The pseudonym Hugues Rebell, chosen by Georges Grassal, should be understood as a programme: it 'sounds', indicates rebellion and exoticism, and therefore forms a suitable counterpoint for his own family name, with its rather flabby connotation ('gras' means: fat). He had come to Paris from Nantes in 1887, and led a short but eccentric life, made possible by a large inheritance. Hugues Rebell can be roughly characterised as a sophisticated hedonist who was always in search of more, and as a man of great but unschooled erudition. He was an obsessive collector of books, art and women. He loved to travel and was a passionate gastronome. Rebell did not drink, although he did frequent literary café Vachette, where symbolist poet Jean Moréas sat enthroned.
Dandy in decline
Rebell has already published work in his native city, as the moneyed dilettante he might have remained if he had taken better care of his fortune. But his life as a dandy and his erotic adventures (he was being blackmailed) cost him a lot of money. Until 1896 he had limited himself to more or less symbolist poems and an anti-democratic treatise. He had rather unpleasant ideas that went beyond the elitist pose of a fin de siècle artist, making him an extravagant showpiece for the extreme right, due to the influence of Charles Maurras. La Nichina was published in 1896, the first in a series he was forced to write due to money problems, of which Les nuits chaudes du Cap français is considered the high point. When Les nuits appeared in 1902, the author was completely burned out, and would prove unable to produce any more work of importance. He suffered from arthritis, was besieged by debtors and lived from one advance to the next.
The creation of Les nuits chaudes du Cap français was difficult. When his publisher Boès announced its publication, another publisher (Maison d’art, owned by Paul Derniot and Paul Redonnel) wrote that it had previously acquired the rights to the book, and Maison d'art threatened to sue. Boès told Rebell that he wasn't pleased about this. The author- who was still frantically writing, deleting and correcting - found a financier to pacify the duped publisher Maison d'art. The book, in which daring subjects such as female homosexuality, flagellation and sex with minors and black women were featured, was hardly reviewed and didn't sell very well. This gave Boès reason not to publish the sequel that had already been announced. There was one positive review, which praised the author and his other works, besides the book itself: the same fire burned in all his novels, which were written with the same passion, as if possessed. The reviewer called him a natural storyteller, but it made no difference. The book was to be his final publication, and he died three years later under miserable conditions, but still retaining his library, which he had always held on to.
Racy and timeless
Hugues Rebell was long forgotten. By now, his native city of Nantes has named its annual literary award after the writer: the Prix Hugues Rebell. Marius Boisson noted that Rebell's legacy consists largely of unreadable notes for libertarian works. A select circle of admirers remained familiar with his work, and one of them had Les nuits chaudes published 'aux dépens d'un amateur' (paid for by an admirer) in a way that is representative of deluxe book editions in France before World War II: somewhat 'timeless', with illustrations in various states, printed in a limited edition. The dry-pointsby Alsatian painter Charles-Auguste Edelmann also satisfy expectations: elegant and racy, perhaps a little too innocent, in view of the text's perverse nature. He was especially good at quick sketches of figures in well-chosen lines, and he therefore illustrated a large number of novels and stories. The Koopman Collection contains eleven works that he illustrated, including novels by Octave Mirbeau and Joseph Kessel.
Other illustrated editions of Rebell's Les nuits chaudes are also included in the Koopman Collection. Hermine David produced small, handsome, square, coloured dry-point sketches in 1927, with no more than three nudes. Henriette Bellair produced lithographs and Jean Vital Prost made the wood-engravings for a 1939 edition. These illustrations, which were meant to be racy (especially the wood-engravings) have a tendency towards the cartoonish.
The Edelmann edition from 1936 consists of 300 numbered copies, of which the first 25 copies contain appendices on unnumbered pages: 36 first-state dry-needle etchings on Chinese paper, 34 in the final state on Marais rag paper, 34 in the final state and in colour on the same paper, and 34 design etchings on Lana rag paper. One of the original copperplates has been included on the inside of the upper cover. This is copy number 8, with the copperplate for the illustration on page 173.
|Description:||Les nuits chaudes du Cap français / Hugues Rebell ; pointes sèches orig. de Ch.-A. Edelmann. - [S.l.: s.n.] (Paris: Fequet et Baudier), 1936. - 192 p. : ill. ; 34 cm|
|Printer:||M. Fequet et P. Baudier (Paris)|
|This copy:||Number 8 of 50 on Isle de France|
|Note:||With four extra sets of the illustrations on Chinese paper, Marais and Lana|
|With original copperplate|
|Bibliography:||Accoord CR-185 ; Monod 9502|
|Shelfnumber:||Koopm A 9|
- Accoord C.R.: Een keuze uit de bijzondere aanwinsten verworven tijdens het bibliothecariaat van dr. C. Reedijk. 's-Gravenhage, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 1986
- Marius Boisson, Hugues Rebell, intime. Paris, Seheur, 1930
- Hubert Juin, Écrivains de l’avant-siècle.Paris, Seghers, 1972
- Thierry Rodange, Le diable quitte la table ou La vie passionnée d'Hugues Rebell. Paris, Mercure de France, 1994
Upper and lower cover of binding
Inside upper cover inlaid with copperplate
Page 11 with etching by Ch.-A. Edelmann
Page 54 with etching by Ch.-A. Edelmann
Page 81 with etching by Ch.-A. Edelmann
Etching with sketches('remarques') from the extra set of illustrations