Extremely rare first edition of the first French translation of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. (Vicaire, Manuel de l’amateur, VII, col. 850, who describes the 1885 edition as being the first one).
Princess Irène Ivanovna Paskevitch, born Vorontsov-Dachkov, is to be thanked for this first French translation. It’s after this first French translation that Clara Bell will make the first English translation of ‘War and Peace’, which will be published for the first time in 1886.
This first French version of Tolstoy’ novel was printed in Saint Petersburg, as mentioned in the note “Imprimerie Trenké & Fusnot” that can be read on the verso of the title. 500 copies of this French translation printed in Russia were immediately sent to Paris and distributed by the Librairie Hachette, thus the presence of this bookshop’s address on the title leaves and on the covers.
“You have to read Leon Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. It’s one of my bedside books, I read it during my free time, in holidays, in the country, each year. I was looking to get this rare book. It has been out of stock for a long time and the editors were hestating to invest in the costs of a three-volume translation. However they decided to do so. The book got the success we know. It was purchased such as new gospel”. (Extract of a letter from Alphonse Daudet to the critic Hugues le Roux in 1882).
“Alphonse Daudet was, with Zola, Flaubert, Maupassant, Taine, Edmond About, Theuriet and some others, amongst the French writers to whom Turguenev, a zealous propagator of his country’s literature, had sent copies of the translation of Tolstoy’s novel by Irène Paskevitch, published in Saint Petersburg in 1879 and distributed in Paris by Hachette. About this work and its translation, Turguenev wrote to Tolstoy: ‘Its form is far from what the French like and look for in books; but the truth always wins. I hope, if not a brilliant victory, at least a, perhaps slow, but lasting conquest.’ The success of ‘War and Peace’ in France wasn’t immediate: according to Halpérine-Kaminsky, only 500 copies would have been sold until 1886, date when Hachette decides to republish Irène Paskevitch’s translation, whereas, during this first year, 20 000 copies of this new edition were supposed to have been sold. […]” (Michel Aucouturier, La découverte de ‘Guerre et Paix’ par la critique française).
A precious copy of this major text of the Russian literature preserved in its contemporary binding.
Provenance: gilt-stamped “CB” initials on the bottom of the spines.
Our research have allowed us to locate only 4 copies of this French first edition in all of the public libraries in the world: B.n.F., Bibliothèque de Toulon, Indiana University, Harvard University Houghton Library.