Octave Uzanne

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Octave Uzanne
Photography by Nadar (c. 1890)
Born Louis Octave Uzanne
(1851-09-14)14 September 1851
Auxerre, France
Died 31 October 1931(1931-10-31) (aged 80)
Saint-Cloud, France
Occupation Writer, journalist, publisher
Nationality French
Period 19th century


Octave Uzanne (born Louis Octave Uzanne;[1] 14 September 1851[note 1] – 31 October 1931)[2] was a 19th-century French bibliophile, writer, publisher and journalist.[3]

He noted for his literature researchs about the authors of the Eighteenth Century. Published unpublished works, based on biobibliographics records on many authors, like Paradis Moncrif and Benserade, Caylus and Besenval, the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire.[4] He founded the Société des Bibliophiles Contemporaines, of which he was president.[5] His research took the form of considerable literary output and ongoing cooperation in newspapers like L'Echo,[6] Le Plume,[7] Dépêche de Toulouse,[7] Le Mercure de France,[8] Le Gaulois[9] and Le Figaro of Paris.[10] Another of his topics was the discussion of fashion and femininity in the French fin-de-siècle,[11] in monographs and works as Son Altesse la femme, Féminies and La Française du siècle.[12][13] His personal works include novels and fantasy books, as Surprises du Caur (1882) and Contes pour les bibliophiles (1895).[14]


Uzanne in 1875, by age 24.

He was born Louis Octave Uzanne in Auxerre, of a bourgeois family originating of Savoy. His parents were Charles-Auguste Omer Uzanne, a merchant, an Elisabeth Laurence Octavie;[1] his elder brother Joseph, had been born the previous year.[7] He came to Paris after his father's death. Although his classical studies began in his hometown, after his move to Collège Rollin in Paris —a residential school for the children of the French upper-class—,[15][note 2] then during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 was attached to a school at Richmond in England.[7] Continuing with law studies, he abandoned this line of work when he came into an inheritance in 1872.[16]

Bibliophile and journalist[edit]

He became a regular visitor of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, where he formed part of a group of followers of the former librarian Charles Nodier, together with journalist Charles Monselet, writer Loredan Larchey, and author and bibliophile Paul Lacroix.[17] He also joined the Société des Amis des Livres, the first French bibliophilic association since the era of Bibliophiles François.[18]

At the start of his career, Uzanne focused on the lesser-known writers of the 18th century, with 4 volumes of work published by Jouast, and an additional 20+ volumes published by Albert Quantin.[19] He was an admirer of the Goncourt brothers, who also wrote on 18th-century France.[19] While looking backwards for his subjects, he was very up-to-date for the technical side of the printing and publishing. His 1879 work Le bric-à-brac de l'amour was one of the first to employ the gillotage, a zincography technique, and photomechanical reproduction.[20]

Portrait of Uzanne by Félix Vallotton, 1892

After leaving the Société des Amis des Livres, which he deemed as too conservative and too concerned with the re-edition of older works, he started two new bibliographic societies, the Societé des Bibliophiles Contemporaines (1889–1894) and the Societé des Bibliophiles Indépendants (1896–1901).[14] The first one consisted of 160 people, including writers Jules Claretie and Jean Richepin, artists Albert Robida and Paul Avril, and journalist and critic Francisque Sarcey.[21] Uzanne also edited two magazines, Conseiller du bibliophile (1876–1877) and Les Miscellanées Bibliographiques (1878–1880),[14] and then ran three consecutive bibliophilic revues:[22] Le Livre: Bibliographie Moderne (1880–1889), Le Livre Moderne: Revue du Monde Littéraire et des Bibliophiles Contemporaines (1890–1891), and L'Art et l'Idée: Revue Contemporaine du Dilettantisme Littéraire et de la Curiosité (1892–1893).[23][24] In the early 1890s, he was considered to be "[...] the best authority that book lovers know on subjects specially interesting to book lovers".[25] Nevertheless, such books as Le Miroir du Monde or L'ombrelle – le gant – le manchon had negative reviews on some newspapers by Avril's illustrations.[26]

