Alphabet de l’imperfection et malice des femmes. Jacques OLIVIER.
Alphabet de l’imperfection et malice des femmes.
Alphabet de l’imperfection et malice des femmes.
The old boys’ spiked club

Alphabet de l’imperfection et malice des femmes. Paris: Jean Petit-Pas, 1617.

12mo (142 x 77 mm). 360, [24] pp. Engraved title vignette, woodcut headpieces and initials; shoulder notes. Old marginal repairs to title and a few leaves in quire B, browning. Nineteenth-century tan calf, spine gold-tooled, by C. Murton (worn, top of backstrip gone). Provenance: Paul Louis Arnauldet, etched bookplate by Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914): an open book with monogram PLA and device above and below in ornate script, “Nunquam Amicorum” (cf. Meyer-Noirel, L'ex-libris: histoire, art, techniques, no. A0436).***

First edition of a best-selling misogynistic rant, alphabetically ordered. Directed in principle, according to Paul Lacroix, against Marguerite de Valois (who died in 1615), identified in the vituperative dedication as “la plus mauvaise du monde,” the condemnation of the Queen’s vanity and viciousness is extended to the entire female sex. From Avidissimum animal / Tres-avide animal and Bestiale baratrum / Abysme de bestise to Yvrognesse éhontée (the letter Y permitting no Latin term) and Zelus zelotipus / Zèle jaloux, each of the 23 chapters explores a human vice, psychic failing, or personality defect, rather arbitrarily applying it to women in particular. Citing the Bible, classical texts, and a few contemporary poets, the author envelopes his non-arguments in a rich French vocabulary of often alliterative insults, objects, animals and plants. Following the letter Z are several short pieces: a letter to the censor, a long poem titled “Ressentiment de la malice des femmes,” and, as promised in the preface to the reader as proof of the author’s open-mindedness, a dozen pages of advice to “virtuous women.” The edition concludes with a colorful subject index.

Mirroring the libellous nature of the text, the title vignette shows a woman [Marguerite] with snakes as hair and chicken’s feet, holding a headless chicken and suckling a pair of kittens (so identified in the dedication) from two pendulous breasts.

Later editions attributed the work to Jacques Olivier, “Licencié aux Lois en droit.” The text is a late squawk of the “Querelle des femmes.” ”Part accusation and part apology, the arguments use rhetoric that one assumed was long buried” (Albistur & Armogathe). The passion of the author was nonetheless as captivating to a certain public as were the many lies already circulating about Marguerite of Valois, Queen of Navarre, a woman of letters and generous cultural patron, who had the means and courage to lead an independent life, sexual and otherwise, after her separation from Henri IV in 1585, and who remains one of the most slandered women of European history. Thus, like the tales of her debauchery, this work gained wide circulation. Gay’s list of 17 later editions, from 1619 to 1666, is incomplete, as the book was reprinted within weeks of this first edition (another known 1617 edition is marked “4th edition.”) It inspired a spate of rebuttals and counter-defenses. An English translation appeared in 1662; and the titles of the chapters were borrowed for an unrelated German series of “student’s pseudo-philosophical talk, enigmas,” etc., published in 1667 (cf. J. Hilton, Chronograms Continued, 1885, 160-161).

OCLC locates only a handful of copies of this edition, including one copy in the US (Library of Congress, incomplete). Gay-Lemonnyer I: 69-70; Brunet IV: 182. Cf. Albistur & Armogathe, Histoire du Féminisme français (1977), 160-161.
Item #4135

Price: $3,400.00

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