I first encountered Thérèse the Philosopher many years ago in a used bookshop in San Francisco. I discovered a long out-of-print hardcover copy (“second printing”) published by Grove Press in 1970. The translation was by “H. F. Smith,” although the name does not appear on the front cover—conceivably a pseudonym for Grove’s legendary editor Richard Seaver who was rumored to have translated several controversial French novels for the avant-garde publisher.
Admittedly, in my 20’s, the 18th century held little historical interest for me, it was the sexual episodes that beckoned. The graphic sex acts also explain the book’s popularity in France in 1748, as the novel was the equivalent of a New York Times bestseller during the “Age of Enlightenment.” Upon its publication, Thérèse was of course banned for its libertine amorality and copies were ordered destroyed. And surely the story’s humorous approach must have pissed off the censors as well. (Author Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens had previously authored several satirical, non-pornographic works).
With the Grove edition in mind, this spring I decided a modern translation was called for — one which emphasized the tale’s humor and made the text more “user-friendly.” New Urge Editions commissioned the talents of Richard Robinson, who has produced the translation we’d dreamed of. We retitled the book Thérèse Finds Happiness and designed a cover** to better capture the novel’s innate charm. Indeed, even the notorious Marquis de Sade described the original novel as “…a charming performance…”
A month of blood, sweat, and tears went into the book’s interior design and we think it captures the flavor of the period without impersonating it. Note that the title page (shown here at left) states “Printed in the Hague.” To confuse the censors, early editions were undated and featured mock foreign imprints such as “The Hague” and “Londres.” Publishers and printers back then were quite witty, unlike the somber, self-important snobs on the scene today.
I’m proud to say Thérèse Finds Happiness stands as our favorite classical work of erotic literature, and one I trust readers and collectors will enjoy.
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** featuring a detail from“The Swing” by the great Thomas Rowlandson