Cent contes drolatiques, Les; colligez ès abbaïes de Touraine, et mis en lumière par le sieur de Balzac pour l'esbattement des pantagruelistes et non aultres. Premier [Deuxiesme, and Troiziesme] Dixian.

First Edition of All Three Volumes of Balzac's Rabelaisian “Droll Stories,”
Uncut, in the Original Printed Wrappers—
“The Lustiest, Most Uproarious Tales Ever Told…An Orgy in the Writer's Playroom”

BALZAC, Honoré de. Les Cent contes drolatiques, colligez ès abbaïes de Touraine, et mis en lumière par le sieur de Balzac pour l'esbattement des pantagruelistes et non aultres. Premier [Second, and Troisiesme] Dixain. Paris: Charles Gosselin et Ed. Werdet, 1832, 1833, and 1837.

First edition of all three volumes of Balzac’s “Droll Stories.” Three octavo volumes (8 11/16 x 5 1/2 inches; 221 x 140 mm.). 396, [2, “Errata, Delenda, Adjuncta”], [2, “Table des Matières”]; 416 (pp. 413-414 being the “Errata, Delenda, Adjuncta” and pp. 415-416 being the “Table”); 369, [1, blank], [1, “Note”], [3, “Errata, Delenda, et Adjuncta”], [2, “Table”] pp. Title-pages printed in red and black.

Volumes I and II are uncut, in the original drab wrappers printed in black and reddish brown. Volume III is uncut, in the original yellow wrappers printed in black. The front wrapper of Volume III is dated 1838, as called for in Carteret. The spine of Volume I is darkened and expertly restored at extremities and the front wrapper has a small repaired tear (1 1/2 inches) to outer edge. The spine of Volume II is darkened and has been touched up at extremities and there are very small neat repairs (1/2 inch) to the outer edge of the front and rear wrapper. The spine of Volume III is very slightly darkened and just touched up a bit at top and bottom. There is no loss of lettering to wrappers. This is truly a remarkable set. Each volume is protected in a later glassine and a suede-lined quarter black morocco over marbled board chemise by Devauchelle, with the spines decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt. The three volumes are housed together in a matching marbled board slipcase with morocco tips.

Extremely scarce, not only because a large portion of the edition was destroyed by a fire in the rue du Pot-de-Fer in 1835 (it is thought that only 500 copies of the third volume survived), but because of the five year interval between the publication of the second and third volumes. Only one copy in the original printed wrappers has appeared at auction during the past thirty-five years—the Bradley Martin Copy, which sold at Sotheby’s Monaco, 16 October 1898, lot 537 (FF 15,000; $2,370) with “covers restored and washed.”

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) “produced a vast collection of novels and short stories collectively called La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy). He is generally considered to be the creator of realism in the novel and one of the greatest fiction writers of all time…From 1832 to 1835, Balzac produced more than 20 works, including the novels Le Médecin de campagne (1833; The Country Doctor), Eugénie Grandet (1833), L’Illustre Gaudissart (1833; The Illustrious Gaudissart), and Le Père Goriot (1835), one of his masterpieces. Between 1836 and 1839, he wrote Le Cabinet des antiques (1839); the first two parts of another masterpiece Illusions perdues (1837-43; Lost Illusions); César Birotteau (1837); and La Maison Nucingen (1838; The Firm of Nucingen). Between 1832 and 1837 he also published three sets of Rabelaisian Contes drolatiques (Droll Stories). In all these varied works Balzac emerged as the supreme observer and chronicler of contemporary French society. By 1834 he had developed his great plan to group his individual novels so that they would comprehend the whole of contemporary society in a diverse but unified series of books, and by 1840 he had hit upon a Dantesque title for the whole: La Comédie humaine, which eventually totaled roughly 90 novels and novellas. Balzac produced many notable works during the early and mid-1840s. These included the masterpieces Une Ténébreuse Affaire (1841; A Shady Business), La Rabouilleuse (1841-42; The Black Sheep), Ursule Mirouët (1841), and one of his greatest works, Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (1843-57; A Harlot High and Low). Balzac’s last two masterpieces were La Cousine Bette (1846; Cousin Bette) and Le Cousin Pons (1847; Cousin Pons)” (Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature).