In contrast to the common bibliophiles of his time, he was most interested in the creation of new, luxurious bibliophile works,[note 3] collaborating closely with printers, binders, typographers and artists (especially the Symbolists and early Art Nouveau artists).[27][note 4] Amongst them were painters as James McNeill Whistler[28] and Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly —who wrote the preface of Le Bric-à-Brac de l'amour (1879)—,[29][30][note 5] the writer Jean Lorrain, and jewelry artists and Japonisme such as Henri Vever.[31] One of the main artists collaborating with Uzanne was the Belgian Félicien Rops, who illustrated some of his books and created the cover illustration for Le Livre Moderne, and who called Octave Uzanne "the Bibliophile's dream".[32] The overall quality of Uzanne's books was remarked upon by the New York Times when reviewing his 1894 work La Femme à Paris: "The book is a highly-artistic achievement in a typographical sense[...] This artistic element and the style of the author [...] elevate the work from its sphere of usefulness into the sphere of pure literature. It will be serviceable a century from now to students of our civilization."[33] Other symbolic works of art were Féminies (1896), in which Rops illustrated many scenes of worldly life, or Son Altesse la femme (1885), on which he drew a naked witch in the chapter on medieval women. In the work he explored the lives of women at all levels of French society of his time. But also, according to Silverman, Uzanne associate feminism with a dangerous debauchery of sexual and moral investment, making full use a series of medical and philosophical sources, with the intention of proving the inability of women to merge onto public life and the labor market, because of their temperament.[34] Uzanne further indicated that the female figure and ornaments were essential in the French decorative arts, something that was missing in the early Twentieth Century.[34]

The Uzanne's bibliophile activity in the early 1880s coincided with the gradual abandonment of manual methods of printing illustrations to photomechanized methods.[35] His collection of contemporary bibliophilic books was sold in 1894 by Hôtel Drouot.[36] It contained some of the finest examples of late 19th-century French bookbinding,[5] by binders like Charles Meunier, Lucien Magnin, Pétrus Ruban, Camille Martin, René Wiener and Victor Prouvé.[37]

Portrait of 1906 by Ramon Casas i Carbó from the Spanish magazine Forma

Uzanne was also well known in the literary circles of his day, as attested by this poem of Stéphane Mallarmé in Vers de circonstance (1920):

Non comme pour étinceler
Aux immortels dos de basane
Tard avec mon laisser-aller
je vous salue, Octave Uzanne

(Not as if to sparkle with mirth
at the immortal sheepskin spines
late with my usual sloppiness
I greet you, Octave Uzanne)

Stéphane Mallarmé (Zwerling Sugano 1992, p. 246)

As a journalist, sometimes employing the pseudonym "la Cagoule",[38] Uzanne wrote for L'Écho de Paris and other newspapers,[39] Also also collaborated with Edouard Drumont on his antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole: in his article he described to Drumont as the "creator of one of the greatest intellectual movements in France".[40][note 6] In addition, for other French and foreign magazines like The Studio,[41][note 7] Magazine of Art,[14] and Scribner's Magazine, for which he wrote in 1894 an article about The End of Books[42] which he thought would come because of the upcoming phonography,[43] predicting the rise of radio and television.[44] Uzanne was fascinated by modern technology and the possibilities it offered for the reproduction and dissemination of words, sounds, and images, which wasn't only evidenced in that article or in his groundbreaking work in book publishing, but also in an article he wrote in 1893 for the French newspaper Le Figaro, about a visit he made to United States President Grover Cleveland and the inventor Thomas Edison in the EXPO Chicago 1893,[7] where he witnessed the Kinetograph shortly before it went public.[10]

As an art critic, Uzanne made several reviews on etchings, as in a critique of French painter and illustrator Félix Buhot: "Buhot is a visionary, one obsessed by the picturesqueness of modern life ; nervous to excess, tortured by a crowd of fleeting impressions and queer ideas, he suffered from a cruel inability to reproduce them as he wished."[45] The Uzanne's written style was characterized by the use of Anglicisms and eccentric neologisms.[46]

Fashion writer[edit]

"Among the jewels of female ornamentation, the fan is the priority because, in the land of grace and spirit, still shines in the front row."

Hiner 2011, p. 145 (cf. Octave Uzanne, L'Éventail, 1882, p. 6)
Cover of L'éventail, 1882 book by Uzanne with art by Paul Avril.

