autograph manuscript, À un dîner d'athées; 38 leaves (31 x 20 cm) mounted on tabs, and bound in a folio volume, red morocco, boards decorated with a set of 9 gilt fillets, parchment lining and endpapers in an inner morocco frame decorated with six gilt fillets, spine with 5 nerves (A. Dodé).
Precious working manuscript, very corrected, of the fifth novel of Les Diaboliques.
The manuscript is complete, except for the first and last pages, which are copied here in Louise Read's hand (ff.
1 and 1 bis, and 37) [the first page was reproduced in facsimile in the n° 5 of the review le Manuscrit autographe in 1926]. Page 2 begins thus: "who prayed in a low voice, in this great silent and dark vessel and by the silence made more sonorous, made that singular susurration which is like the noise of a swarm of souls, visible only to the eye of God." Page 36 ends with these sentences: "That's right," says
Mesnilgrand. You make me think of it. Here is what remains for me to say, to Rançonnet & to you.
I carried, years, to the fire"...
The manuscript is mainly written in brown or black ink, on the front of sheets numbered by Barbey from 2 to 36; but
Barbey also used colored inks: red, green, blue, purple.
It presents numerous erasures, deletions, corrections and additions, in ink or pencil. First drafts, in pencil, abundantly erased and corrected, can be read on the verso of ff. 17, 34 and 36; domestic accounts can be found on the verso of ff. 26 and 32. The text presents numerous variants compared to the published version; the captain Rançonnet who surprises Mesnilgrand in the church at the beginning of the novella is called Ranconnant in the first pages and then takes his definitive name; the major Ydow is called here Ydou.
Three drawings of ciboriums in colored inks punctuate the story on ff. 4, 14 and 15.
The collection Les Diaboliques, published by
Dentu in November 1874, was the result of a long genesis, which goes back to 1850. The fifth short story of this scandalous book, which was originally entitled Ricochets de conversation, relates the remarks made during a dinner gathering about twenty guests, all fierce atheists and impious, at the home of the knight of Mesnilgrand, who was seen, at the beginning of the short story, to sneak into the church of the small town and to give a parcel to the priest of the confessional; he was surprised there by his friend Rançonnet, who summons him to explain himself in front of his atheist companions.
Mesnilgrand, a captain in the Napoleonic armies, has become in Spain the lover of the beautiful Rosalba, known as the Pudica, wife (or rather mistress) of Major Ydow.
Rosalba becomes pregnant. The child dies a few months after its birth; and Ydow, mad of sorrow, makes embalm its heart which he locks up in a crystal urn, to transport it everywhere with him. Learning that he is not the father, he breaks the urn and punishes La Pudica by where she sinned, by sealing it with melted wax. Mesnilgrand kills Ydow and picks up the little heart, which he has carried for a long time, like a relic, before entrusting it to a priest, so that it can finally rest in Christian soil.
This precious manuscript, very corrected, remained unknown to Barbey d'Aurevilly's publishers.
Provenance: Colonel Daniel Sickles (I, n° 17), Hubert Heilbronn (ex-libris, Sotheby's' sale, Paris 21 May 2008).