The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Gustave Flaubert (1943)
LEC #143/14th Series V. 3 in 1943
Artwork: Illustrations by Warren Chappell
Introduced by Elizabeth Bisland, translated and an argument by Lafcadio Hearn
LEC #487 of 1500. LEC exclusive.
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – The Limited Editions Club, over its long tenure, issued 592 titles. Some are sung to the heavens as masterworks of the artistry of the printing press, some are considered tragic misfires; however, there are several that are underappreciated and unsung in the general consensus of collectors and critics, and today I have the pleasure of bringing you one that I personally feel deserves to be praised far greater than I have yet heard. That title is 1943’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Gustave Flaubert, a novel on the religious figure Saint Anthony the Great. Saint Anthony has seen no shortage of artistic expression in the past few centuries — Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to the topic. Even future LEC illustrator Michael Ayrton joined in!
Flaubert has been covered here on our blog before, with the Heritage/Nonesuch collab for Madame Bovary (where I get into his bibliography with the LEC and Heritage Press). It is considered a novel but is written in a structure fitting for a play or dramatic reading, with each character’s dialogue formatted like a script. It tells the story of one night in Anthony’s life where he is tempted by many different sins, demons and Satan himself, in the guise of Hilarion. This work predates many of his more conventional novels, beginning life in 1849. According to his Wikipedia page, “He read the novel aloud to Louis Bouilhet and Maxime Du Camp over the course of four days, not allowing them to interrupt or give any opinions. At the end of the reading, his friends told him to throw the manuscript in the fire, suggesting instead that he focus on day-to-day life rather than fantastic subjects.” A very harsh critique! Flaubert put this story aside to begin work on Bovary, which took him five years to write. In 1857, he returned to Anthony, revising it into its current form over 15 years, working on other projects in between,
The book’s illustrator, Warren Chappell, was a well regarded children’s book artist, book designer and type designer, creating the fonts Lydian and Trajanus. He worked with Macy on two books over his long career, this and a Heritage exclusive of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. While his tenure with the LEC was incredibly brief, it was not incredibly meager, as you shall see.
Design Notes – Chappell pulled double duty serving as both illustrator and designer for this volume.
Title Page – One of the more dynamic and eye-catching title pages I’ve yet come across in the LEC canon, this is just a masterful execution. Each of Chappell’s incredible illustrations is exquisitely printed like this, and are just breathtaking to look at. Lafcadio Hearn served as the translator and provides a brief “argument” that prefaces the text; unnoted here is the note upon the story and translation provided by Elizabeth Bisland.
Colophon – This is #487 of 1500, and signed by Chappell.
Examples of Chappell’s illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – This wonderful edition came to me via Devotee NYCFaddict, who I procured many books from earlier this year. This particular book wowed me upon opening it with how beautifully printed it is — Chappell showed how masterful he was at the craft with this book. It’s a bit of a shame this is the sole contribution he gave to the LEC, but I am now on the hunt for his Heritage Yankee to have both of his works in my collection. This is one of my favorites!