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Mallarme in Prose

Mallarme in Prose

by Stephane Mallarme, Mary Ann Caws (Editor), Malcolm Bowie (Translator)

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Never-before translated prose pieces by the father of the Symbolist movement and one of the most influential cultural figures of 19th-century France. This volume contains never-before translated prose selections--on language and aesthetics (grouped with a brief selection from his meditation The Book) as well as lighter reflections on life, fashion, and the


Never-before translated prose pieces by the father of the Symbolist movement and one of the most influential cultural figures of 19th-century France. This volume contains never-before translated prose selections--on language and aesthetics (grouped with a brief selection from his meditation The Book) as well as lighter reflections on life, fashion, and the performing arts. A number of sections are devoted to Mallarme's great magazine of wit and opinion (every page of which he wrote himself): Derniere Mode, or The Latest Fashion, which included commentary on clothing, education, and travel.These pieces were written under various pseudonyms of various genders: Madame du Ponty, Mademoiselle Satin, and "the redoubtable and unspecified IX." As the translator and editor of this volume Mary Ann Caws puts it: "It is Mallarme as inventor which this volume wants to celebrate, along with the rest of his genius." Mallarme's reflections on the English language, as well as his portraits of poets and artists (including Tennyson, Poe, and Manet) --and letters to such renowned figures as Valery, Debussy, and Paul Claudel--also contribute to making this an enticing volume, a collection of prose pieces highlighting the multiplicity of Mallarme's voices and the variety of his forms.

Editorial Reviews

Jason Chan
[O]ught to charm and perplex anyone with an appreciation for extreme erudition and mastery of language.
Southbay's Weekly
[T]here are moments of sunlight, and gems worth highlighting and copying down elsewhere.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While St phane Mallarm wrote as much prose as poetry, little of that side of his writing has made its way into English. Caws (who also edited St phane Mallarm : Selected Poetry and Prose) and five other translators contribute letters, articles, vignettes, paeans to Poe and Tennyson, literary criticism, appreciations of ballet and miscellaneous, unclassifiable pieces to emphasize just how much more of Mallarm there is to read. Of the writer's major works, Caws has chosen excerpts from Les Mots anglais, a work that reflects less Mallarm 's insights into English than his fascination with the mysteries of language itself. Although there is nothing to represent Mallarm 's study in mythology, Les Dieux antiques (1880), there are selections from one of his money-making ventures, his fashion magazine La Derni re Mode (1874), such as his disquisition on the metaphysics of the top hat. There are even a few fragmentary notes from his inscrutable, incomplete work Le Livre. Apart from the necessary ecstatic impenetrability of the Symbolists, Mallarm often engages in jeux d'esprit here. "Wait, for modesty's sake," he playfully begs an interlocutor, "for me to make it a little more obscure." Although there's an element of a chocolate-box assortment to this sampling, with so little of Mallarm 's prose in translation, Caws's collection becomes the de facto best introduction. (Feb. 28) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
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5.29(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.43(d)

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Chapter One

Letters (1891—1898)

to Paul Valéry
Paris. May 5, 1891

Yes, my dear poet, to conceive of literature, and for it to have some reason for being, we have to reach this "high symphony" that perhaps no one will manage; but it has haunted even the most unthinking, and its principal aspects mark every written work, whether vulgar or subtle. Music in its strict sense (which we have to pillage, plagiarize, even if it is our own) stifles, is insufficient, merely suggests this sort of poem. —Your "Narcissus Speaks" charms me as I am about to tell [Pierre] Loüys; preserve that rare tone.


