La Bibliothèque de Babel


It was perhaps inevitable that this small collection of works of fantastic fiction was named after its director’s most famous creation, the Library of Babel. Jorge Luis Borges chose the titles, and also wrote introductions for each of the books. The series was published in France by Retz–Ricci, with 4000 numbered copies of each title appearing from 1977 to 1981.

Many of the selections will be familiar to Borges aficionados, others seem obscure as a result of the vagaries of translation: Jack London’s Les Morts Concentriques is The Minions of Midas, a story that Borges had earlier translated into Spanish as Las Muertas Concéntricas (The Concentric Deaths). The story of linked deaths apparently influenced the writing of Death and the Compass. I’ve never seen Borges discuss Arthur Machen at length so the inclusion of Machen in the selection is a welcome sight. In addition to The Shining Pyramid, the Machen volume also contained The Novel of the Black Seal and The Novel of the White Powder, two of the oft-anthologised sections of The Three Imposters.

The only detail that’s defeated me  is the identity of the illustrator of the series. If anyone knows who was responsible then please leave a comment.

Update: the covers are credited to publisher/designer Franco Maria Ricci and Marcella Boneschi. Thanks to herr doktor bimler and Al Diniz.














Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

6 thoughts on “La Bibliothèque de Babel”

  1. In my Siruela editions (the FMR licensed publisher for the Spanish editions) there are any illustrator indication. Only, as herr doktor bimler says, “design by Ricci and Marcella Boneschi”.

  2. Thanks, both of you. I’d have searched around for longer if I hadn’t already spent enough time on the post, it took some delving just to discover the origin of the Jack London story.

  3. This imaginative titles at translation (so different to the originals) is a usual tactic by Borges and his associates (Bioy-Casares and the like). In the great collection “Antología de la literatura fantástica”, Borges, Bioy and Ocampo made a sort of unique, exquisitely “edition”(in a cinematographically sense) of many stories and traditions…

  4. I’ve got the much smaller English-language edition of that collection. Still very good despite being a single volume.

  5. This series first came out in Italy — FMR’s home base — as La Biblioteca di Babele. Ricci had a Bodoni fetish. The collection includes a birthday surprise issue for its director, featuring El Aleph and other stories, and a long interview with JLB by María Esther Vázquez.

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