Notre-Dame du Pré Abbey, Lisieux, of Sainte-Thérèse fame - The girls dormitory, with a strict design bordering on the chilly - The bed canopies are strangely echoed in the housekeeping sister's attire - Photographic album of the late XIXth century.

Un Eté à la Campagne: the novel

In the XIXth century, the education of bourgeois young women was mainly provided by boarding schools where teenagers were expected to improve their skills in all manner of graceful activities, at least those that would help out success in the one and only purpose of their lives: marriage. For example, young Marie Capelle remembers with horror the music salon[1] :

Je crus devenir sourde en entrant dans une salle renfermant cinquante pianos, tous joués en même temps et qui faisaient une infernale harmonie de gammes, sonates, valses, exercices, romances, cadences, tous les degrés de force, tous les genres de musique se confondant, se heurtant, se faussant.

Not that the marriage was particularly successful in her case, and more horrors would follow...
At the end of the semester, the summer break would disperse the congregation of young ladies: the hagiographic literature of the time keeps ample memory of the ensuing letter exchanges between pupils, bereaved, well thinking and unctuous[2]. Un Eté à la Campagne follows this lead and opens precisely on the first day of the summer break. Adèle is a young boarder. Albertine is a sous-maîtresse, only slightly older than, and fond of, her. Very fond. They do exchange bereaved letters but the feelings conveyed somehow stray away from the  angelism, self effacement and mortification extolled by the educational principles of the pensionnats. In fact, suspecting that there is more to sex than they could find out between the two of them at the boarding house, they set out to make full use of their summer holidays and unveil as many facets as time and chance will permit. Carrying a systematic exploration among refined connoisseurs or, at least, seasoned practitionners, they strive to elevate both their theoretical understanding and their personnal competencies.
The narrative is alert: it thrives on the contrast between the obstinate scrutiny of the young female voyeurs, the salaciousness of their observations and the soft, allusive, naive wording of their reports. The style has this tongue in cheek elegance which amply justifies the common attribution to Gustave Droz.
In fact, written at a turning point of French literature, and society, Un Eté à la campagne (1868) pays tribute to its time. Published only three years after Claude Bernard's Introduction à l’étude de la médecine expérimentale (1865), the book showcases a genuine experimental strategy and as such, it can be considered, after Germinie Lacerteux (1864), as another evidence of the impact of positivism on literature. The young protagonists are all curious about the rich, open world which exists, so they sense, beyond the walls of their boarding house and of their bourgeois education, a situation artfully conveyed by Rop's frontispiece. They develop cunning observation strategies to capture the intimacy of their contemporaries in situ and in actibus before putting their intuitions to the test of their own experiments. In fact, to the greatest benefit of the plot, there is also a clever differentiation between the protagonists. Albertine owns up to her slightly more advanced age and her role as an educator, even though she is not more experienced than her pupil. In her aunt's house, Adele makes full use of the strategic vantage point given by her  bedroom. Providential slits on both sides provide discrete views on the two adjacent bedrooms and the proceedings which they inevitably house. Other encounters will necessitate observation points outside the house, in the gardens or the barn... The letters exchanged by the young lovers at irregular intervals work as a labbook, each one in turn conveying hopes or desillusions, reporting on progress or expectations, sharing observations or analyses. And so it is that a most extensive array of Second Empire sexual appetences and combinations is rendered in a light, allusive and almost scientific style. The success of this initiatic but rational course is fully proven when Albertine, who by the way has not little in common with her proustian namesake, definitely confirms her personnal preference for women.
Frontispice of the first edition (1868) by F. Rops.

The editions of l'Eté

The book was immediately censored despite all its literary qualities and the graceful frontispiece by Rops and naturally enjoyed continuous undercover re-publications from all quarters during the last decades of the XIXth century. Two sets of illustrations appeared at that period. One, consisting of a frontispiece and five etchings, was the work of the prolific Fredillo. The other, with two (?) frontispieces and six etchings, is given to a Felix Lukkow. Both are rather naive but lively renditions of some of the most attractive Pikanterien in the text.

