Under ordinary circumstances, I would have been in Paris today, for the opening this evening of the annual Salon international du Livre rare. But I am in still in beechy Buckinghamshire, enjoying instead some late summer sunshine. My mind, however, has turned to French books, and one in particular which I have at the moment.
It’s a unique volume, containing a wealth of material relating to the premiere of a play called Sous un autre ciel by Jean-François-Louis Merlet, performed at the Théâtre des Variétés in Toulouse on 24 April 1914. According to Merlet’s (1848–1942) own notes here, the play was originally written between 1907 and 1909, but that first manuscript has now been destroyed (f. 2). This is the prompter’s copy, ‘avec une partie seulement des coupures, faits à la representation, d’après mes avis’ (signed June 1914). Merlet’s heavily marked-up typescript occupies pp. 2–110.
This is followed by two autograph letters, signed, to Merlet from, M. Saint-Léon, who played Jean Lecaptard, and the director, Édouard Azéma, who also took the part of Gilbert Hardy-Aubiet; a copy of the original programme; nine photographs or postcards of the cast and set; fourteen pages of press cuttings relating to the play, most from Toulouse and the surrounding area; and two folded posters (c.600 × 365 mm, printed on red paper, and c.1000 × 760 mm, printed on blue paper, slightly cropped) advertising the production.
The play, which apparently remains unpublished, is set in Paris and Algiers. Grasping industrialist Jean Lecaptard ruins his rivals, among them the Aubiet family who relocate to Algeria, close to the Moroccan border, to rebuild their lives and their fortune. After much drama, and colonial colour, Lecaptard finally sees the error of his ways and, on his deathbed, envisages happiness ‘under another sky’.
For further details on the volume, please see my summer list, Shakespeare and the Stage.