Nicolas Edmonde Retif de la Bretonne
The French novelist and pioneer of verism and naturalism, Nicolas Edmonde Rétif de la Bretonne was born on 23 October 1734 in Sacy bei Auxerre, the son of wealthy farmer. He was educated by priests for two years, but did not continue his education. At the age of 15, Rétif began an apprenticeship at a print workshop in Auxerre. He was subsequently employed at the "Imprimerie Royale" in Paris. His profession gave him access to the literary texts of the time.
He began writing, composing novels of manners and novels about social utopias. The author published his work himself, using his own small print workshop. Nicolas Edmonde Rétif later wrote directly in a print case in order to save time. The work he produced was thus not always of the highest quality. Rétif did, however, leave a huge literary legacy. He wrote 44 books in 187 volumes.
In 1760, he changed his name to Restif, which was a play on the Latin verb "restare" (to resist) and the French verb "rester" (to stay). He took his sobriquet "de la Bretonne" from the area where he grew up. Rétif’s 1775 work "Le Paysan perverti" was a great success. The author spent his leisure time in Paris, making nightly strolls to watch people. The main objects of his attention were the lower classes and, above all, women. Nicolas Edmonde Rétif found women’s feet and shoes particularly fascinating. Rétif led an eventful life and had various mistresses and children. His partially encoded diary entries indicate that the author maintained an incestuous relationship with his daughter from his second marriage, Agnès, for many years, as well as attempting to seduced his younger daughter Marion a number of times.
Rétif lived beyond his means, and was forced to sell his print workshop. In 1795 reduced to poverty, Rétif requested a pension of 2000 from the national convent, which he needed in order to survive.
Nicolas Edmonde Rétif de la Bretonne died in obscurity in Paris on 3rd February 1806.