Somewhat later, around 1905, a first classical set of illustrations was devised for a new edition by Hirsch. The highly refined artist remains anonymous but his drawings are very much in the style of Paul Avril to whom they are usually attributed. Interestingly, this set of illustrations is strongly male dominated, with a grand total of one (!) lesbian scene properly speaking, a strident discordance from the narrative. Maybe not completely by chance, the same consideration applies, to a lesser extent, to the illustrations by Barret in the 60s. Devised in a light, (gentle)men's magazine style, his inventions stand very close to Avril's in intent, if not in their execution.

In the intermediate period, the text sparked a sudden burst of graphic creativity in the 1920s. In the post-war period, work, clothing, consumer and sexual practices all evolved rapidly and gave rise to multiple feminine awakenings. Carrier paths were opening carefully, garments were shrinking noticeably in length and density, material or amorous quests were becoming more open in their diversity. In this context, the free spirited panache of the Eté à la Campagne would lend itself to multiple interpretations and the four illustrations by Geetere, van Maele, Mercier and Brouet all offer different forms of projection.

Geetere self-edited his work, and these circumstances gave him free rein to indulge in an obsessive graphic rambling on the dildo, admittedly an underpinning of the novel. Human figures seem to work as props for the dildo, any form of backdrop or setting being all but absent. In contrast, van Maele's constructions are balanced, with his solid, classical drawing here verging on comic strip objectivity. It gives full prominence to artfully differentiated characters, circumstances and intercourses. Mercier's Art Deco stylistics, with his gracile body forms, his chromatic dazzle and his focus on female-only scenes (males are scant, even when scantily clad) perfectly echoes the Zeitgeist of la Garçonne.

Title page of the ca. 1926 edition with illustrations by Auguste Brouet. Note the somewhat unexpected typo at "recueillie". The style tallies the illustrated books published by Gaston Boutitie, who had earlier published some lighter texts (Voltaire, Parny), with more general public illustrations, though.
As to Brouet, he was no Art Deco artist nor would he indulge in publicizing his most freudian drives... His small suite of 8 illustrations also centers mostly on the female protagonists, so much so that two prints with men as their key characters where rejected, and even termed 'repentir'... Almost as steeped into the classical tradition as Maele, Brouet did not adhere to his almost albertian rendering of the human figures and interior sceneries. Yet, with his diffuse, sometimes evanescent drawing, and his own rather direct perception of the narrative, his illustrations certainly stand out as highly original.

The illustrations

Opening the novel, the first few letters paint the feelings of the two young women just after the separation which was forced upon them by the summer break. These emotionally and sensually painful circumstances give rise to much lamentation on both sides, but the sense of loss is mitigated by burning hopes for new experiences and deeper knowledge.

A. Brouet - Ill. to letter I - Preliminary matters

In fact, for this opening moments the illustrators did not resort to inordinate treasures of imaginations : more or less clothed women are more or less reading or day-dreaming, and letting their imaginations run, and their fingers as well... Admittedly, this being an epistolary novel, reading appears as a natural occupation, but it is still surprising that we do not find any representation of a writing woman! And in fact, we find that she reads books, not letters... And so it is - we can surmise - that the (male) artists have (rather flatly) called in the XIXth century trope of the hazards of reading while a young women, as examplified by many edifying pamphlets[3] , or in many artworks such as the slightly earlier oil painting entitled La liseuse de romans by Wiertz[4] or - in a less allusive way - in the watercolor by Rops himself... Indeed, education would severely limit reading matter for young women lest it might inflame their notoriously unbridled imagination, arouse their well-known hypersensitivity and populate their feable minds with demonic thoughts. The most subdued illustration in this genre is Geetere's, although the Balthus-like abandonment of his character leaves little to the imagination. One can only wonder why Geetere exceptionaly forgot to include a dildo in this image: but after all these are only liminary matters and the character is not even in the nude yet! On the other extreme, Avril has laid more emphasis on the observation taking place than on the reading itself (although he has left the books - and pen and paper, for that matter - prominently in display). The other illustrations variously shift the balance between these two poles. In his frontispiece to the original edition, Rops inserts in the foreground a book with the inviting title "Essai sur l'art d'être heureux"[5] and this lofty philosophical ambition is unambiguously linked to a rather uncannily shaped travelling case bearing the mysterious label "My uncle" (more about "him" later) through a... fruit-bearing snake, the whole scene developping under the aegis of a rather sarcastic-looking little devil in the top right corner. In Brouet's plate, as in Mercier's, the innocent narrator is quite simply seen gathering her thoughts, for a thing, her eyes dreamily cast on a unidentified object sketchily evoked in the foreground, which could be a discarded letter or perhaps a book. The pose, if not the clothing, is reminiscent of the "Femme qui se gratte", while the deep dark background in the upper right-hand corner of the composition is one of Brouet's favorite devices, as seen in the "Femme allongée", which was also published at the same period.

