Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne  

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"Her foot, her small foot, that turns so many heads was shod with a pink pump, so beautifully made and so worthy of enclosing such a beautiful foot that my eyes once fixed on that charming foot could not turn themselves away."--The Foot of Fanchette (1769) by Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne, translation from Marquis de Sade: His Life and Works

"I was much surprised when I received last year a catalogue of books, in which I found a long article by M. Paul Lacroix (known under the name of " bibliophile Jacob " ) of the on the works of Restif de la Bretonne; even more surprised when I saw the high price which was asked for the works of this writer , whom I had been accustomed to regard as beneath notice. These high prices, to be sure, were chiefly to be attributed to the curious and sometimes beautiful illustrations of the works of Restif, and to their rarity ; but still , I could not but wonder that M. Paul Lacroix took so much notice of a writer whose name was once only pronounced with contempt. “ Restif's books," wrote he, " are now very rare : they will become sought after, as they are now sought after by the great amateurs of bibliographical curiosities.


His first successful work was the "Fool of Fanchette," in 1769. He had therefore toiled in vain for seven years, obliged to work in the printing office when he did not write. The intrigue of this story is very common, but the pretty , small foot of the young merchande St. Denis, in its pretty pink shoe, is an agreeable object, and there are original remarks here and there. This maniac - for I really believe Restif was nothing else - professed all his lifetime a sort of devotion to small feet. A whole volume might be extracted from his voluminous writings on this single subject. When he employed the extreme clever Binet to draw the engravings of his books, he constantly tormented him about the size of the heroine's feet; and really, the ladies of Binet's collection, seem to be walking on stilts."

--The American Bibliopolis, reprinted from The Nation

Related e



Nicolas-Edme Rétif (1734 – 1806) was a French novelist, author of erotic fiction works such as The Anti-Justine (1798) and utopist non-fiction Le Pornographe (1769). The term retifism for shoe fetishism was named after him (an early novel, entitled Fanchette's Foot, follows a beautiful heroine and her pretty little foot). His was known by several epithets: Laharpe called him "the Voltaire of the chambermaids" and he was also known as "the Rousseau of the gutter." He was portrayed by Jean-Louis Barrault in Ettore Scola's film That Night in Varennes.



He was the son of a farmer, and was born at Sacy (Yonne). He was educated by the Jansenists at Bicêtre, and on the expulsion of the Jansenists was received by one of his brothers, who was a curé. Owing to a scandal in which he was involved, he was apprenticed to a printer at Auxerre, and, having served his time, went to Paris. Here he worked as a journeyman printer, and in 1760 he married Anne or Agnès Lebègue, a relation of his former master at Auxerre.

It was not until five or six years after his marriage that Rétif appeared as an author, and from that time to his death he produced a bewildering multitude of books, amounting to something like two hundred volumes, many of them printed with his own hand, on almost every conceivable subject. Rétif suffered at one time or another the extremes of poverty and was acquainted with every kind of intrigue. He drew on the episodes of his own life for his books, which, in spite of their faded sentiment, contain truthful pictures of French society on the eve of the Revolution. He has been described as both a social realist and a sexual fantasist in his writings.

The original editions of these, and indeed of all his books, have long been bibliographical curiosities owing to their rarity, the beautiful and curious illustrations which many of them contain, and the quaint typographic system in which most are composed.

The fall of the assignats during the Revolution forced him to make his living by writing, profiting on the new freedom of the press. In 1795 he received a gratuity of 2000 francs from the Thermidor Convention. In spite of his declarations for the new power, his aristocratic acquaintances and his reputation made him fall in disgrace. Just before his death Napoleon gave him a place in the ministry of police, which he did not live to take up.

Rétif de la Bretonne undoubtedly holds a remarkable place in French literature. He was inordinately vain, of extremely relaxed morals, and perhaps not entirely sane. His books were written with haste, and their licence of subject and language renders them "quite unfit for general perusal", according to the Britannica redactors.

He and the Marquis de Sade maintained a mutual hate, while he was appreciated by Benjamin Constant and Friedrich von Schiller and appeared at the table of Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière, whom he met in 1782. Jean François de La Harpe nicknamed him "the Voltaire of the chambermaids". He was rediscovered by the Surrealists.

He is also noted for his advocacy of communism, indeed the term first made its modern appearance (1785) in his book review of Joseph-Alexandre-Victor Hupay de Fuveau who described himself as "communist" with his Project for a Philosophical Community.

The works of Charles Monselet, Rétif de la Bretonne (1853), and P. Lacroix, Bibliographie et iconographie (1875), J. Assezat's selection from the Contemporaines, with excellent introductions (3 vols., 1875), and the valuable reprint of Monsieur Nicolas (14 vols., 1883-1884), are sufficient to form a judgment of him. His life, written by his contemporary Cubières-Palmezeaux, was republished in 1875. See also Eugène Dühren, Rétif de la Bretonne, der Mensch, der Schriftsteller, der Reformator (Berlin, 1906), and a bibliography, Rétif-Bibliothek (Berlin, 1906), by the same author.


The most noteworthy of his works are:


Restif a encore publié, sous le titre de Théâtre (1793, 5 vol. in-12), une série de pièces qui n’ont pas été représentées.

As a typographer

Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne uses typography that can be seen as a precursor to visual poetry.

Pages linking in as of 2021

1734 in literature, 1769 in literature, 1775 in literature, 1806 in France, 1806, 18th-century French literature, Alexander William Sheppard, Anne-Hyacinthe de Colleville, Anti-Justine, Brian Stableford, Charles Fourier, Communism, Enfer, Eustache Le Noble, Evolution in fiction, French science fiction, Gérard de Nerval, Henri de Saint-Simon, History of communism, History of science fiction, History of socialism, Iwan Bloch, Jean-Louis Barrault, Jean-Michel Moreau, Jean-Pierre Granval, Jean-Sifrein Maury, Justine (de Sade novel), Lasse Braun, Les Onze Mille Verges, Libertine novel, List of diarists, List of French novelists, List of French people, List of French-language authors, List of journals appearing under the French Revolution, Marquis de Sade, Mathieu-François Pidansat de Mairobert, Nicholas Bonneville, Octave Uzanne, Panthéon Club, Paul Cottin, Père Goriot, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Nougaret, Polygraph (author), Projet de communauté philosophe, Rue de la Bûcherie, Ryszard Engelking, Sadism and masochism in fiction, September Massacres, Shoe fetishism, Shoe fetishism, Society of the Friends of Truth, Softly from Paris, Softly from Paris, Space opera, That Night in Varennes, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, The Shadow Out of Time, Théâtre d'Orsay, Thomas Paine, Victor d'Hupay


See also

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