The Skimmer: or the History of Tanzai and Neadarne[Crebillon, Claude-Prosper Jolyot de]
London: Printed for F. Galicke. 1735.
First edition in English. Two volumes in one. 12mo. (150x83mm). Contemporary panelled calf, stylised floral cornerpieces in blind, edges of boards decorated in gilt. Bumping and rubbing to corners, head of spine chipped, joints firm although superficially cracked but overall the binding is in very good condition. Front pastedown has twentieth century illustrated bookplate with initials "G.N." Engraved frontispiece by Claude du Bosc. Internally in excellent condition with some slight toning in places. Leaves A6 and G2 have tears to the corners with no loss of text.
Crebillon fils (his father was an eccentric but brilliant rival of Voltaire) made his name as a young writer of satires and theatrical parodies. Satirical attacks on the loose morals of the French aristocracy form the subject matter of much of his work, establishing Crebillon as a leading exponent of the libertine novel. The Skimmer, published in 1734 when Crebillon was 27, is his second novel and a bizarre one. It is presented as a tale from a lost, eastern land, translated from the Venetian dialect into Japanese, then Chinese, Dutch, Latin and finally French. This elaborate, faux scholarly conceit is by way of an attack on the slightly pretentious Western adoption of Oriental culture at the time. The mystical, eastern setting also allows Crebillon to unfetter his wild imagination. The preposterous plot begins with the hero, a prince called Tanzai, being prohibited, by order of the fairies who rule the mythical land, from marrying before his twenty-first birthday. As he is only eighteen and wants to marry Neardane, his guardian fairy has to come to his aid. There follows a series of adventures involving the replacement of Tanzai’s genitalia with a skimmer (the flat ladle with holes used to take the fat off simmering stock), broken teeth, sex with old hags, the restoration of sexual organs and the final licking of the skimmer by a high priest. Crebillon was sent to prison shortly after publication. In part this was because of the scandalous obscenity of much of the plot but principally it was due to the novel’s vicious satire on the church, religious belief, political power and the moral laxness of the aristocracy. Although Crebillon died nineteen years before the French Revolution, this strange, high-humoured, low-toned, anarchic anti-Establishment novel with its multitude of targets (all hit) fits firmly and neatly into the critical, mocking creative life of eighteenth-century France. The Skimmer is scarce in commerce and institutionally, ESTC locating only six copies in USA and recording the BL as the only public institution holding a copy in the UK.