Un été à la campagne: correspondance de deux jeunes parisiennes, recueillie par un auteur à la mode (A Summer in the Countryside: The Correspondence of Two Young Parisiennes, Collected by a Fashionable Author) was understandably a very popular story for publishers wishing to commission a series of erotic illustrations.
The text consists of the correspondence between Adèle and Albertine, adolescent school friends who are looking forward to the summer holidays in the French countryside with their respective families. They are also thinking rather a lot about sex. The book is written as a series of forty-one letters, describing in detail how their experiences of intimacy develop over the long hot months.
The text is by Antoine Gustave Droz (1832–95), artist and author best known for his series of sketches of the intimacies of family life, published in the La Vie Parisienne and issued in book form in 1866 as Monsieur, Madame et Bébé. He was an early advocate of marriage as an equal partnership, and intimacy as an integral aspect of a truly loving relationship. He urged women to follow their hearts and marry a man of their own age: ‘A husband who is stately and a little bald is all right, but a young husband who loves you and drinks out of your glass without ceremony is better. Let him, if he ruffles your dress a little and places a kiss on your neck as he passes. Let him, if he undresses you after the ball, laughing like a fool. You have fine spiritual qualities, it is true, but your body is not bad either, and when one loves, one loves completely.’
This 1905 edition, illustrated by Avril, was the first of several illustrated editions to appear between 1900 and 1930; Martin van Maele and Auguste Brouet were among the other artists to imagine the adventures of Adèle and Albertine. The Avril plates, as with his other work, are both sexually explicit and disarmingly honest.
The Avril-illustrated Un été à la campagne was published in Paris by Charles Hirsch, in a limited numbered edition of 300 copies. The first 30 copies contained an addition nine engravings; hand-coloured versions are known.
We are grateful to Steve Mullins of the Olympia Press website (www.parisolympiapress.com) for these illustrations.