Another interest of Uzanne was female fashion, about which he wrote a number of books and articles, which were also translated in English, and more specifically the image of the Parisienne, the women of Paris.[47] Uzanne could be perceived in a desire to revive the French national pride, he shared the other members of the generation who had lived in youths defeat against Prussia in 1870, and that was reflected in their efforts to promote a renewal of the decorative arts.[48] Silverman mentions that Uzanne believed that married bourgeois women should not only decorate the walls of their homes, but also "cultivate luxury and art in an ornament ignored by their aristocratic predecessors: their undergarments".[49][note 9] Uzanne felt that eroticism of theatrical atmosphere was no longer the old and that this had become "more moral, more bourgeois".[50] His first and perhaps most famous book on fashion was L'Éventail (1882, translated as The Fan in 1884), a delightful illustrated story about the hand fans.[51] He admitted that his book "in no way a work of powerful wisdom and erudition", but simply the first in a projected series of "little books for the boudoir".[52]

His 1898 work Monument esthématique du XIXe siècle: Les Modes de Paris, translated as Fashions in Paris, was according to the review in the New York Times "[...]the most complete and exhaustive work on the subject of French fashions that has yet appeared".[53]

He died at Saint-Cloud on 31 October 1931.[7]


  • 1875–1878: Poètes de ruelles au XVIIe siècle, 4 volumes edited by Uzanne, printed by Damase Jouast: followed by Les Petits Conteurs du XVIIIe siècle', 12 volumes edited by Uzanne, and Documents sur les Moeurs du XVIIIè siècle, 4 volumes edited by Uzanne
  • 1878: Les Caprices d'un bibliophile, published by Edouard Rouveyre
  • 1879: Le bric-à-brac de l'amour, illustrated by Adolphe Lalauze, with a foreword by Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, published by Edouard Rouveyre
  • 1880: Le Calendrier de Vénus
  • 1881: Les Surprises du coeur, illustrated by Paul Avril, published by Edouard Rouveyre
  • 1882: L'éventail: illustrated by Paul Avril, published by Quantin; published in English as The Fan by John C. Nimmo in 1884
  • 1882: Les Surprises du Coeur
  • 1883: L'Ombrelle – Le Gant – Le Manchon, illustrated by Paul Avril, published by Quantin; published in English as The sunshade, muff, and glove by John C. Nimmo in London in 1883
  • 1885: Son Altesse la Femme, published in Paris
  • 1886: La Française du siècle: modes, moeurs, usages, illustrated by Albert Lynch, published by Quantin, republished in 1893: published in English as The Frenchwoman of the Century, John C. Nimmo, London; also published by Routledge in 1887
  • 1886: Nos amis les livres. Causeries sur la littérature curieuse et la librairie, published by Quantin
  • 1887: La Reliure moderne artistique et fantaisiste
  • 1888: Les Zigzags d'un curieux. Causeries sur l'art des livres et la littérature d'art, published by Quantin
Title page of The Mirror of the World
  • 1888: Le Miroir du Monde: notes et sensations de la vie pittoresque, illustrated by Paul Avril, published by Quantin : published as The Mirror of the World by John C. Nimmo in 1889
  • 1890: Le Paroissien du Célibataire
  • 1892: la Femme et la mode
  • 1892: Les ornements de la femme: combined edition of L'éventail and L'ombrelle – le gant – le manchon, published in Paris by Quantin
  • 1893: Vingt jours dans le Nouveau Monde, published by May et Motteroz
  • 1893: Bouquinistes et bouqineurs: physiologie des quais de Paris, du Pont-Royal au Pont Sully, published by may et Motteroz; translated as The Bookhunter in Paris, Elliot Stock, 1895
  • 1894: La Femme à Paris – nos contemporaines, illustrated by Pierre Vidal, cover art by Léon Rudnicki, published by Quantin; published in English in 1894 by Heinemann
  • 1895: Contes pour les bibliophiles, co-authored with Albert Robida, typography by George Auriol
  • 1896: Badauderies parisiennes, Les rassemblements, Physiologies de la rue, illustrated by Félix Vallotton, preface by Uzanne, published by Uzanne
  • 1896: Dictionnaire bibliosophique, typologique, iconophilesque, bibliopégique et bibliotechnique a l'usage des bibliognostes, des bibliomanes et des bibliophlistins, published by Uzanne
  • 1896: Contes de la Vingtième Année. Anthology of Bric à Brac de l'Amour, Calendrier de Vénus, and Surprises du Cæur, published by Floury.
  • 1897: La Nouvelle Bibliopolis: voyage d'un novateur au pays des néo-icono-bibliomanes, illustrated by Félicien Rops, published by Floury
  • 1898: L'Art dans la décoration extérieure des livres en France et à l'etranger. Les Couvertures illustrées, les Cartonnages d'Editeurs, la Reliure d'Art, binding by Louis Guingot
  • 1898: Monument esthématique du XIXe siècle: Les Modes de Paris, variations du goût et de l'esthétique de la femme, 1797–1897, illustrated by François Courboin, published by L.-H. May; translated in English as Fashion in Paris by Lady Mary Lloyd, published by Heinemann, London in 1898: republished in 1901 in a cheaper edition
  • 1900: L'art et les artifices de beauté (5th edition in 1902)
  • 1904: The French bookbinders of the eighteenth century, Chicago, Caxton Club, translated by Mabel McIlvaine.
  • 1908: Drawings by Watteau, London, George Newnes
  • 1910: Etudes de sociologie féminine: Parisiennes de ce temps et leurs divers milieux, états et conditions, published by Mercure de France; published in English in 1912 as The Modern Parisienne by Heinemann, London and by G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York; published in German as Die Pariserin. Studien zur Geschichte der Frau der Gesellschaft der Französischen Galanterie und der Zeitgenössischen Sitten. in 1929 by Paul Aretz, Dresden.
  • 1911: Sottisier des moeurs, published by Emile Paul
  • 1912: La Locomotion à travers le temps, les moeurs et l'espace
  • 1914: Instantanés d'Angleterre, published by Payot