In the next episode (letter V), Adèle makes timely use of the right hand slit in her bedroom and is rewarded by the revelation of the perfect shapes of her aunt's body: "La Veleda du Luxembourg est une cagneuse comparée à ma tante"! This scene is a clear nudge under the table for the illustrators, and several have taken up the challenge. Avril produced a solid construction of pure 1900 esthetics, with a late classical pose, just decadent enough to recall the under-cover erotic postcards of the time, complete with the massive cheval glass (or psyché, in French). Maële similarly revels in the technical challenge posed by the nude and its reflection in what is now, twenty years later, a more functional cabinet door miror. With Mercier the psyché is back but with a frame as strictly Art Déco as the nude figure, and he graces the image with an affluent sunhat sprawled on an armchair. There is no standing nude in front of a full length mirror with Brouet (even though mirror reflections occasionnaly appear in his work (Ba 144, 151, 435, 436)), whose female academies are not a strong point nor for Geetere for whom an academy will not catch his fantasy.

A. Brouet - Ill. to letter VI - Peeping on her aunt and her friend

A much more original opportunity is offered by the terminal point of the same scene (letter VI) where the lovely aunt, whose husband is on military duty in Algeria, has bouts of loneliness. Still peeping onto her aunt, Adèle now dicovers how she recourses to a substitute for her husband, which she immediately nicknames "my uncle". The scene has understandably won sweeping popularity with many artists, although - no great surprise ? -  it was spurned by the masculinists Avril and Barret. The challenge is actually how much of the action can be conveyed by the image. In fact, Maele, with his attentive, homely bourgeois approach, has already got the dildo ready in the previous "Botticellian Venus" scene: it is seen lying around half hidden on an armchair, and quite in the foreground, working as a forerunner to the present scene. In quite an anticlimax, the aunt has now literally slipped out of her armchair and is half lying on a cushion on the ground, still clutching an arm with her free hand. Mercier has a similar but much more sophisticated pose, and actually a much more comfortable airmchair... Most strickingly, while he really goes out of his ways in actually drawing the dildo, he still keeps the scene clearly within the realm of wedlock by ostensibly displaying both the letter and the full length portrait of the uncle (the flesh and bone one). On the opposite end of the game, we find much more psychic concentration in Geetere where all decorum, furniture, background and of course all pieces of garments (not to mention hats...) have been suppressed: as sole accessory allowed on the premices stands the dildo, quite in the center of the action, and it will actually bring even more unity to Geetere's set of illustrations than it does to the text...

What about Brouet ? With a good deal of originality, he actually includes the observer in the picture as well, resorting to a bit of a boulevard theater trick, also found in bawdy, popular images of the time, and simultaneously depicts the observation room with the observer and the adjacent room with the action. This is drawn with a unusually brisk, linear style actually reminiscent of more narrative artists like his neighbour Gus Bofa.

A. Brouet - Ill. to letter XI - Albertine and Félicie.

Letter XI takes the action up a notch as Albertine hires a new female servant, aptly named Félicie, who is soon in a position to instill fresh experience  in the proceedings. The associated scene has enjoyed great popularity with the illustrators as well as the readers and Brouet was no exception. However, the most salient textual detail has been left aside by all the artists except, to be fair, Lükkow who does not shrink from the grotesque and was keen to display Félicité's flourishing pubic hair which interferes adversely with Albertine's progression. Let us note however that hair of all nature abound in the 1905 illustrations, equally shared by male and female characters, and a profuse pilosity is still retained but in a less prominent manner by the 1920's illustrators. It is only in the 1960s, however, that the perception of hair, along with hygiene, has completed its evolution: Barret then confronts us with mostly neatly picked (lower) body parts.

