Narcissus was one of the symbols of the homosexual subculture around 1900. Physical beauty and an early death were indispensible qualities for such mythological figures. Ganymedus for instance is also a symbol that occurs repeatedly in novels and poems. The story told by Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, in which Narcissus is an Egyptian prince, the grandson of Isis, who is surprised by the beauty of his own face and drowns in the water that reflects his image, was adapted by Jean Lorrain into a version of his own. The prince of supernatural beauty is honoured by all as a second Isis. The priests decide that it would be better for him to grow up in the temple of Isis. Wild animals won't hurt him there, while female nomads passing through would gaze in wonder at the boy. He is also visited by gods: by Osiris during the day, and by his grandmother Isis at night. But he remains ignorant of his own beauty. When he has visited the- forbidden- third temple, he sees his reflection in the fatal pond. Drugged by herbs and stunned by the image of Isis in the water, he dies amongst the dead sacrificial animals. The priests find him the next morning.
Lorrain led a striking life in which the scandalous was exploited for his chronicles in various magazines. His homosexuality was a public secret, as he fluttered from one 'encounter' to the next. In one of his famous works, La maison Philibert, about a brothel, he didn't hesitate to portray homosexual prostitution in one of its scenes. In a backroom of a brasserie, several older gentlemen are found. The brasserie happens to be strategically located close to a military training facility, and the company of older gentlemen becomes fascinated by a pale young man. With challenging scenes such as this one, Lorrain was well suited to the decadent fin de siècle period. His famous novel Monsieur de Phocas seems to be partially inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Decadent motifs such as magical, ocean-green eyes and sadistic tableaux are featured in many of Lorraine's stories.
In the preface to this edition, Jérôme Doucet introduces his friend Jean Lorrain with the following words: 'Jérôme, my good friend, when will we produce a bibliophile book edition together?' Lorrain found the way in which the novels of his time were published ugly, longing for better paper and a more attractive design. But he died before his plan could be put into action. Lorrain's friends suggested to have his story 'Narkiss' published in a bibliophile edition: the deliberately archaic illustrations by Guillonnet exuded the same overstated dreaminess as the story, at least according to Doucet. The drawings by Émile Octave Denis Victor Guillonet, who was famous in his own time, were engraved for reproduction by X. Lesuseur; he drew and designed glasswork and interiors, worked for illustrated magazines, exhibited his work regularly, and was not ignored at award ceremonies. He also illustrated work by Alphonse Daudet: La mule du pape (1909) and L'Arlésienne (1911).
The smaller illustrations on the text pages were not printed on paper but were glued in. As in those illustrations, an antiquated typography was selected. Each page is put together as a classic tomb stele with a winged solar disc in gold at the top, and alternating in the left and right lower corner an Egyptian attribute: a snake, a vase, the scarab, the Ankh-symbol, and other carefully chosen symbols, each of which is repeated a few times. The cover shows the golden death-mask of Narcissus, surrounded by daffodils and flanked by cobras. With all the gold in the framed pages, it has become a typical display of art nouveau, although the illustrations do not display those famous swirls or salad oil lines. The story is dedicated to 'mon ami Lalique', his friend, art nouveau glass artist René Lalique.
During Lorrain's lifetime, only three bibliophile editions of his work were published: La Mandragore (Pelletan, 1899), Ma petite ville (Éditions d'art, 1898) and La princesse sous verre (Tallandier, 1896)- the first two titles are part of the Koopman Collection. Narkiss was published by Fernand Ferroud, of publisher Édition du Monument, in 1908. The National Library of the Netherlands owns one of the 50 copies of this book that were printed on Japanese paper (nr. 18) with 2 states of each illustration, all of which was bound in leather by René Kieffer, who added special decorations to the inside of the cover and the endpapers (request number for this copy: 1771 D 3). The copy in the Koopman Collection however is one of the regular copies printed on Arches paper.
|Description:||Narkiss / Jean Lorrain ; dessins de O.D.V. Guillonnet, grav. par X. Lesueur ; préface de J. Doucet. - Paris: Édition du Monument, 1908.-  p. : ill. ; 25 cm|
|Printer:||La Semeuse (Paris)|
|This copy:||One of 225 unnumbered copies on Arches|
|Bibliography:||Mahé II-703 ; In liefde verzameld-99|
|Shelfnumber:||Koopm B 463|
- Pierre Léon Gaulthier, Jean Lorrain: la vie, l'oeuvre et l'art d’un pessimiste à la fin du XIXe siècle. Paris, Lesot, 1935
- Philippe Jullian, Jean Lorrain ou Le satyricon 1900. Paris, Fayard, 1974
- Mario Praz, The romantic agony. London, Oxford University Press, 1933
Illustration by O.D.V.Guillonnet (p. 25)
Illustration by O.D.V.Guillonnet (p. 61)