A Remarkable Survival: The Library of the Baronne Isabelle de Montolieu, 1718-1826
Detailed description, images, and price: Montolieu collection
Description: Montolieu collection
The library of the Baronne Isabelle de Montolieu, spanning 1718-1826, is a remarkable collection documenting of one of the most prolific writer-translators of the late 18th / early 19th centuries, an influential literary voice who was as widely read in her time as nearly all of her peers. The library, which is all that remains of Isabelle de Montolieu’s books, contains 39 titles in 129 well-preserved volumes. The survival of this many of her books in such well-preserved condition is noteworthy: this group of titles gives us a clear idea of how Montolieu treated and bound her books, the kinds of works she owned, and whether or not she re-read her own books (she did).
The collection includes rare titles of many of her works—foremost among them Jane Austen’s Raison et Sensibilité (1815)—the latter’s first published work and the first to be fully translated in French. In addition to works written or translated by Madame de Montolieu, there are books on the history of her native region, the Vaud / French Switzerland, including travel, politics, contemporary history, and other works typical of the period, such as an infamous 18th century libelle criticizing the monarchy, works by Voltaire and Rousseau (the latter complete in 24 vols), and even a two-volume Hoyle guide to whist and parlor games. All of the books are preserved in contemporary bindings, nearly all of which are uniformly bound in a style typical of Switzerland in this period. One quarter of the works (11 of 39 titles) bear the manuscript inscription “Bibliothèque de Mdme de Montolieu” in her hand—and as the books come from her descendants, these were undoubtedly the bindings and volumes possessed by Madame de Montolieu during her lifetime.
Nearly 30 volumes bear contemporary annotations, very likely (certainly?) by the author herself, with corrections in ink focused on typographical errors, mistaken character names, and other emendations that point to the hand of Madame de Montolieu. The collection thus documents not only the literary activity of one of the period’s most popular French language writers, but also the context in which she wrote, and read her works, interacting with them after publication.
Pauline-Isabelle Polier de Bottens, Baronne de Montolieu (1751–1832), writer, translator, and leading Francophone literary figure, was as popular as she was prolific, publishing 105 volumes of original stories, novels, and translations many of which were republished in subsequent editions. (cf. Quérard 6.270; Trunel p.72). As a literary figure she represents the bridge between the ancient regime and the Romantic period in Europe, publishing her first work in 1786 and maintaining her impressive output until the end of the 1820s. Her most well-known works are Caroline de Lichtfield (1786), Châteaux Suisses (1816), and Le Robinson suisse, ou, Journal d'un père de famille, naufragé avec ses enfans (1814), which she expanded with episodes of her own invention from the German original (Madame de Montolieu’s French version of the text serves as the source text for English editions of The Swiss Family Robinson.) Her successes included translations and adaptations of works by her fellow novelists such as Jane Austen, Frances Moore, aka, Madame Panache, Elizabeth Helme, Elisabeth Hervey, Barbara Hofland, Adelaide O'Keeffe, and Charlotte Smith, among British writers, and the German writers Friedrich La Motte-Fouqué, August Lafontaine, Johann Gottwerth Müller, Caroline Pichler, Johann Schiller, Johanna Schopenhauer, Johann David Wyss, and Heinrich Zschokke, to name the most prominent.
Consider that in her study Lire à Paris au Temps de Balzac: Les cabinets de lecture à Paris, 1815-1830 (Paris, 1982), Françoise Parent-Lardeur’s research shows that only the works of Madame de Genlis and Walter Scott were in greater demand in the cabinets de lectures than those of Madame de Montolieu during the early part of the 19th century (Parent-Lardeur, p. 172).