Another characteristics of the narrative in l'Eté is that it crosses through most of the strata of the Second Empire society: teachers, well-to-do officers, a lawyer, a rentier, but also the servants all go after their own amorous pursuits, and across classes. The gradual evolution from the status of mistress to affluent prostitute looks as natural as giving one's newlywed husband a child fathered by a different man: it happened so shortly before the mariage that the difference is of little significance! This overal permeability of the society was still felt by Zweig half-a century later, who contrasted it with a more german viewpoint, observing during his 1902 stay in Paris[6] :

In Paris aber ging das Vermächtnis der Revolution noch lebendig im Blute um; der proletarische Arbeiter fühlte sich ebenso als freier und vollwichtiger Bürger wie sein Brotgeber, der Kellner schüttelte im Café dem galonierten General kollegial die Hand, fleißige, solide, saubere Kleinbürgersfrauen rümpften nicht die Nase über die Prostituierte auf demselben Gang, sondern schwatzten täglich mit ihr auf der Treppe, und ihre Kinder schenkten ihr Blumen.

A. Brouet - Ill. to letter XVI - The cook feels lonely too

The passage with Mme Pruneau, the cook, has been a favorite with the illustrators. Mercier however abstained, maybe because the rather trivial, popular flavour of the scene did not quite fit the Art deco sophistication of his illustrative scheme. But spurred by the definite 'piquant' of a nightly barn scene (and also because the second protagonist is a young man?), Avril devoted two plates to this passage: as expected, his rendition maintains the appearance of a male dominated situation, quite in spite of the text. Maële provides a textual but graphic account of the very situation as it transpires from Adèle's accounts and restores a more faithful rendition of the relations between the characters. Geetere, in keeping with line of thought, focuses on the bodies and discards so much superfluity of context that the man himself is reduced to the sole organ necessary to understand the course of action. But all three of them resorted to a rather standard depiction of the scene and the female character appears like any non-descript rather wholesome young lady, missing on the plain appearance of Mme Pruneau, a woman of the people. There again, Brouet comes forth with an original solution. Is it a sign of his own popular origins? Stepping back from conventional representations, he focuses instead on the coarseness of the proceedings through the confused barn setting, the half-clothed characters and emphasizes the dominant part taken by the cook through the dynamics of the conquering move of her robust, naked hind parts. Thus the image feels true to the text even though - or because - the more saucy details of the scene where left out.

A. Brouet - Ill. to letter XVIII - The schoolmaster of Ephesus

In the construction of the novel, letter XVIII stands out as it describes the relationship between a young (male) pupil and his (male) teacher. The status of the passage in the novel is somewhat contrived. The text itself is a story in the story: the account of the schoolmaster from Ephese as declaimed by Trimalchion to his fellow revellers in the Satyricon by Petronius. In a society where the classics are the sanctionning authority, citing Petronius may have worked as an excuse around the spirit of the time. Piling up even deeper layers of intertextuality, the text appears in l'Eté under the guise of handwritten pages gleefully glossed upon by a few men during an a parte discussion in the garden. The manuscript is deftly spirited by Adele and transcribed in her evening letter. This rather cumbersome literary device provides deep padding around an elaborate scene of male homosexuality, which nobody seemed willing to endorse openly, neither the characters of the novel nor its author... So why choose to include it? Is it personnal interest, attraction for the litterary process, a challenge of some sort or the desire for a systematic declension of sexual practices as thinkable at the time? In any case, the scene clearly could not be built into the plot itself, unlike all the others, with what appeared as a truly offensive scene clashing violently with the moral constructs of the time. One should recall that homosexuality was then seen as a medical condition[7] and that even such a socially advanced mind as the saint-simonian and outwardly feminist Suzanne Voilquin, writting her egyptian memoirs in 1866, condemned male homosexuality extremely harshly[8] .

