The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard by Anatole France (1937)
LEC #96/9th Series V. 1 in 1937
Artwork: Illustrations by Sylvain Sauvage
Translated by Lafcidio Hearn, Introduced by A.S.W. Rosenbach
LEC #278 of 1500. LEC Exclusive.
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – Sylvain Sauvage’s trilogy of similarly designed LEC editions comes to its conclusion with Anatole France’s The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, following At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque and Cyrano de Bergerac. France and Sauvage would reconnect one last time for the Heritage Press with an exquisite exclusive of Penguin Island (a book I still need to add to my collection!) in 1938. Both author and artist have been extensively covered here on the blog, with Revolt of the Angels and Zadig respectively covering their bibliographies for the two Clubs.
That being said, this is one of France’s more realistic and grounded works in contrast to the fantastical Penguin Island and The Revolt of the Angels. This could be due to it being his first published novel in 1881 following a writing career as a poet. The book follows its titular protagonist, a historian and professor, as he tracks down a rare tome of the French translation of The Golden Legend, a collection of biographies of various saints written by Jacobus de Varagine in the late medieval period (this is where “St. George and the Dragon” comes from, for instance). In the process of finding this work, Bonnard meets Jeanne, the granddaughter of a woman he knew and loved earlier in life. Jeanne is currently under the care of an abusive guardian, so Bonnard hides her away to protect her and in the process a love story forms between her and one of Bonnard’s students, Henri Gells.
George Macy (and Helen Macy, for that matter) seemed to greatly enjoy France’s work, as three more LECs would follow (without Sauvage) — Penguin Island in 1947 with Malcolm Cameron’s illustrations, Crainquebille in 1949 featuring art from Bernard Lamotte, and The Revolt of the Angels in 1953 republishing Pierre Watrin’s commission from Calmann-Levy. The Heritage Press would follow along in the admiration by doing their own aforementioned 1938 Penguin Island as well as The Gods are A-Thirst in 1942 with Jean Oberlé’s artistic sensibilities for its French Great Romances series. It’s among the easier ways to acquire France’s work in English these days, as the Heritage Press reprinted everything after Crime from the LEC as well.
Design Notes – Edward Alonzo Miller of the Marchbanks Press was handed the last of these Sauvage editions to design, of which he kept up the general aesthetic quite well with providing a few of his own unique touches.
Title Page – Lafcadio Hearn handled translation duties for Crime. Well known for his folklore collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, he performed this translation in 1890 for Harper and Brothers. A.S.W. Rosenbach provides an introduction.
Colophon – This is #278 of 1500, and was signed by Sauvage.
Examples of Sauvage’s illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – I picked this up at the same time I received Queen Pedauque from an online order at Powell’s. As a big fan of both France and Sauvage I needed these! While the slipcase is a little banged up, the book is nearly perfect and I will be trying to sit down to read this later in the year!