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Barney, Natalie Clifford, insc) Gourmont.

Lettres a L'Amazone.

Book

Inscribed to Her Housekeeper
[Barney, Natalie Clifford]. de Gourmont, Remy.  Lettres à l'Amazone. Paris: Mercure de France, 1917.
8vo.; printed wrappers, fragile; printed in black; lightly soiled; spine creased; original glassine dust-jacket; edgeworn. In a specially made cloth slipcase.
Fourth edition of this collection of thirty-two essays that de Gourmont wrote regarding his correspondence with Barney, originally published in the Mercure de France in 1912 and 1913, and published in book form in 1914. It is unclear how many copies were printed of the book, but this is marked copy #542. With a frontispiece photograph of Barney's Temple à l'Amitié, with tissue guard; and a leaf of paper, loosely inserted, with the words, "Sa joie se suffit à elle même/Lettres a L'A. R de G" (trans: Her joy is sufficient for her) written in pencil; with a page of publisher's advertisements on the lower cover.
A presentation copy, inscribed on the frontispiece photograph: a Berthe et avec nos souvenirs/ Natalie Clifford Barney/1912 (Trans: to Berthe and with our memories). The "1912" date in the inscription might refer to the year in which de Gourmont's Lettres began to be published in the Mercure de France, or it might indicate the year in which the photograph was taken.
"Berthe" is Berthe Cleyrergue, Barney's longtime housekeeper; Djuna Barnes discovered her in 1927 - when she was twenty-three years old - and the young woman remained in Barney's service until Barneys death, more than four decades later:  
"In the early 1930s Berthe Cleyrergue took on the fearsome responsibility for laying on the Friday fare and succeeded beyond measure. Everything she put on the table was homemade. In the center was always a huge platter of chicken, ham, cucumber and roast beef sandwiches. Cakes and pastries were so beloved by regulars that they were often described in memoirs; the half-vanilla, half-chocolate cake, meringues, éclairs, almond cookies and cheese twists were famous" (Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris,by Suzanne Rodriguez, pp. 248).
The only hereterosexual member of Barney's circle, she became almost as much an institution as the salons at 20 rue de Jacob. "Combining extraordinary competence with patience, thrift, honesty, and what would become a strong lifelong affection for her employer, she quickly became the indispensable key to a smoothly functioning household" (ibid., p. 268).
Cleyrergue often acted as more than just Barney's housekeeper; her loyalty to her is evident in her actions. Cleyrergue nursed Dolly Wilde after she had attempted suicide by slitting her wrists when Natalie went off with an actress; she acted as go-between when Barney wanted to mend relations with Romaine Brooks; and she managed to persuade the Nazis that Barney was not Jewish so her property would not be seized during the French Occupation.   
De Gourmont has titled each letter according to the topic; these include: "Les Deux Sexes" (The Two Sexes), "Chasteté" (Chastity), "La Volonté" (Will), "Un Conte" (A Story), "Une et Toutes," (One and All), and "Le Désir" (Desire).
Barney, notorious for her lesbian love affairs, also pursued de Gourmont, her "most famous conquest":
Remy de Gourmont…was one of the most prominent men of letters of his day. Disfigured by lupus in his later years, Gourmont had become a recluse who only came out at night. Barney charmed him to such a degree that he fell in love with her. For the last five years of his life, Gourmont wrote letters to Barney. In 1912 and 1913 he published his letters - in essays submitted to Barney for approval - in the influential literary magazine Mercure de France. These essays made Barney a literary celebrity almost overnight. In 1914 Gourmont published Lettres a l'Amazone, a collection of the essays based on his conversations with Barney; in 1926 his original letters were published posthumously as Lettres intimes a l'Amazone.
De Gourmont died in 1915.
(#10675)

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