Stéphane Mallarmé Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

0111207631-Mallarme.jpg Stéphane Mallarmé, center, with Édouard Manet, right, and an unidentified woman. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Stéphane Mallarmé is known chiefly for his poetry. A selection from his numerous critical essays and reviews, including some important theoretical statements, was published in Divagations (1897). Following the example of Charles Baudelaire, Mallarmé translated Edgar Allan Poe. He also published an idiosyncratic introduction to English philology, Petite Philologie à l’usage des classes et du monde: Les Mots anglais (1878; little philology for classroom use and for society: English words). It should be noted that Mallarmé wrote a number of prose poems, treated by some critics as prose works. The best edition of Mallarmé’s poetry and essays is the Pléiade Œuvres complètes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1945), prepared by Henri Mondor and G. Jean-Aubry, although it is not a complete collection.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Stéphane Mallarmé’s work is both the culmination of French Romanticism and the harbinger of the more hermetic poetry of the twentieth century. His vision of poetry as a sacred art, created with considerable sacrifice by an elite, derives from the Romantic image of the poet as prophet, typical of Victor Hugo. Mallarmé’s “pure poetry,” without reference to history or to social reality and characterized by a dense and elliptical style, however, deliberately abandons the attempt of many Romantics to bring poetry closer to life and to make it a social force. Very early in his career, Mallarmé said that it was heresy to try to make poetry understandable to a large audience. He sought instead to give expression to a higher form of intellectual experience in a language that is suggestive and indirect. Mallarmé’s disciples, notably Paul Valéry, used the term “Symbolism” to describe the new poetry. Mallarmé exerted a great personal influence on the theories developed in modernist artistic circles through his Tuesday receptions in his apartment on the rue de Rome in Paris.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stéphane Mallarmé believed that artists are detached from the rest of society. What effect does his view have on his writing?

How does Mallarmé attach varied meanings to images? Is this rooted in shared human perceptions?

How important is rhyme? What defines a work as a poem if Mallarmé does not use rhyme?

If Mallarmé’s text is confusing, to what extent are we justified in reading ideas into it?

Mallarmé sought to write a “Great Work.” Is it possible for a poem to express a single view that everyone will share?


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Cohn, Robert Greer, ed. Mallarmé in the Twentieth Century. London: Associated University Presses, 1998. A collection of essays by many of the most eminent figures in the study of Mallarmé, including Julia Kristeva, Mary Ann Caws, Albert Cook, Anna Balakian, and Robert Cohn. An important summary of the state of scholarship on the poet.

Kravis, Judy. The Prose of Mallarmé: The Evolution of a Literary Language. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. One of the few works focusing on Mallarmé’s prose rather than his poetry; focuses on his literary style.

Lloyd, Rosemary. Mallarmé: The Poet and His Circle. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999. A literary biography of the poet and his period. Mallarmé hosted gatherings attended by writers, artists, thinkers, and musicians in France, England, and Belgium. Through these gatherings and voluminous correspondence Mallarmé developed and recorded his friendships with Paul Valéry, André Gide, Berthe Morisot, and many others. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Millan, Gordan. A Throw of the Dice: The Life of Stéphane Mallarmé. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994. This biography of Mallarmé, who has a reputation for difficulty and obscurity, proves equally valuable to students and specialists. The narrative is aimed at the general reader while the ample footnotes provide material for the specialist. The text draws on...

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