A Night of Cleopatra, Théophile Gautier, illus. Paul Avril, preface by Anatole France (Société des Beaux Arts, Paris, nd.[c.1895])
6.5″x10.25″, xxiv+113pp, red boards with paper title on spine, top edge gilt, others deckled, tissue guards protect numerous illustrations by Paul Avril throughout within text and fullpage, frontispiece in color, good+ condition, stain at bottom of preface pages
One of Cleopatra’s Nights (Une nuit de Cléopâtre) is a historical short story by the French writer Théophile Gautier, (Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier 1811-1872), a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic. It was first published as a six-part serial from November 29-December 6 1838 in La Presse. It relates an imagined romantic incident in the life of the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII.
Cleopatra crosses the Nile to her summer palace in her royal cange. She confesses to her slave Charmion to a horrible ennui. She is oppressed by the thought of the Egypt she rules and all its ancient, preserved dead; only love can redeem it for her. Later Meïamoun, a hopeless admirer of the queen who has intrigued her with an arrow-borne declaration of love, is caught spying on her in the bath. In a capricious leniency, Cleopatra treats him to one night of love, hosting an orgiastic banquet in his company and even dancing before him. With the morning comes a cup of poison, which he willingly takes to drink. She stays his hand, only to be distracted by a clarion heralding the arrival of Mark Antony. At this signal Meïamoun says “You see the moment has come: it is daybreak; it is the hour when happy dreams take flight.” He drinks and falls dead, and Cleopatra lets fall a single teardrop, the only one she has ever shed. Antony arrives and asks meaning of the corpse; it is only a poison she was testing, she tells him, and bids him sit beside her to watch the dancers.
Édouard-Henri Avril (1849-1928) used the pseudonym “Paul Avril” for his erotic work. He was a French painter and commercial artist. His career saw collaboration with influential people like Octave Uzanne, Henry Spencer Ashbee and Friedrich Karl Forberg. He is one of the most celebrated erotic artists of his age. Avril was a soldier before starting his career in art. He was awarded with the Legion of Honour for his actions in the Franco-Prussian War.