Ill. from Hancarville, Monumens de la vie privée des douze Césars, Caprée, 1780 - cameo n° VI

Besides censors of all kinds, either official or self appointed, we note that this scene was no great hit with the illustrators either, even fifty years later! It may be surprising that, Avril, if he really was the author of the illustration of the 1905 edition, did not find inspiration in this passage since he provided highly worked out drawings to enlighten the readers about all sections of Forberg's Manual. Of course, in the 20s, one would not expect Mercier, who introduced few male characters in his whole set of illustrations, to draw a pair, nor Geetere, whose whole work works out as an ode to the dildo! As a result, besides Brouet, only de Maële ventured into an attempt of his own. And it is probably not by chance that this one illustration is missing from most copies... Following the text, both artists maintained a reference to antiquity. While Maele created an accurate rendition of the master/pupil relation, Brouet took again more licence with the text and the pupil has clearly gained in age in his version. The sources of Brouet's picture can be made out fairly accurately: his drawing is partly based on Avril's own plate for the Socrates paragraph in Forberg's second chapter (De paedicatione). The overal composition and some details such as the pleated cushion and the architectural elements of neo-classical decoration are indeed very similar. At the same time, Brouet seems to refer more directly back to the Hancarville cameo (n° VI - August and Caesar) in the protagonist's attitudes and gazes. Interestingly, the same double reference can be found in the frontispice to the Manual.

In fact, given the limited number of erotic illustrations by Brouet, compared to more specialized artists, he seems to have been uncommonly willing to render male homosexual scenes. Attesting to his personnel interest in the theme, this very same composition also found its way into the Calamiste, and it is said he even made a small clay (or plaster ?) model of it[9] . Moreover, he also provided drawings for the illustration of the 1936 (?) edition of the french translation of Rocco's Alcibiade[10] . Based on the reproduction in Dutel[11] , these illustration are very much in the spirit of the Manual's frontispiece.

The novel has an immediately symetrical text depicting the nightly frolickings of two women - interestingly, this scene has received much more approval from all involved, Adèle herself, and the ilustrators, with Geetere, Maële and Mercier indulging in their own rendition, while Brouet also contributed an interesting cul de lampe. Avril alone spurned the sequence altogether.
Brouet, ill. to letter XXI – "C'est donc un monstre cet homme-là !"
But the climax of Brouet's originality (we refrain from writing idiosyncrasy) is found in the illustration to letter XXI, in which the narrative gathers pace and Adèle is witness to the first midnight encounter between Rose the plump, Rubenesque maid and J. the paunchy lawyer. Frustratingly, the candle has been blown out and enigmatic sighs and noises remain the hapless Adèle's clues to the action taking place. In the next night (letter XXIII), the candle was left alight, stepping up the intensity further. Maële, with his unwavering sense of practicality, depicted this second night. But Brouet does not shy away from a higher challenge: conveying the sheer eagerness of the pair in pitch dark night as made out from sighs, sounds and cries. From Adèle's account 

Ah ! les gémissements redoublent... Rose pousse un cri aigu, un cri assurément arraché par la douleur. Plus rien... tout est consommé...
C'est donc un monstre, cet homme-là, qui fait ainsi souffrir les femmes !... (Letter XXI)

as well as Albertine's reply

J'ai pu suivre pas à pas les hauts faits de ton vilain singe d'avocat. Qu'eût-ce été, bon Dieu ! si la bougie ne se fût pas éteinte ! (letter XXII)

he introduces a rather uncanny, somewhat simian, diminutive figure of a devil as symbolic of Adèle's mixed conjectures/expectations. The image works as an echo to Hokusai's Dream of the Fisherman's Wife with his momentous, sprawling octopus, and short sighted with that, as already noted by Edmond de Goncourt[12], though it is a rather submissive devil which busies itself here, a graphic scheme which somehow befits the obscurity of the actual situation in the text. In this sense, Brouet tries to match Pawlowski's prediction, who wrote in 1922[13] :

[...] ses dernières œuvres annoncent déjà des chefs-d'œuvre qui, par leur probité et leur réalisme intense, éclipseront bientôt celles d'un Rops.

