Octave Uzanne  

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Loisirs Littéraires au XXe siècle (English: "Literary leasures in the 20th century") from the story "The End of Books" by French writer Octave Uzanne and illustrated Albert Robida. The illustration depicts a female reader of the 20th century, imagined by Robida, who is listening to  "12 poètes assortis" (twelve assorted poets) on a balcony overlooking a future city.
Loisirs Littéraires au XXe siècle (English: "Literary leasures in the 20th century") from the story "The End of Books" by French writer Octave Uzanne and illustrated Albert Robida. The illustration depicts a female reader of the 20th century, imagined by Robida, who is listening to "12 poètes assortis" (twelve assorted poets) on a balcony overlooking a future city.

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Octave Uzanne (1851 – 1931) was a French bibliophile, non-fiction writer, publisher and journalist, best-known for his Contes pour les bibliophiles (1895), which features the novella The End of Books. He also wrote "L'idée de sadisme et l'érotologie scientifique" (1901).



Born in Auxerre, of a bourgeois family, he came to Paris after his father's death. At first he studied at the upper-class Collège Rollin in Paris, then during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 was attached to a school at Richmond in England. Continuing with law studies, he abandoned this line of work when he came into an inheritance in 1872. 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. He also joined the Société des Amis des Livres, the first French bibliophilic association.

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. He was an admirer of the Goncourt brothers, who also wrote on 18th-century France. 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.

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). 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. Uzanne also edited two magazines, Conseiller du bibliophile (1876–1877) and Les Miscellanées Bibliographiques (1878–1880), and then ran three consecutive bibliophilic revues: 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).

In contrast to the common bibliophiles of his time, he was most interested in the creation of new, luxurious bibliophile works, collaborating closely with printers, binders, typographers and artists (especially the Symbolists and early Art Nouveau artists). 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". 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."

His collection of contemporary bibliophilic books was sold in 1894 by Hôtel Drouot. It contained some of the finest examples of late 19th-century French bookbinding, by binders like Charles Meunier, Lucien Magnin, Pétrus Ruban, Camille Martin, René Wiener and Victor Prouvé.

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

As a journalist, sometimes employing the pseudonym "la Cagoule", Uzanne wrote for L'Écho de Paris and other newspapers, including a collaboration with Edouard Drumont on his antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole, and for other French and foreign magazines like The Studio and Scribner's Magazine, for which he wrote in 1894 an article about The End of Books which he thought would come because of the upcoming phonography, predicting the rise of radio and television. 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 Thomas Edison, where he witnessed the Kinetograph shortly before it went public.

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. 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".

He died at Saint-Cloud on 31 October 1931.


  • 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
  • 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
  • 1898:
  • 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.

English blurbs for his books


Royal 8vo, cloth, gilt top, Illustrations engraved in colours,

The Frenchwoman of the Century.



Illustrations in Water Colours by ALBERT LYNCH.

by EUGENE Gaujean.

Engraved in Colours

Morning Post.-" Graceful and light as is this book by M. Octave Uzanne, the clever author of The Fan ' and ' The Sunshade, Muff, and Glove,' and other works marked by a rare originality, it affords a more complete insight into the ideas of the women ofFrance of this century and ofthe influence exercised by them than is apparent on the surface. An idea can be formed of the prodigality and luxury that prevailed at the Court of the First Empire by ' a serio-comic document ' circulated in 1807 as ' an account ofthe annual expense of a female fop of Paris. Its different items amount to the sum of 190,000fr. , or £7600 sterling. The womenof fashion of a later period are not less well photographed . There are some sparkling pages on those of 1830, at the time when Balzac discovered and sang ' La Femme de Trente Ans, ' ' whose beauty shines with all the brightness of a perfumed summer. ' Speaking the truth always, but with native gallantry seeking to conceal its harshness, M. Uzanne tells his countrywomen of to-day that ' the woman of this end of the century reigns despotically still in our hearts, but has no longerthe same happy influence on our spirits, our manners, our society. To account for this, as indeed in writing ofthe moral aspect of all the different social phases that come within his scope, the author reasons of cause and effect with an able lucidity that skilfully avoids dulness. The illustrations are, without exception, artistic and spirituelle, and contribute to make of this elegantly bound work, a veritable volume de luxe, which worthily continues the series of productions from M. Uzanne's brilliant and facile pen."

Royal 8vo, cloth, gilt top, 31s. 6d. net.


Illustrations by PAUL AVRIL.

Standard.-"It gives a complete history of fans of all ages and places ; the illustrations are dainty in the extreme. Those who wish to make a pretty and appropriate present to a young lady cannot do better than purchase ' The Fan.' Athenæum.-"The letterpress comprises much amusing ' chit-chat, ' and is more solid than it pretends to be. This brochure is worth reading ; nay, it is worth keeping. "

Royal 8vo, cloth, gilt top, 31s. 6d. net.

The Sunshade, Muff, andd Glove.


Illustrations by PAUL AVRIL

Art Journal-" At first sight it would seem that material could never be found to fill even a volume ; but the author, in dealing with his first subject alone, ' The Sun- shade, ' says he could easily have filled a dozen volumes of this emblem of sovereignty. The work is delightfully illustrated in a novel manner by Paul Avril, the pictures which meander about the work being printed in various colours. "

Linking in in 2023

Adolphe Lalauze, Albert Robida, Anne Claude de Caylus, Bals des victimes, Charles de Sainte-Maure, duc de Montausier, Charles Holme, Édouard-Henri Avril, Émile Bienaimé, Exposition des primitifs flamands à Bruges, Félix Vallotton, History of bookselling, Jardin Turc, Jean François Sarrazin, October 31, Stanislas de Boufflers, William Nicholson (artist)

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Octave Uzanne" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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