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February 07 , 2008

The Sunshade (Illustrated)


FTER the brilliant success which attended, in the spring of last year, our volume on The Fan—a success which was the result, as I cannot conceal from myself, much more of the original conception and decorative execution of that work of luxe than of its literary interest—I have determined to close this series of Woman’s Ornaments by a last little work on the protective adornments of that delicate being, as graceful as she is gracious: The Sunshade, the Glove, the Muff. This collection, therefore, of feminine toys will be limited to two volumes, a collection which at first sight appeared to us so complex and heavy that a dozen volumes at least would have been required to contain its principal elements. This, doubtless, on the one hand, would have tried our own constancy, and on the other, would have failed in fixing more surely the inconstancy of our female readers. The spirit has its freaks of independence, and the unforeseen of life ought to be carefully economised. Moreover, to tell the whole truth, the decorative elegance of a book like the present hides very often beneath its prints the torture of an intellectual thumbscrew. The unhappy author is obliged to confine his exuberant ideas in a sort of strait-jacket in order to slip them more easily through the varied combinations of pictorial design, which here rules, an inexorable Mentor, over the text.

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In a work printed in this manner, just as in a theatre, the mise en scène is often detrimental to the piece; the one murders the other—it cannot be otherwise—the public applauds, but the writer who has the worship of his art sorrowfully resigns himself, and inwardly protests against the condescension of which he has had experience.

Two volumes, then, under a form which thus imprisons the strolling, sauntering, inventive, and paradoxical spirit, will be sufficient for my lady readers. Very soon we shall meet again in books with vaster horizons, and “ceilings not so low,” to employ an expression which well describes the moral imprisonment in which I am enveloped by the graces and exquisite talent of my collaborateur, Paul Avril.

Let it be understood, then, that I have no personal literary pretensions in this work. As the sage Montaigne says in his Essays, “I have here but collected a heap of foreign flowers, and brought of my own only the string which binds them together.”

Octave Uzanne.

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