Restif de la Bretonne - Les nuits de Paris ou le spectateur-Nocturne - 1788

Restif de la Bretonne - Les nuits de Paris ou le spectateur-Nocturne - 1788
History, Literature - Quantity: 7 - Book

An exceptional copy of the extremely rare first edition, complete of the 14 parts (in 7 volumes) and the 16 out of text figures attributed to Binet: precious iconography showing, for the most part, Restif de La Bretonne in his curious "Spectateur nocturne" costume, consisting of a cloak and broad-brimmed hat topped by an owl. One of the plates depicts a dinner at Grimod de La Reynière's house.

The Nuits de Paris constitute "in a way, a personal diary of Restif during the Revolution, from 23 April 1789 to 31 October 1793, and for this reason alone, are of exceptional interest" (Rives-Child).

The pagination is continuous until the end of the fourteenth part, which was to be the last, as can be read following the table: End of the fourteenth and final part.

A very rare fifteenth part was published two years later with a different title: La Semaine nocturne, Sept nuits de Paris, qui peuvent servir de suite aux III-CLXXX déjà publiées. This fifteenth part describes the "events of the beginning of the Revolution, and the time when the king, who had become a constitutionalist in spite of himself, reluctantly governed a republic as its first public servant". (Rives Childs, p. 305). It was illustrated with a figure depicting Louis XVI on his throne.

A sixteenth part, even more rare, was published only in 1794, on the same model, which was to contain an engraving depicting the execution of Charlotte Corday.

"Le Spectateur nocturne, in its first 14 parts, paints an extraordinary picture of Paris before the Revolution. The last two published, one two years and the other five years later, are virulent descriptions of the Revolution which earned the author, because of Marat in particular, a hearing before the Police Committee of the Paris Commune. Fearful, his bookseller abandoned the sale of this monumental work. Even in 1806, when it was put up for sale again, Restif had to have it bound in paperboard. Almost all copies of Volume XVI were destroyed: there are certainly not 10 copies of this volume, according to P.L. Jacob, which is probably exaggerated."

"Les Nuits de Paris is more than a collection of picturesque anecdotes about the little people of Paris: for their poetic strangeness, the mystery that one surmises in the familiar details, the oddity of the encounters, the fertility of chance around the ever-watchful wanderer, always present like a Maldororor or a Fantomas in the dramas hidden in the darkness, they can be compared to modern works inspired by the capital, the Spleen de Paris, the Paysan de Paris or Nadja." (Henri Coulet, Le Roman jusqu'à la Révolution, p. 493).

"This great work, essentially Parisian, has always been sought after, even though Restif's works were still decried, neglected and almost unknown to our generation," wrote Paul Lacroix in 1875, adding: "it is, in fact, a unique book which depicts the moral physiognomy of Paris towards the end of the 18th century" (Bibliographie de Restif de La Bretonne, p. 299).

"This vast work of more than 3,000 pages, 16 parts and 8 volumes takes the form of a collection of notes from an "Owl-Spectator" who travels through the city, an urban, nocturnal, contrasted Paris just before the fall of the monarchy. The narrator becomes an observer and storyteller, as the pictures are tinged with the picturesque and the picaresque: these writings will be closely studied by historians of the following century as snapshots and traces of a very particular period where social classes mixed and where misery reigned. Women occupy a singular place in it because of the domination and indignities they were subjected to. The narrative thread of the volume follows the logic of sometimes juxtaposed scenes linked by the unity of the viewpoint and the composed narrative. The overall picture remains sombre, "miserabilistic", as some contemporaries deplored, and in some ways foreshadows Balzac, Flaubert or Zola: the major difference being that the pictures sketched are collective and take an almost sociological approach, whereas 19th century writers chose to imagine heroes and heroines whose journeys stand out against this social backdrop. (BnF, les Essentiels, Les Nuits de Paris, online). References: Rives Childs, Restif de la Bretonne, 303-306; Cohen, col. 882-883; Paul Lacroix, Bibliographie des ouvrages de Restif de la Bretonne, pp. 258-301.

Most of the copies that can be found are in 14 or even 15 parts (the 16th is almost always missing).

A pleasant copy, preserved in period tan half calfskin bindings, marbled paper covered paperboard covers, adorned smooth spines, the title label of Volume 2 is missing, rubbed crowns, some with lacks, blunt corners, the set remains sound. Fairly fresh inside, rare foxing, marginal water stains over all of the leaves, but generally unobtrusive. In fair condition.

Restif de la Bretonne

Les Nuits de Paris ou le Spectateur-Nocturne (14 parts in 7 volumes).

London, 1788.

Complete of the 14 parts in continuous pagination, thus 3359 pages.

Duodecimo (16.5 x 10 cm).

Lot details
Number of Books
History, Literature
Author/ Illustrator
Restif de la Bretonne
Book Title
Les nuits de Paris ou le spectateur-Nocturne
Publication year oldest item
1st Edition
Original language
Binding/ Material
Half leather
Number of pages
16.5×10 cm
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