“When, in March, 1832, the first volume of the now famous Contes Drolatiques was published by Gosselin of Paris, Balzac, in a short preface, written in the publisher's name, replied to those attacks which he anticipated certain critics would make upon his hardy experiment. He claimed for his book the protection of all those to whom literature was dear, because it was a work of art—and a work of art, in the highest sense of the word, it undoubtedly is. Like Boccaccio, Rabelais, the Queen of Navarre, Ariosto, and Verville, the great author of The Human Comedy has painted an epoch. In the fresh and wonderful language of the Merry Vicar Of Meudon, he has given us a marvellous picture of French life and manners in the sixteenth century. The gallant knights and merry dames of that eventful period of French history stand out in bold relief upon his canvas. The background in these life-like figures is, as it were, ‘sketched upon the spot.’ After reading the Contes Drolatiques, one could almost find one's way about the towns and villages of Touraine, unassisted by map or guide. Not only is this book a work of art from its historical information and topographical accuracy; its claims to that distinction rest upon a broader foundation. Written in the nineteenth century in imitation of the style of the sixteenth, it is a triumph of literary archaeology. It is a model of that which it professes to imitate; the production of a writer who, to accomplish it, must have been at once historian, linguist, philosopher, archaeologist, and anatomist, and each in no ordinary degree” (“Translator’s Preface” in the 1874 first English edition).

“One of the plans which haunted Balzac all his life was the series of Rabelaisian tales known as the Contes Drolatiques, allegedly 'collected in the monasteries of Touraine' for the delectation of Rabelais fans. Balzac liked to think of these tales, which are part original, part pastiche, as his chief claim on posterity, though this surprising estimate was really the result of a fear that they would be forgotten—as they have been, periodically. In a more objective mood, he called them 'arabesques' or graffiti, lovingly scrawled on the face of La Comédie Humaine. There were supposed to be 100 of them, but in the end only thirty were published, in three sets of ten. Only with Balzac could thirty tales be called a fragment. To English readers, they are known as the Droll Stories, sometimes found lurking on the shelves of second-hand bookshops, with large-breasted women on the cover: 'the lustiest, most uproarious tales ever told', says one, 'completely unabridged and unexpurgated' translation—a somewhat superfluous phrase in the circumstances since the mildest expurgation would leave a pamphlet too thin to be sold as a book. All the tales are written in Balzac's own medieval French, complete with archaic spellings and syntax, bursting into unintelligibility with those wonderful onomatopoeic words which the Académie Française had long since banished from the dictionary.

“The subjects, too, were a form of protest at the new bourgeois society which had no regard for the truly important aspects of human existence: necrophilia, nymphomania, adultery and the essential bodily functions. The Contes Drolatiques are an orgy in the writer's playroom; words dance about like musical notes in Fantasia. The first collection was published in what seemed bad taste during the cholera epidemic of spring 1832. Actually it was rather appropriate since Paris was temporarily plunged into the Dark Ages, with a curfew, corpses carried through the streets at midnight, and the rag-pickers revolting when their rubbish heaps were swept away.

“The opening tale had appeared in La Caricature in 1830 and reappeared the following year in the Revue de Paris. La Belle Impéria set the tone of the whole collection with the story of 'a cute little Tourangeau priest' and his evening with the famous courtesan Impéria, who specialized in bishops and cardinals. It had the desired effect: an aphrodisiac in a time of miserable chastity. The editor of the Revue de Paris, Louis Véron, wrote in alarm to warn Balzac that, 'in spite of the July Revolution, our subscribers are as prudish as ever, and to be perfectly honest, your writing is giving them erections…Try to do something chaste if you can, if only to show them how versatile you are.' The subscribers to La Caricature already had ample proof of Balzac's versatility. La Belle Impéria had been followed by a little anecdote called 'La Colique' which became Les Joyeulsetez du Ray Lays le Unziesme. Louis XI, we are told, liked to have his little joke. Some important Tourangeau bourgeois are invited to a feast where they stuff themselves 'like saveloys, from the gullet to the bung-hole of their bellies'. Unfortunately, the toilet is occupied by a life-size model of their host, and they are eventually obliged, after straining to contain themselves in the royal presence, to relieve themselves copiously in the main promenade of Tours. Balzac ends with the sort of message his father would have approved of and with a sense of civic responsibility: 'And since that day the bourgeois of Tours have never failed to defecate on the Mail du Chardonneret, in the knowledge that men of the Court had been there before them.'

“Swinburne was very fond of Balzac's scatological tales, and there is something appealing about his insistence on the theme of bowel evacuation. The Contes Drolatiques are a sign of the great unclogging of the writer's mind, the rediscovery of the literary heritage of his native Touraine, and his ability to extract a whole series of tales from one idea” (Graham Robb, Balzac: A Biography (New York: 1994), pp. 187-188).

The Contes drolatiques were added to the Index librorum prohibitorum (“Index of Forbidden Books” ) in 1841.

Carteret I, pp. 63-66. George, Books by Balzac, pp. 8-9. Item #00887

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