DURAS, Claire de Durfort, duchesse de. ~ Ourika. [Colophon: À Paris, de l’Imprimerie Royale], [December 1823].
12mo (175 × 105 mm), pp. 108. A stain to p. 93, otherwise exceptionally clean. Uncut in the original pale green printed wrappers, title in black letter to upper cover, both covers with scrolling borders with lyre motifs, verso with decorative cartouche, 5 small roundels to spine. Very light duststaining and some indistinct spotting, spine with the lightest of rubbing, but overall very fresh. Preserved in a modern slipcase with chemise. An extraordinary copy.
First edition, first issue - ‘de la plus grande rareté (Carteret) - printed for private circulation in an edition variously estimated at between 25 and 40 copies. A remarkable copy, as issued, retaining the original printed wrappers in their entirety. From the library assembled at the Chateau de Cirey by Diane-Adelaide de Simiane, and presumably given to her by the author.
Ourika, based on fact, and influenced by Rousseau and Chateaubriand, is the complex story of a black African child raised in aristocratic circles in Revolutionary France. It is the first fully developed attempt to portray a black heroine in Europe and the first French novel with a black female narrator.
This first edition, which contains no date of publication, precedes the 1824 first trade edition published by Ladvocat by at least three months and was in circulation in December of 1823, on the evidence of several excited notices in the contemporary press (Pailhès). It is known in two issues, this copy being of the first, with the title page bearing only the title and a quote from Byron: ‘This to be alone, this, this is solitude!’. A second issue followed swiftly with the Byron quotation moved to the head of the text on p. 3 and 16 minor textual corrections; issue points which were recognised and enumerated by Louis Scheler in his article ‘Un best-seller sous Louis XVIII: Ourika par Mme de Duras’, Bulletin du bibliophile, 1988, 11-28. In both issues no author’s name is given and the place of publication and the printer (the Imprimèrie Royale) appear only as a colophon on p. 108. Scheler also cites Mme de Duras’s letter of 14 January, 1824, in which she notes that the first edition was of no more than 30 copies, though it is unclear whether this relates to the first issue only or the first and second. Scheler illustrates the upper wrapper of a first issue copy, but copies retaining the wrapper are of great rarity, with most of the few known copies of the edition being in contemporary or later leather bindings. This copy, never bound, yet retaining its original freshness is a remarkable survival.
OCLC locates only the Bn and Harvard copies of the first edition, none being uncut copies or retaining the printed wrappers. Harvard actually holds copies of the 2 distinct issues.
Ourika soon became a bestseller, with early translations into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Danish. Carteret, Trésor du Bibliophile romantique et moderne 1801-1875 (1976) mentions a single sale record for this edition: 24 May 1966, morocco by Simier, 1700 francs; Pailhès, La Duchesse de Duras et Chateaubriand, p. 314-17.