The Clark recently acquired an early scribal manuscript of Pierre-Corneille Blessebois’ 1676 play L’Eugenie, a work based on the story of St. Eugenia. Though there are many reasons why L’Eugenie is interesting as a text (onstage nudity, transgender themes, and a libertine author who wrote the first zombie novel, just to name a few), I am particularly interested in one small aspect of our copy’s provenance.
One of the former owners of this manuscript, whose red bookplate can be seen above, was the French writer and librarian Charles Nodier (1780-1844). As the director of the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal in Paris, Nodier established a literary salon that brought together Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and other young Romanticists, and was a major influence on their work. Nodier’s own literary work touches on similar themes of the Gothic and fantastic; he was also extremely interested in the vampire novel. Though L’Eugenie is not part of this genre, it does make sense that he might be particularly interested in work by the author of Le zombie du Grand-Perou!
Though Nodier is best remembered for his influence on the young French Romantics, his work as a librarian was also significant — indeed a 2003 article by Matthew Loving asserts that he should actually be considered “one of history’s great librarians.” Nodier was a bibliophile from a young age and learned the art of bibliography while working in his father’s personal library. He made a name for himself by traveling to nearby estates to catalog and inventory their libraries, and worked as a professional librarian in France and in Ljubljana, Slovenia before his appointment as bibliothéquaire de l’Arsenal in 1824. In his work as a librarian, Nodier advocated for the importance of bibliographic control and accuracy in cataloging. In fact, he was one of the first librarians to advocate for better standards for bibliography and cataloging, comparing the “science” of bibliography to the classification of plants and animals (which he knew something about, as he was also an amateur entomologist). Nodier sold off portions of his library several times over his lifetime and there was also a large sale of his remaining books after his death in 1844. I haven’t yet been able to find a mention of this manuscript in sales catalogues, but it would be interesting to see how Nodier himself cataloged it — hopefully our cataloging lives up to his standards!