. : ill. ; 25 cm

1st edition: 1893

Printer: Boosten & Stols (Maastricht)

Edition: 330 copies

This copy: Number 191 of 300 on Hollands Pannekoek

Typeface: Lutetia

Bookbinder: Schrijen (Sittard)

Bibliography: Bénézit 8-312 ; Carteret V-90 ; In liefde verzameld 125 ; Mahé II-217 ; Monod 5371

Shelfmark: KW Koopm B 769


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