Cover image for Mallarmé in prose
Mallarmé in prose
Mallarmé, Stéphane, 1842-1898.
Uniform Title:
Prose works. Selections. English
Publication Information:
New York : New Directions, [2001]

Physical Description:
152 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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PQ2344 .A2125 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Cultural Writing. This volume contains never-before-translated prose selections by the father of the Symbolist movement, one of the most influential cultural figures of 19th-century France. Mallarme's letters to leading French intellectuals and artists of the time appear with his pieces on language and aesthetics, as he considers the state of contemporary French literature.

Author Notes

Stéphane Mallarmé, 1842 - 1898 French poet Stéphane Mallarmé was born in Paris. His father and grandfather expected him to follow in the family tradition of French civil service but he didn't do well in school. Mallarmé began writing at a young age under the influence of Charles Baudelaire. After Mallarmé left school, he went to England and while there he got married. He was a schoolteacher from 1864 until his retirement in 1893.

His first poems started appearing in magazines during the 1860's. He wrote his first important poem "L'Azur" and it was published when he was twenty-four years old. His most famous work is "L'Apres-Midi D'un Faune" (1865), and was inspired by Debussy's tone poem of the same name (1894) and illustrated by the famous painter Manet. Some of his other notable works are "Herodiade" (1896), and "Toast Funebre," which was written in memory of the author Theopile Gautier.

Mallarmé spent his life putting his literary theories into practice by writing his Grand oeuvre (Great Work). On September 9, 1898, Mallarme died without completing this work. His experimental poem "Un Coup De Des" was published posthumously in 1914.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 DerniŠre 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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



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. Your 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 words and 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. Your 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 Your 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 fauneand Les Noces d'Hérodiade . Mystère. MARY ANN CAWS Copyright © 2001 New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Letters (1891-1898)
To Paul Valeryp. 7
To Francis Viele-Griffinp. 7
To Claude Debussyp. 8
To Paul Claudelp. 8
To Ambroise Vollardp. 9
To James Abbott McNeill Whistlerp. 10
Recommendation about My Papersp. 10
Language, Literature and Aesthetics
From English Words (Les Mots anglais)p. 15
Displays (Etalages)p. 24
Music and Letters (La musique et les lettres)p. 31
Mystery in Literature (Le Mystere dans les lettres)p. 46
On the Beautiful and the Useful (Sur le beau et l'utile)p. 52
To Espouse the Notion (Epouser la notion)p. 54
Poets, Painters and Thinkers
Edouard Manetp. 63
Berthe Morisotp. 64
Tennyson, Seen from Here (Tennyson, vu d'ici)p. 70
Edgar Poep. 74
Whistlerp. 75
Descartesp. 76
The Latest Fashion (La derniere mode)p. 79
On Female Bicycling Gear (Sur le costume feminin a bicylette)p. 95
On the Top Hat (Sur le chapeau haut-de-form)p. 96
Sketched in the Theater (Crayonne au theatre)p. 101
Balletsp. 108
Another Dance Study: Settings and the Ballet (Autre etude de danse: Les fonds et le ballet)p. 114
Sacred Pleasure (Le plaisir sacre)p. 117
Catholicism (Catholicisme)p. 120
From The Book (Le livre)p. 125
Reflections and Responses
Bucolic (Bucolique)p. 137
Solitude (Solitude)p. 143
The Pipe (La Pipe)p. 149
On Furniture (Sur les meubles)p. 150
On the Illustrated Book (Sur le livre illustre)p. 150
On the Art of Graphology (Sur la graphologie)p. 151
On Spring (Sur le printemps)p. 151
On the Ideal, when You Are Twenty (Sur l'Ideal a vingt ans)p. 152