Within the pages of this first edition of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel, Une Vie (Paris: Victor Havard, 1883), the reader will discover a collection of 52 original watercolor sketches by the French artist Paul-Eugéne Mesples (1849-1924). Giving the feel of a sketch book of sorts, Mesples painted colorful vignettes that gently blend into the printed text. It was the custom of many French bibliophiles to commission artists to add such series of watercolors to works of literature, often using untrimmed copies to do so. This uniquely illustrated volume may have been a prototype for a later edition with the publisher Victor Havard, though there is no evidence that Mesples’ illustrations for Une Vie were ever published. In 1886, Mesples was commissioned to illustrate the first edition of Maupassant’s Toine (Paris: Flammarion, 1886).
Many of the illustrations feature the main character, Jeanne le Perthuis des Vauds, a woman of the provincial aristocracy. The novel recounts the events of Jeanne’s life from the age of seventeen to her mid-forties: engagement, marriage, childbirth, discovery of her husband’s infidelity, death of her parents, and the birth of her first grandchild. Mesples captures these common life moments in detailed sketches that highlight nineteenth century French provincial aristocratic dress and provide hints of interior décor.
— Lori Dekydtspotter, Rare Books Cataloger
View more images from Une Vie. The call number for this item is Lilly Library PQ2349.6 .V65 1883