Histoires Extraordinaires, or “Extraordinary Stories” by Edgar Allan Poe, translated by Charles Baudelaire

Edgar Poë, Histoires Extraordinare (Paris: Éditions Nilsson, 1929). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

One of the many rare books in the Sheridan Library’s Special Collections, this volume of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic tales gives interested audiences a peek into the literary tradition in other countries. Not merely popular in his homeland, Poe’s works traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to France, where Charles Baudelaire (best known for his collection of poems Fleurs du Mal and famous in his own right) translated several of Poe’s tales.  Though Baudelaire died in 1867, his translation was so celebrated that it became the French translation of Poe’s work.  This novelty edition, shown above, was published several decades after Baudelaire’s death by Éditions Nilsson in 1929 in Paris.  Loosely titled Histoires Extraordinaires or “Extraordinary Stories”, it contains 6 stories (“Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Gold-bug,” “The Balloon Hoax,” “M.S. in a Bottle,” and “A Descent into the Maelström”) over the span of 190 pages.

Edgar Poë, Histoires Extraordinare (Paris: Éditions Nilsson, 1929). Image courtesy of the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

Histoires Extraordinaires is beautifully illustrated by Jean Dratz, whose original “aquarelles,” or transparent water color drawings, serve as the prototype for the illustrations; instead of individually drawn illustrations, colored or chromo-lithographic plates have been pasted into the text of the stories.  These plates layer each color coat by coat through mechanized pressings, though outlines and fine detail work are occasionally done by hand.  The expense that was invested in this deluxe volume of tales, seen in these colored pictures and the uncut tops of the quarto-sized pages, suggests a rarity and desirability that was felt even at the time of publication, or the time of purchase.  While exquisitely preserved except for faint water discoloration on the front cover, the uncut pages make this book impossible to read.  Indeed, it is only by carefully bowing the uncut final pages that one can make out the colophon[1].  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful example of transplanted and translated literature that provides archivists and historians much material to mine.

[1] Which tells us that this particular copy was printed on March 29, 1929 at the Imprimerie Ramlot at 52 Avenue du Maine in Paris.


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