Octave Uzanne, “Bohemian Gentleman, Bibliophilosophe”

Octave_UzanneThis week and next, the Watts Program is partnering with the Providence Athenaeum and the John Russell Bartlett Society to present a 3-part mini-festival about the life of the French book collector Octave Uzanne.

The festivities will begin with a salon series talk at the Providence Athenaeum, followed by a Watts Program talk at the JCB, and concluding with a special library visit to the RISD special collections where undergraduate students will have the chance to examine and handle some of Uzanne’s publications. The series also features a pop-up exhibit of first editions of works by Uzanne from the Special Collections of the Athenaeum and from the Fleet Library at RISD (on view at the Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street).

Feb 28 | Valerie Steel Salon Talk at the Providence Athenaeum

5:00 pm. 251 Benefit Street, Providence Rhode Island.

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum Director Valerie Steele will speak on “Octave Uzanne: La Mode & La Femme in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.”

Octave Uzanne (1851-1931) was a French writer and bibliophile, who is known today (if at all) primarily as the creator of luxurious illustrated books. Yet he was a strange and interesting individual whose life intersected with an array of literary, artistic, and bohemian figures, from the poet Mallarmé to the pornographer Felicien Rops. When Marcel Proust fought a duel with the louche gay journalist Jean Lorrain, Uzanne was Lorrain’s second. Uzanne was also extremely interested in women’s fashion, especially as it related to the image of the Parisienne. He wrote a number of books on this subject, including La Femme à Paris and Les Modes à Paris,which associated the history of fashion with women’s changing lives. Steele will focus on Uzanne’s role as a pioneering fashion historian, his theories about female psychology, and what his work reveals about the culture of fin-de-siècle Paris.  More on Valerie Steele: valeriesteelefashion.com.

March 6 | Willa Z. Silverman talk on “The End of Books?” 

6:00 pm, The MacMillan Reading Room of the John Carter Brown Library

Willa Z. Silverman of Pennsylvania State University will speak on “The End of Books? French Fin-de-siècle Imaginings of the Future of Print.”

In an era of dramatic technological changes bearing similarities to our own, authors, publishers, critics, and bibliophiles in fin-de-siècle France were preoccupied with the effects of these transformations on print culture. How might developments in photomechanical printing and binding, the advent of electricity, and even the phonograph, for example, change the material form of the book? How would mass-produced books be distributed? Would the nature of copyright change? What would libraries of the future look like? How would the acceleration of the pace of modern life impact reading practices? A champion of the revival of book arts in fin-de-siècle France, Octave Uzanne was but one figure who, in his Contes pour les bibliophiles (Tales for Bibliophiles, 1859), prophesied “the end of books and their complete transformation.”

pullman circulating library

March 7 | Library Visit to RISD Special Collections

2:00 pm, RISD : Fleet Library, 15 Westminster St, Providence RI.

On the second day of Willa Z. Silverman’s visit to Providence, she will lead a group of Brown/RISD undergraduate students through the RISD Special Collections at the Fleet Library for an in-depth look at several Octave Uzanne publications and other Art Nouveau masterpieces. Advanced registration is requested.

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