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200 × 130 × 15 mm
224 pages
46 illustrations
01 Mar 2010
Critical Lives

Stéphane Mallarmé Roger Pearson

At the age of fifty Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) spoke of his published work as ‘very precise reference points on my mind’s journey’. In Stéphane Mallarmé, Roger Pearson charts that journey for the first time, blending a biographical account of the poet's life with a detailed analysis of his evolving poetic theory and practice. ‘A poet on this earth must be uniquely a poet’, he declared at the age of twenty-two, and he duly lived a poet’s life. But what is a poet's life? What is a poet’s function? In his poems, in complex prose statements, and by the example of his life, Mallarmé provided answers to these questions.

To Mallarmé, being a poet meant many things: a continuous, lifelong investigation of language and its expressive potential; and bringing people together, as much in life as in poetry. His Tuesday salons were famous with visitors including Yeats, Rilke and Verlaine, as well as the artists Manet, Renoir, Whistler and Gauguin; his poetry inspired music by Debussy, Ravel and Boulez; and his poem ‘A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance’ - spread over 20 pages and combining verse with varied typography - inspires poets and visual artists to this day. Poetry was a way of bringing all human beings together in heightened awareness and an understanding of the ‘magnificent act of living’.

Stéphane Mallarmé chronicles a fascinating and utterly unique voice in French poetry. It will not only prove an essential resource for students of English and French literature, but an engaging book for anyone interested in nineteenth-century France.

‘this is the best book to date on Mallarmé. Pearson adroitly integrates Mallarmés life and works (poetry, prose, journalism, interviews, and miscellaneous social verses). Writing with a verve that mimics Mallarmés without being precious, Pearson inserts definitions, which a specialist is likely to know, without being patronizing. He especially excels in pointing out the hidden homophones that become clues to hints and glimpses of nebulous meanings in the poems . . . Recommended.’ — Choice

‘This is a brisk, elegant and precise critical survey of Mallarmés life and work which offers lucid, readable exegeses of complex texts without diminishing that complexity. Roger Pearsons readings deftly incorporate the best scholarship on Mallarmé . . . and succeed in humanizing the author of famously impersonal poetry in a very moving way . . . This is a perfect introduction for students of all levels and the general reader, expressed with some beautiful turns of phrase . . . With reference to letters, verse and prose texts, and the most important cultural output of each decade in his life, the breadth of Mallarmés thinking unfolds here with refreshing concision and acuity.’ — Forum for Modern Language Studies

‘Those who feel that Mallarmés life hangs off him rather awkwardly, like an ill-fitting coat . . . will find in Roger Pearsons wonderfully balanced biography the wherewithal to make everything count . . . Pearson is the master of discreet and implied truths. He also brings a light touch that runs deep . . . [a] wonderfully judicious account.’ — French Studies

‘a unique perspective on the life of Mallarmé, a perspective grounded firmly in the aesthetics of the writer . . . Carefully researched and engagingly written, the book represents a helpful resource for students and scholars of French letters, as well as for a more general public curious about the rich cultural fabric of the late 1800s in France.’ — French Review

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Roger Pearson is Professor of French at the University of Oxford. His publications include Unfolding Mallarmé: The Development of a Poetic Art (1996) and Mallarmé and Circumstance: The Translation of Silence (2004), of which the latter won the R. H. Gapper Prize by the Society for French Studies. His Voltaire Almighty (2005) was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography.

Introduction: Critical Moments

1  Classrooms
2  Crossroads
3  Chasms
4  Tombs
5  Tuesdays
6  Toasts
7  Dies

Epilogue: Beyond the Indies

Photo Acknowledgements