"Les Guêpes" Collection

The Revenant Archive contains forty-four volumes of Gustave Karr's rare, self-published avant-garde satirical magazine Les Guêpes (The Wasps), a milestone series in the history of avant-garde and DIY publishing, and an important potential resource for researchers of the counter-cultural milieu of the time.

The first issue opens with a cogent and pretty detailed analysis of the way in which, after the Revolution of 1830, the new moderate-liberal Monarchy exercised effective censorship through economic rather than political means, destroying the artist- and activist-run Small Press community in favour of a few huge corporate press conglomerates. Karr's response to the situation was to start this self-published venture (which lasted ten years) with an intentionally tiny audience whom he called his "unknown friends". This move was extremely rare at the time, when printing technology was expensive and inaccessible, over a century before the 'Mimeograph Revolution', and Karr's rationale in this essay for self-publishing as political and literary dissent, shows him laying the very early groundwork upon which 'zine and micropress publishing would eventually emerge. Karr's discourse in each issue swerves and merges unpredictably, almost as if by stream of consciousness, between political tirades, comedy sketches, gossip and in-jokes about the avant-garde community, literary and social criticism, and sarcastic observations about daily life.

Read Les Guêpes online at Gallica

The Revenant Archive holds copies of the journal's first run for 1839-42 in two separate formats, as well as its full short-lived revival from 1852-55, squelched by the government of Napoleon III, and the 1883 re-issues, with redactions made under censorship of the Third Empire. It also contains a letter from Karr himself, which was found inserted between the pages of the 1853 issue (see "Personal Artifacts" for description). Most of this material was gathered by an earlier archivist, now unknown, and acquired as a collection by the Revenant Archive.



Lot 1:  1839-1842  Separate Original Printings. (27 soft-cover volumes on scrap/second-hand paper).
 The original paperback issues, the closest thing technologically possible to a 19th century 'zine--These very rare copies, many in various states of deterioration, were unevenly printed every month on cheap paper, and recycled scrap pages of text and illustrations from other publications have been used to paste the heavy-stock covers over the bound signatures.

Lot 2:  1839-40  1st Deluxe Edition. (Six Bound Volumes).
   These bound copies were printed from the same plates as the first print-run, but were printed by Lange Lévy on much higher quality paper and machine-cut; they were probably printed at the end of the year for higher-paying subscribers. They are in near-perfect condition, and optimal reading-research copies as compared to the initial run which are further deteriorated or the later collections which are redacted by the later Napoleonic censors.

Lot 3:  1853-55  Nouvelles Guêpes. (8 re-bound soft-cover volumes)
Karr briefly attempted to revive Les Guêpes under the regime of Napoleon III, an undertaking doomed to failure given the conditions of state censorship. This is a boxed set of the original soft-cover journals, each bound individually in end-paper.

Lot 4: 1871 Handwritten note by Alphonse Karr.
Karr scrawled out this increasingly agitated note to an unknown correspondent sometime in 1871, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War. He discusses troop movements and scenes of displaced civilians pressed into military service, criticizing the new Moderate-Republican government's handling of the refugee crisis. 

Lot 5: 1887  Calmann-Lévy Re-issue. (Three Bound Volumes).
This three-volume bound reprint of the Nov. 1839--May, 1842 issues of the journal was published at the height of the Decadent movement by the Calmann-Lévy, who reprinted many Romanticist and other early avant-garde texts. It uses the text of the 1853 re-issue, and thus contains redactions made to conform to censorship of the Bonapartist government of the Third Empire.

As each copy in the collection is more fully processed, content information will be added to the entries below. The index will be given to the first appearance in this list of the given issue. Whenever possible page numbers have been given to the text of the first edition; both 1st edition printings are numbered identically, but the 1887 editions differs, and include politically-motivated redactions.

 Lot One: Original Monthly Issues (1839-42)

  
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Nov., 1839. Inaugural Issue. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

Highlights include:
  • A detailed essay-manifesto about the way in which, after the Revolution of 1830, the new moderate-liberal Monarchy exercised effective censorship through economic rather than political means, destroying the artist- and activist-run Small Press community in favour of a few huge corporate press conglomerates.
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Jan, 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

Highlights include:
  • An in-joke about Nodier that I don't yet get, by way of criticizing Theirs for behaving like the Orleans ministers… (p. 19)
  • A satire of Bonapartist conspiracies, including a short sketch in dialogue parodying the witches from Macbeth; suppressed by the Bonapartist regime from the 1853 & subsequent editions. p. 26-35 in 1st ed.
  • An account of being tracked down for truancy from his state-imposed National Guard duties, which morphs into a dialogue comedy sketch about "the National-Guard Werther" p. 38-48. The last three pages of this were suppressed by the Bonapartist regime from the 1853 & subsequent editions.
  • A long tirade against the Orleans monarchy, which he calls the gouvernement sauvage or 'savage government', directed against a statement by André Dupin, a prominent Royalist politician; it includes an extended comment on religious freedom, the necessity of public education, and references to Fourierism, Saint-Simonism, and the frenetic concerts of Napoleon Musard. p. 49-60
  • A piece about a new brand of candies which are shaped like Romanticist writers, actresses and historians, each filled with a different liquor. Don't know if this is parodic or real… p.64
  • An obscure anecdote involving the Romanticist poet Delphine Girardin and Jules Janin, p.66
  • A witty remark by Alexandre Dumas, p.69
  • On the French occupation of Algeria, p. 70-81
  • An account of the French Academy refusing to consider Hugo as a candidate, p. 82-84.
  • Complaints about tobacco laws, p. 92-95.
  • On current subscriptions & an invitation to donate money (only in 1st edition), p. 95-96.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), April, 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), June, 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

