Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - January - 2009 Issue

Capri and Other Places from Elysium Books


We think we can spot the title "Capri" in this latest catalogue from Elysium Books.

By Michael Stillman

Elysium Books recently issued a new catalogue which we believe is entitled Capri. Believe because the title page has no title, but "Capri" can be found lightly shaded on the word search cover (click the image to the left to see). This catalogue is in no way limited to items related to the island off the Italian coast, though it frequently appears. However, Capri may be symbolic of the type of material you will find. Capri was noted as an open place in long ago eras when most locations were not so free. It attracted an art colony and a thriving gay community. Most of the works in this catalogue pertain to the gay community, and most come from a time when it was subject to persecution and condemnation. Capri was a place where gay men could live in relative freedom. Here are a few of the works offered in this Caprian catalogue.

We will start with the earliest item, Anecdotes pour servir à l'histoire secrete des ebugors... This 1733 work is a thinly veiled account of the life of Benjamin Deschauffours, burned at the stake for sodomy in France in 1726. Deschauffours was guilty of more than just sodomy, though that would have been enough in itself to get him some form of punishment. Deschauffours ran a business of procuring boys from the streets of Paris and selling them for their favors to French aristocrats. He was deserving of punishment, though this was a bit extreme. This pamphlet treats his character sympathetically, as someone championing the cause of these oppressed boys. Elysium notes that while the pamphlet was reprinted many times, this first edition is quite scarce. It is herein bound with several other works. Item 147. Priced at $4,500.

Many of the items in this catalogue come from the personal collection of Norman Douglas. Douglas wrote on controversial themes, and his at times controversial personal life often kept him moving around. He spent much of his time on Capri, more hospitable to his behavior than England, where he was educated. He is best known for the 1917 novel South Wind, a lightly disguised account of life on an island amazingly similar to Capri. Elysium offers several collections of monographs Douglas kept on various subjects, such as Naples, Calabria, and herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians). The latter includes 56 monographs and offprints. For Douglas, we will start at the conclusion rather than the beginning. Item 69 is his Footnote on Capri, his last book. It contains 48 photographs by his close friend Islay Lyons. It was published in 1952, the year Douglas died (he died on Capri). It comes with several items from Douglas or Lyons. $275.

Henry Miller may not have shared sexual orientation with Norman Douglas, but he did share controversy and condemnation, along with an interest in sexual themes. Item 127 is a Paris first edition of Miller's most notable work, Tropic of Cancer, inscribed to Douglas in 1934, the year of publication. $27,500.

Rare Book Monthly

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