Presented by the author, hand in hand with Nautilus Books and Mandragora Antiques, comes another unexpected chapter of “Inervoid showcasing curiosities”. On this first occasion, we’re going to talk about a book published in 1880. It belongs to Hetzel’s collection and is titled “Animals Painted by Themselves”. This edition features a red calico binding and a beautiful golden illustration that contrasts with the large swastikas on the sides, but since we’re talking about 1880, it’s not problematic yet.
Upon opening the book, we find a heartfelt dedication on the respect page, though it’s hard to read as it’s written in pencil. Then, we encounter a beautiful frontispiece, followed by another striking cover that reads “Private and Public Life of Animals”, with vignettes by JJ Grandville under the direction of PJ Style.
Who is this PJ Style?
It turns out his real name is Pierre Jules Hetzel. This Frenchman lived from January 15, 1814, to May 17, 1886. He was involved in publishing and authored several works. He is now best known among collectors for his beautiful editions of Jules Verne’s novels. He was a recognized republican and atheist in his ideas, using the pseudonym PJ Style, which means “steel” in German. Under this style, he wrote various stories for children and young adults.
Starting in 1841, four years after launching his venture, he began publishing works by Honoré de Balzac, followed by those of Émile Zola and Victor Hugo. In a photograph, he can be seen with eggs on the floor to avoid being mistaken for the narrator. Later, during his political exile in Belgium, where he worked clandestinely, he returned to France and published the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a well-known anarchist philosopher, and Charles Baudelaire, the famous “cursed poet”. These publications strongly contrasted with Charles Perrault’s editions, a recognized writer of children’s tales, illustrated by the marvelous Gustave Doré.
Continuing with the exemplar at hand, as if it were an underground band festival, Hetzel gathers a select group of writers, including PJ Style himself, Charles Nodier, Émile de La Bédollière, Gustave Droz, Louis Viardot, the aforementioned Honoré de Balzac, Édouard Lemoine, Alfred de Musset (his older brother), Paul de Musset, Jules Janin, Louis Baude, Marie Mennessier-Nodier, Pierre Bernard, all amalgamated by the magnificent drawings of JJ Grandville.
What is the book about?
Searching online, I can’t recall where I found that PJ Style promoted the book with a speech claiming it wasn’t written by people, but rather by an assembly of animals who approached him with the first written work. The first writing, and taking advantage of being on screen, is “Histoire d’un lièvre” by the aforementioned author. It narrates how a hare makes a deal with a fox and undergoes a transformation that leads to success in life. She embarks on a journey to discover the true meaning of beauty and friendship. The story follows her encounters with many different characters along the way and her learning of valuable lessons. It’s both entertaining and dark, an allegory of how influential individuals use their power to advance in the world.
Next, we have “Penas de amor de una gata inglesa” by Honoré de Balzac. It’s a satirical novel about the love life of an English cat named Minú (they gave her a French name) who, due to a broken heart, embarks on a journey to find a new home. Through the character, Balzac analyzes societal expectations and pressures and how they shape relationships, exploring themes like love, loss, and the social roles of women during the 19th century.
Much later in the book, to avoid repeating authors, we mention “Cartas de una golondrina a una serina” by Marie Mennessier-Nodier, a collection of letters written by a female swallow to a female goldfinch. The letters are rich in allusions to human society, descriptions, images, and moral reflections. They cover a wide range of topics, including friendship, love, virtue, death, and the nature of life. As a fun fact, some see this story as an early precursor to the modern fantasy genre.
Now, with a shift to a more dramatic tone, let’s discuss the artist who has captured our attention all this time. We’re talking about Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, better known as JJ Grandville. He was born on September 13, 1810, in Nancy, in eastern France, into a family of artists and comedians. His father, a miniature painter, provided his initial drawing lessons. As an artist, he adopted the name (J)ean (J)acques and took Grandville from his grandparents.
The satirical press of the time influenced him artistically and politically, shaping his liberal inclinations (let’s remember, we’re in 1810) and his anticlerical stance, which aligns with his transgressive nature. Already by 1820, around the age of 17, he was designing hybrid human-animal creatures, which over time became his distinctive hallmark. At the age of 21, he moved to Paris and shortly thereafter published a collection of lithographs titled “Tribulations of Small Property”, followed by “Pleasures of All Ages” and “The Sibyl of the Salons”. But it was with “Metamorphoses of the Day” in 1828 that he truly made himself known.
In 1835, during the reign of Louis Philippe, a certain Adolphe Thiers, greatly angered by the artist and his satirical prints, enacted a law that required prior authorization for the publication of drawings and caricatures. Following the restoration of censorship and the relentless attacks by the police, Jean Jacques immortalized a search in the form of a caricature, depicting gendarmes as flies invading his home. After this episode, he dedicated himself almost exclusively to illustrating books, working on various works, such as those of Honoré de Balzac, La Fontaine’s Fables, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, and many more. He also continued to publish lithographs, including “The Hundred Proverbs”, “Animated Flowers”, and “Another World” in 1844.
During this period, he participated in the illustrations of “Private and Public Life of Animals”, the book we have in our hands.
And here we conclude, because the idea is for you to see the whole thing on our YouTube channel and enjoy all the work we’ve been telling you about.