Mes amis

Year: 1927

Author: Emmanuel Bove (1898 - 1945)

Artist: André Dignimont (1891 - 1965)

Publisher: Émile-Paul frères

Mes amis, dust jacket

Emmanuel Bove, born in Paris as Emmanuel Bobovnikoff, died in his native city on Friday 13 July 1945, the night on which all of France prepared for the large-scale celebration of the first 'quatorze juillet' since World War II. He would probably have taken no part in the festivities. Bove was known as a man of few words, a shy and discreet observer. His novels and novellas were populated by awkward figures, 'losers' who were always penniless. In their banal environments, they were resigned to their hopeless fate. Bove's airy style and the humorous observations made sure that his distressing tales were modernist besides being depressing: not the style, but the themes matched the post-war atmosphere precisely.

Victor Bâton is a war invalid, living on a minimum remittance and residing in a miserable hotel room in Paris, from where he was ultimately evicted: in short, the prototype for the characters in Bove's novels. He spends as much of the day as possible on the streets, where he wanders aimlessly, full of desire of friendship, or better yet: a mistress 'to whom I can confide my grief'. He tells his own tale in Mes amis, which was published in 1924.

Early vocation

The author, Bove, was only 25 years old. The story had several points of connection with his own life. As the son of a (Jewish) Russian immigrant and a chambermaid from Luxembourg, he knows social poverty from his own experience. Bove's young life was set in a constant alternation of bitter poverty and reasonable welfare, in Paris, Switzerland and England, in an atmosphere of inability, aimlessness, solitude and failure.

Emmanuel Bove already knew that he wanted to become a writer when he was fourteen. Besides holding countless jobs, he was already writing detective stories and pulp novels under various pseudonyms, which he produced at a rapid pace without much trouble (in the time when Georges Simenon also began to write). Bove was hired as a journalist for a new newspaper in 1923: Le quotidien. Before that, he wrote the column 'faits divers' devotedly, while he acquired inspiration for his own novels from his work as a crime reporter. Bove's writing was 'discovered' by Colette, an editor for the daily newspaper Le matin. His debut novel Mes amis was printed upon her instigation in the Colette Collections, which she had established at publishing house Ferenczi. The book was an immediate success. 'This is a delicious, moving, funny, original book', wrote the delighted Sacha Guitry, a famous author and director whom one would sooner expect to find in the salons of the wealthy than among the readers of a book like Mes amis. Guitry's positive criticism in the popular right-wing magazine Candide helped to launch this book successfully.

Illustrated edition

After this success, other books and articles followed at an unusually rapid pace. But Bove wasn't very loyal to his publishers. For his second book Armand, which was even dedicated to Colette, he changed over to the Émile-Paul brothers, well known as the publishers of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. He had his third book Un soir chez Blutel published by Lucien Kra. But the Émile-Paul brothers were good sports about it. In 1927 they published a beautiful edition of Mes amis, featuring atmospheric and fitting illustrations in typical Parisian style: vivacious men, racy women, and the enjoyable life in cafés and streets were drawn quickly, expertly and humorously. Dignimont was well educated at the Académie Julian. He exhibited his paintings regularly in the famous salons. He also produced designs for the Parisian Opéra and the Comédie Française. Bove knew the artist personally, and was quite fond of him. For Mes amis, Dignimont produced twelve large etchings and two small ones. The copy in the Koopman Collection, one of the 25 copies printed on Japanese paper, includes extra prints of the etchings, along with an original drawing of Dignimont's, which was not produced for this book. The brown leather binding was designed by worker in precious metals and bookbinder Perre J.M. Thielen (born in 1937 in Maastricht).

It remains a mystery how Emmanuel Bove, an author who was compared to Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and even Proust, and who was admired intensely by Rainer Maria Rilke, Max Jacob, Philippe Soupault, André Gide and Samuel Beckett, could have been consigned to deepest oblivion immediately following his death. Not until the 1970s did a new 'Bove tree' come into existence, started in Belgium by the Cobra artist Christiaan Dotremont and a few others such as Michel Butor and Pierre Alechinsky. Bove, as they knew, had influenced many authors who came after him. But his books were no longer to be found anywhere. 'Let us bombard the bookstores, let us bombard the publishers. Long live Emmanuel Bove!', wrote Dotremont in a manifesto. That manifesto had the form of easily distributed visiting cards, with the intention of rescuing the writer from oblivion. This campaign was not without result: Bove's books are once again readily available, and his biography has even been translated into Dutch.

Mes amis, colophon

Bibliographical description

Description: Mes amis / Emmanuel Bove ; grav. de Dignimont. - Paris : Émile-Paul frères, 1927. - [205] p., 13 bl. : ill. ; 28 cm

1st edition: 1924

Printer: Coulouma (Argenteuil) (tekst) La Roseraie (Parijs) (etsen)

Edition: 225 copies

This copy: Number 12 of 25 on Imperial Japanese paper, with two extra sets of the etchings and with an original drawing by the artist

Bookbinder: Pierre J.M. Thielen

Note: With autograph dedication by the author

Bibliography: Carteret IV-79 ; Mahé I-346 ; In liefde verzameld 228 ; Monod 1832

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 546


  • Raymond Cousse, Jean-Luc Bitton, Emmanuel Bove, la vie comme une ombre: Biographie. Bordeau, Le Castor Astral, 1994
  • David Nahmias, Emmanuel Bove: Carnet d'une fugue. Bègles, Le Castor Astral, 1998
  • Jan Storm van Leeuwen, 75 jaar boekbindkunst in Nederland. Amsterdam, Organisatie van Fabrikanten van Grafische Eindprodukten, 1984
  • Gilles Vidal, Tombeau d’Emmanuel Bove. Paris, L'Incertain, 1993