Uzanne also contributed notes, forewords or commentary to a number of other books.



  1. ^ The birth certificate indicates he was born on 14 September 1851, and inscribed two days later at the civil registry of Auxerre:

    L’An mil-huit-cent-cinquante-un, le seize septembre à deux heures du soir [...] est comparu Charles-Auguste Omer Uzanne [...] lequel nous a déclaré que le quatorze de ce mois à six heures du soir est né en cette ville de lui et Laurence Octavie Chaulmet [...] un enfant du sexe masculin qu’il a présenté et auquel il a donné les prénoms de Louis Octave.[1]

    Other sources such as the American novelist Charles Dudley Warner,[22] the Dictionnaire national des contemporains (1914),[14] the obituary of the newspaper Le Temps[54] and an article in the Bulletin de la société J.-K. Huysmans (1932),[55] claim, without providing reference, born in 1852.

  2. ^ In Paris he became interested in the evolution and history of manuscripts and books.[14]
  3. ^ Jackson points out that Uzanne, in Les Zigzags d'un curieux, divided the book collectors in two groups: those who are interested in the book as if it were a kind of stock market share (valeur de Bourse), a market quotation whose fluctuations "they follow with a gamester's interest", and those —whom he considers "pures"— attracted to the book itself, its contents, rarity or beauty.[56]
  4. ^ In Caprice d'un Bibliophile (1878) firmly defended the use of symbolism in the book collector.[57]
  5. ^ Uzanne considered to Barbey his master (maître) of dandyism and iconoclasm.[58]
  6. ^ In general, Silverman assigned to him "anti-Semitic tendencies"[40] and the Bibliothèque nationale de France credited with the authorship of the anti-Semitic pamphlet Israël chez John Bull : l'Angleterre juive (1913), through pseudonym "Théo-Doedalus".[59] The journalist Gustave Geffroy, in the prologue of Pietro Longhi (1924) by de Uzanne, also listed this work among other works of Uzanne.[60]
  7. ^ In his review in The Studio, British magazine specializing in decorative arts,[61] Uzanne remarks: "[only] decorative style... can give full, trustworthly and constant testimony to an epoch, a race, and a country; that is the reason why we attach so much importace to it".[62]
  8. ^ Uzanne not consider women to be bibliophile like him:[63] "[...] I do not think there deep and intimate sympathy between the woman and the book."[64]
  9. ^ Some historians have suggested that the philanthropy of the Nineteenth Century was the precursor of consumption, at this time the woman would have projected from the domestic sphere to the modern world through philanthropic activities and related consumption. Uzanne himself noted in La Femme à Paris how to shop at department stores was one of the few social activities bourgeois woman then, apart from acts of charity and family life.[65]


