Collecting antique French books by Molière and other authors is a fun hobby for those interested in French literature, theater or comedy. Although only Francophiles may know that this playwright's real name is Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, everyone has surely heard of Tartuffe, one of his most famous plays.
Molière: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin
Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in Paris in 1622, for many years Molière traveled around France as head of an acting troupe. Besides being a writer, Molière was an actor, stage manager and director, allowing him a broader understanding of drama and its devices than his playwright contemporaries. When Molière returned to Paris he found an enthusiastic audience with Louis XIV, which became the key to his success as a writer.
Molière's genre of choice was the satire. Because of this choice in genre, he drew criticism from many groups, including the church, and other dramatists. Louis XIV, whose royal family was his audience, often intervened to defend Molière's work.
In 1673 Molière became ill while acting on stage in one of his own plays and died a short time later.
Editions of Collected Works
Because Molière was a playwright and not a novelist, his works first came out on the stage, and not at the printing press. Rare editions of his complete works date from early in the 18th century, although some 19th century editions are also coveted antiques.
Search for the following titles if you are out antiquing, looking for old books of Molière's plays:
- Les œuvres de Monsieur de Molière. This was published by Michel Clousier and consists of eight separate volumes.
- Œuvres complètes de Molière, avec les notes des toutes les commentateurs. This was published by L.-Aimé-Martin and consists of eight separate volumes.
In English, the most valuable would be:
- The Works of Monsieur de Molière. This was published by Bernard Lintot and translated by John Ozell. This set is six volumes.
In the collected works, you will find the plays that Molière's audiences loved and hated, and loved to hate. Students of French read a number of his plays, the most common ones being:
- The School for Husbands - L'Ecole des maris (1661)
- The School for Wives - L'Ecole des femmes (1662)
- Tartuffe, or The Imposter - Le Tartuffe, ou l'imposteur (1664)
- The Misanthrope - Le Misanthrope (1666)
- The Miser - L'Avare (1668)
Whether you purchase these books as brand new paperbacks or old hardcovers, these titles are easy to come by. You can even read them online at Project Gutenberg.
Rare Molière Plays
The following titles are more rare. Fewer people read these plays:
- The Doctor in Love - Le Docteur amoureux (1658)
- The Rehearsal at Versailles - L'Impromptu de Versailles (1663)
- Don Juan, or The Libertine - Don Juan, ou le festin de Pierre (1665)
- The Doctor in Spite of Himself - Le Médecin malgré lui (1666)
- The Bourgeois Gentleman - Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670)
- The Learned Ladies - Les Femmes savantes (1672)
- The Imaginary Invalid - Le Malade imaginaire (1673)
Collecting Molière in English or French
For Molière, the first American or British editions are collectible in addition to the early editions published in France. Whether the text is in French or English, an old first edition, with its leather binding, weathered pages, and quintessential smell, is irreplaceable to many antique collectors. The 18th century editions of Molière's complete works in multiple volumes sell for between one and four thousand dollars, depending on quality.
Collecting Newer Editions
There are also newer, out-of-print, leather-bound collections of Molière's plays available at used bookstores for collectors who do not have thousands of dollars to purchase first editions of Molière's plays.
In 1980 The Easton Press published an edition of Tartuffe and The Would-Be Gentleman. It was translated by H. Baker and J. Miller with an introduction by Henri Peyre.
The Franklin Library published Comedies in 1985, illustrated by Tony Johannot and translated by Donald M. Frame. This was previously published by the same company in 1980 as Seven Plays and contains:
- The Imaginary Invalid
- The Misanthrope
- The Miser
- The School for Husbands
- The School for Wives
- Tartuffe or, The Imposter
- The Would-Be Gentleman
Buying Rare Books Online
Although there are many bookstores in the United States where Molière's books can be purchased, there are also plenty of online outlets where rare French books are offered:
- Bauman Rare Books - This seller offers a six-book collection of Molière's work.
- Antiqbook - This site originates in the Netherlands and focuses on European used and rare books.
- ABE Books France - Although you can call up a list of French book dealers at their North American site, ABE Books also has a French site.
Of course, buying an antique book online means you won't get to evaluate the quality of the book before purchasing it, which for many antique enthusiasts is a deal breaker.
Regardless of how you come by your rare Molière finds, owning one of these masterpieces brings timeless and priceless joy. Take some time to savor reading a play or two, and be amused.