Highlights include:
  • Some back-and-forth with anonymous senders of hate-mail to the journal, p. 30-33.
  • A counter-attack against a member of the French Academy who had insulted Victor Hugo
  • A (rather unflattering) bit of criticism about the style of Romanticist piano-playing and composition, p. 58-59.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), July, 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Aug., 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Dec., 1840. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Jan., 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

Highlights include:
  • Articles on police persecution of "indecent dances" such as the early cancan, and on dance-club etiquette, pp. 66–68. (Translation here)
  • An account of a recent attempt by government censors to confiscate copies of Les Guêpes.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Feb., 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), March, 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), April, 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), May, 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), June, 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), July, 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Aug., 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Sept., 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Oct., 1841. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Jan., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 90 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Feb., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), March, 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.
 
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), April, 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), May, 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), June, 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 94 pp.

Highlights include a series of visual texts containing brief, satirical epigraphs about various cultural and political figures & institutions, many pointing out hypocrisies and apostasies, each on its own page printed inside a circle with the caption "God protect France." Targets include the Classicist painter Ingres ("1828 Suppresses red. / 1832 rids his palette of yellow. / 1841 Doesn't know where God had his head when he put so much green into nature."), the Saint-Simonist leader Enfantin, Medicine,  the novelist Balzac, King Louis-Pilippe ("The 20 February 1842 - sells the first green beans of the year."), Dandyism, Justice, and the regime-mouthpiece Le Journal des debats, which he ridicules in another essay for becoming entangled in socialist debates between the Fourierists and Saint-Simonians.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), July, 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.
 
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Aug., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 92 pp.
 
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Sept., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 93 pp.
 
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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Oct., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Les Guêpes (The Wasps), Nov., 1842. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr,  Cover & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.



Lot Two: Deluxe First Edition (1839-40)

 
Les Guêpes, by Alphonse Karr. Frontispieces & Decorations by Grandville. First Edition. Self-Published. Quarter-bound Hard-cover 32 mo., 200 p/vol.
 
     Vol. 1: Nov. / Dec. 1839.
     Vol. 2: Jan. / Feb. 1840.
     Vol. 3: March / April 1840.
     Vol. 4: May / June 1840.
     Vol. 5: July / Aug. 1840.
     Vol. 6: Sept. / Oct. 1840.

These higher-quality, tightly-bound end-of-the-year collections are more appropriate for reading/translation than the first-run copies in the archive, and contain some issues missing from that set.

Among the latter are articles in the May, 1840 issue describing a new set of censorship measures and the ineffective response from the leftist press (pp. 45-48); Karr's ambivalence about a movement to secure fair contracts for writers--he agrees to the principle without reservation, but decries the professionalization and commercialization of literature, which had so recently struggled to become a revolutionary force (pp. 55-60); and a bit of gossip describing the psychosocial phenomenon known known as Lizstomania (the term itself is not used here)–hysteria caused by the music and celebrity of the Romanticist Franz Lizst (p. 62).

Lot Three: Nouvelles Guêpes, Original monthly Issues soft-bound in End-Paper in Original matching Box (1853-55)



 Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 1, 1853. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Comptoir des Éditeurs, Brussels, Brussels. Paperback 32 mo., 123 pp.

 Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 2, 1854. Belgian edition supplemented w/ Des Bourdonnements ('Buzzings'). Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Comptoir des Éditeurs, Brussels, Brussels. Paperback 32 mo., 128 pp.

Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 3, Belgian edition supplemented w/ Des Bourdonnements ('Buzzings'). Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Comptoir des Éditeurs, Brussels, Brussels. Paperback 32 mo., 123 pp.  

Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 4, 1854. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Comptoir des Éditeurs, Brussels, Brussels. Paperback 32 mo., 128 pp.  

Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 5. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Comptoir des Éditeurs, Brussels, Brussels. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.  

Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 6, 1854. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Blanchard, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.  

Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 7, 1854. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Blanchard, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp. 


Nouvelles Guêpes, Vol. 8, 1855. Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. First Edition. Blanchard, Paris. Paperback 32 mo., 96 pp.

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Lot Four: Handwritten Note by Gustave Karr

Gustave Karr, Hand-written letter to unknown correspondent regarding conditions & troop movements in the Franco-Prussian War. Undated, c. Spring, 1871. Two pages of single folded folio sheet. Found enclosed in archive copy of Karr's 1853 Nouvelles Guêpes boxed set (Lot 3, above). 
 


 
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Lot Five: 1887 Re-Issue (1853 Redactions Maintained)

Les Guêpes: Première Série. Nouvelle édition. (The Wasps: First Series. New Edition). Ed. & Written by Alphonse Karr. (1887). Decorations by Grandville. Second Edition. Calmann Lévy, Paris. Three Volumes. Stamp of previous owner: Louis A. Schwabacher, San Francisco (died in Paris, 1935).
(Link to first edition online at Gallica)

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