  1. ^ a b c "2 E 24/ 124 : Auxerre : NMD (1851) - 5 Mi 125/4 - 1851". Registre d'état civil de la ville d'Auxerre (in French). Auxerre: Archives départamentales de l'Yonne. p. 69. Retrieved 19 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Juhel 2004, p. 330, 350.
  3. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 239; Warner 1897, p. 540.
  4. ^ Curinier 1914, pp. 66-67; Silverman 2004, p. 243.
  5. ^ a b "BOOK HUNTING ON THE QUAYS.; BOUQUINEURS ET BOUQUINISTES. Physiologie des Quais de Paris. Par Octave Uzanne New-York: E.F. Bonaventure.". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 23 April 1898. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 240.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Juhel 2004, p. 350.
  8. ^ Dufay 1932, p. 185.
  9. ^ A.B.C artistique et littéraire 1931, p. 305.
  10. ^ a b Convents 2000, p. 39.
  11. ^ Silverman 2004, pp. 248-249; Hiner 2011, p. 112.
  12. ^ Drumsta, Emily. "Les Coquettes et leurs toilettes: Octave Uzanne's Discourse on Femininity and the "Death of Politeness" in Nineteenth Century Paris". Providence: Brown University. 
  13. ^ Le Temps 1931, p. 4.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Curinier 1914, pp. 66-67.
  15. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 242; Curinier 1914, pp. 66-67.
  16. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 242.
  17. ^ Silverman 2004, pp. 242-243.
  18. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 77.
  19. ^ a b Silverman 2008, p. 24.
  20. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 25-27.
  21. ^ Silverman 2008, pp. 83-84.
  22. ^ a b Warner 1897, p. 540.
  23. ^ "LITERARY NOTES.". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 16 January 1893. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  24. ^ "Octave Uzanne – The eminent French author now in this town". New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 12 April 1893. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  25. ^ "Book lovers of New York". New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 26 November 1893. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  26. ^ "More Holiday Books: The Mirror of the World, by Octave Uzanne". The Nation (New York: The Nation Company, L.P.) 47 (1223). 6 December 1888. ISSN 0027-8378. OCLC 1643268. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  27. ^ Silverman 2004, pp. 256-257.
  28. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 17.
  29. ^ Barbey d'Aurevilly, Jules Amedee (1879). "Préface". In Uzanne, Octave. Le Bric-à-Brac de l'amour (in French). Paris: Edouard Rouveyre. pp. V–XVI. OCLC 15042039. 
  30. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 30.
  31. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 12.
  32. ^ Silverman 2004, pp. 239, 241.
  33. ^ "Women of To-day in Paris". New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 28 January 1894. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  34. ^ a b Silverman 1992, p. 70.
  35. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 245.
  36. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 3.
  37. ^ Silverman, Willa Z. (2008). The new bibliopolis: French book collectors and the culture of print, 1880–1914. University of Toronto Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-8020-9211-3. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  38. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 277.
  39. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 240; Dufay 1932, pp. 184-185.
  40. ^ a b Silverman 2008, p. 31.
  41. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 41.
  42. ^ "The End of the Books.". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). 2 January 1897. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  43. ^ Thorburn, David (2004). Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition. MIT Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-262-70107-5. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  44. ^ Chambers, Ellie (2000). Contemporary themes in humanities higher education. Springer. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-7923-6694-2. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  45. ^ Brush and Pencil 1898, p. 281.
  46. ^ Silverman 2008, pp. 5, 61; Géal 1999, p. 145.
  47. ^ Tiersten 2001, p. 125; Harrison, Wood & Gaiger 1998, p. 777.
  48. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 253.
  49. ^ Silverman 1992, p. 71.
  50. ^ Berlanstein 2001, p. 164.
  51. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 262.
  52. ^ Silverman 2008, p. 44.
  53. ^ "Uzanne's "Fashions in Paris"". New York Times. 22 October 1898. Retrieved 8 February 2011. 
  54. ^ Le Temps 1931, p. 4.
  55. ^ Dufay 1932, p. 183.
  56. ^ Jackson 1950, pp. 447-448.
  57. ^ Jackson 1950, p. 398.
  58. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 249.
  59. ^ Data sheet of "Théo-Doedalus" (pseudonym) in Gallica. (French)
  60. ^ Geffroy, Gustave (1924). "Préface". In Uzanne, Octave. Pietro Longhi (in French). París: Éditions Nilsson. p. 14. OCLC 762932775. 
  61. ^ Silverman 2004, p. 258.
  62. ^ Kaur Bhogal 2013, p. 41.
  63. ^ de Gourmont 1912, p. XVI.
  64. ^ Amat & Bufalino 1992, p. 390.
  65. ^ Hiner 2011, p. 190.


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