Paris: Potomak, 1951. Large octavo. (23)pp. From an edition of twenty-five copies, this is the first ("Exemplaire N. 1"), with the three etchings hand-colored by Azénor and an extra suite of prints on Japon. Strikingly beautiful in text and image, this lesbian fairytale offers an unabashed window into the artistry of queer women during the early and mid-20th century. Axel and Azénor were lovers and active in the burgeoning LGBTQ+ community of central Europe in the interwar period. In particular, Azénor gained recognition as a symbolist painter and contributor to various French newspapers, even while living openly as a lesbian and frequenting the first Parisian lesbian clubs, Le Monocle and Le Select.
Here, in their present collaboration, Axel and Azénor explore the pangs of love and identity experienced by women who love women. They advocate for the inherency and undeniability of same-sex attraction: the protagonist, a woman who became a siren, then returned to her human form in an attempt to find love, has no interest in her male suitors but is immediately and heartwrenchingly pulled to another woman. At the same time, the tale mourns the division of self often necessary in a period when being out was not only unheard of, but also dangerous. The protagonist ultimately must choose between her community of sirens and the woman she loves, and must experience the pain of loving while also not being loved. As with all the best fairytales, the story transcends time and place; this one bears particular resonance for the exact sort of heartache with which LGBTQ+ individuals often grapple.
Originally produced as a one-off manuscript in the 1930s under the title "La femme qui avait été sirène," this is only the second known surviving copy of the printed edition, the other being the author's own copy now at Cornell. Sheets and extra suite loose, as issued, in light blue paper wrappers. Mild edgewear to this outer portfolio, else fine. Item #31046