Stéphane Mallarmé

to Francis Viélé-Griffin
Valvins, par Avon (Seine-et-Marne). Friday [August 7, 1891]

My Dear Griffin

    Thank you for your important and seriously appropriate thoughts about my work. Nothing in them do I not say to myself, less well, in the few words whispered in my solitude; but where you are the diviner, it is, yes, relative to this word itself: It is the title of an interminable study and series of notes I have right at hand, reigning over the very depths of my mind. This is the whole mystery: how to establish the secret identities existing in a "two by two" that eats away at things, and wears them down in the name of a central purity. All that to say that your thoughts penetrate mine from far off; and that we must be living a little with the same outlook. I remain very touched, Griffin, by your wordsand also remain your attentive comrade

Stéphane Mallarmé

to Claude Debussy
Paris. Sunday, December 23, 1894

My Dear Friend,

    I have just come from the concert, deeply moved: what a marvel! your illustration of the Afternoon of a Faun—not in the slightest disaccord with my text, except that it goes further, truly, in nostalgia and light, so delicate, disquieting, and rich. I grasp your hands with great admiration, Debussy.


Stéphane Mallarmé

to Paul Claudel
Paris. March, 1895

My dear Claudel

    Not one page, without the surprise of words never before uttered by the human mouth, in splendid savage bareness: these marvels cluster together, then roll out in a prodigious chorus in the play. I admire the way they spurt forth with such strength! the place of Theater insufficient for the tragedy of Life, that only music and writing express it in all its mystery; you are of those who will have superbly transposed it into your Book, especially in La Ville. Thank you, very dear Claudel.

Your friend

Stéphane Mallarmé

to Ambroise Vollard
Valvins, par Avon (Seine-et-Marne). September 15 [1897]

Dear Mr. Vollard

    A friendly greeting to you. You know that Didot is dragging on and on. I have had the proofs three times, but with months between them, the middle ones pretty satisfactory; the last ones scattered inconsiderately and without any indication on my part. All these little irritations; yet also this more serious concern that I still haven't received anything clear enough to communicate it to Redon. I have written, urged, and now hope to have something correct this time: you can, on your side, take care of the fabrication of the paper, twenty-four pages, that is, six sheets in the format agreed upon.

    Let's finish the Coup de Dés before Hérodiade; yes, I would be delighted if Vuillard illustrated the former poem, do speak to him about it and who knows, he might be tempted; for he can do anything. We will talk about the opportunity to publish, as I usually do, in proofs, in a journal—or then not—the additions as I make them; never, of course, the complete work which should appear as such, first, certainly, printed by you. Furthermore, I am not yet at that stage: these new parts, as I envisage them, being rather long, with the two of them, prelude and finale, more than doubling the fragment that already exists. My friend Mardrus is totally a man of his word and it is charming of him to have been the first to subscribe.

Your hand, my dear
Editor, with much affection
             Stéphane Mallarmé

to James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Valvins par Avon (Seine-et-Marne). Sunday, May 29, 1898

Dear Friend.

     On the way to get my Ladies to bring them back here next Wednesday, I shall be passing through Paris, and would be delighted to come shake your hand on the rue du Bac, between six and seven in the evening, after your work. If you do not have that moment free, would you let me know at the rue de Rome?

    If not, you will see someone from the forests, something between a wild boar and a nightingale, who is


Stéphane Mallarmé

[Valvins. September 8, 1898]
Recommendation about my papers
(For when my dear ones will read it.)

The terrible choking spasm I just suffered might return during the night and finish me. So don't be astonished that I am thinking about the heap of my notes, fifty years' worth, which will only become a great burden for you; since not one sheet will be of any use. I am the only one who could draw from it what there is ... I would have done it if the last years had not betrayed me by their lack. So burn everything; there is no literary heritage there, my poor children. Don't even give it to someone to evaluate—refuse any inquisitive or friendly offer to help. Say just that no one could make anything out; besides, that is true, and you, my poor ones prostrate with grief, are the only beings in the world capable in this way of respecting the entire life of a sincere artist; believe me, it would have been very beautiful.

    So, I am leaving nothing unpublished except a few printed trifles that you will come across, the Coup de Dés and Hérodiade finished, if fate so pleases.

    My poems are for Fasquelle, here, and Deman, if he will limit himself to Belgium:

Poésies and Vers de circonstances with L'Après-midi
d'un faune
and Les Noces d'Hérodiade.


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