If each illustration set is a program, we can say that Geetere's psychoerotic introspection or Mercier's decorative esthetics both demonstratively claimed their right to dissociate from the text, its intents, its temporality. Brouet and Maële where both more willing to adhere to the letter but while Maële crafted a solid, down-to-earth and true-to-life interpretation, Brouet, for his first known attempt at erotic illustration, successfully wielded his freedom of the needle and let his inventivity speak. Dutel, in the general introduction to his volume, remarked: [..] Publishers of lesser importance also dabbled with pornography: [...] Georges (sic) Boutitie, the friend of Gustave (sic) Brouet, published a charming (belle) edition of Un Eté à la Campagne. From an authority in the field, these praises speak volumes, while his rather approximate familiarity with the duet guarantees total impartiality.

Appendix - a list of editions of l'Eté à la Campagne

  • 1868 - first edition by Poulet-Malassis, with a frontispiece by Ropswhile
  • 1875 ? - A. Christiaens, Brussels, dated 1868 - 2 tomes, with 8 illustrations attr. to Felix Lukkow
  • 1880 - Geneva, no ill. - some with the ill. by Fredillo.
  • 1886 - Amsterdam no ill.
  • 1887 - n. p. [Kirstemaekers, Bruxelles] - some with the ill. by Fredillo.
  • 1905 - Hirsch, frontispiece & 8 ill., anon., maybe Paul Avril.
  • 1910 - Mytilène, G. Briffaut, preface by Apollinaire, no ill.
  • ca 1920 - the same, ill. by van Maerle, 12 etch.
  • 1926 - Paris, prob. Boutitie, ill. by A. Brouet, 8 etchings + 2
  • 1928 - Geetere ed. & ill., 1 col. etching (front.) & 9 etchings
  • 1928 - 12 color lithographs by Mercier.
  • 1960 - J. Haumont, 12 color ill. by Barret.


[1Mémoires de Madame Lafarge, Michel Levy, 1867.

[2See for instance the Vie d'Alice Bizot in the Mémorial des Enfants De Marie - Maison des Oiseaux - Seconde Partie - 1868.

[3]  See for instance the Vie de Melle Marie-Amélie Sauvage, décédée à St-Servan, le 13 août 1817, by the abbé Sauvage, cited by Odile Arnold, Le Corps et L'Ame, Seuil 1984 - "Ces deux anecdotes de la vie d'Amélie montrent bien que si les parents, au lieu de vanter les romans, la comédie et les autres amusements dangereux, avaient soin de n'en parler devant leurs enfants que comme en doivent parler des chrétiens, l'on ne verrait pas tant de jeunes personnes se livrer à ces lectures corruptrices, qui dessèchent le coeur, exaltent l'imagination, nourrissent l'orgueil et souvent corrompent les moeurs. [...] Cependant, malgré les nombreux et affligeants exemples que nous fournit ce siècle corrompu, beaucoup de parents sont d'une effrayante négligence sur un point si important".

[4]  Note on the left the hand providing novels by inter alios A. Dumas but also the barely discernible juvenile face of the kind librarian, who bears horns on his forehead...

[5]  Incidentaly, this is precisely the title of a 1811 book by Gustave's namesake Joseph Droz (no apparent family connection). The book, quite popular, was in its 8th edition in the mid XIXth century so its inclusion in the frontispiece may not be entirely fortuitous.

[6] Paris en 1902 in Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von Gestern, Bermann-Fischer Verlag AB, 1942.

[7] Histoire de la vie privée, tome IV, 2000.

[8] Souvenirs d'une fille du peuple, ou La Saint-Simonienne en Égypte, Sauzet, 1866, p. 363.

[9] Private communication.

[10] See

[11] I thank John from for pointing out the reference and providing the reproduction from Dutel.

[12] E. de Goncourt, Hokousai, Charpentier, 1896.

[13] Le Journal, 22 mars 1922.