The “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade” brings to a wide readership some of the most recent knowledge from the world’s specialists; and, by virtue of presenting each series title as the definitive “ouvrage de référence,” it invites close scrutiny for the decisions behind each individual editorial decision, every inclusion and exclusion. In this regard, André Guyaux’s edition of Rimbaud’s complete works, the Pléiade’s third after that of André Rolland de Renéville and Jules Mouquet (1946), and of Antoine Adam (1972), is no exception. Having built his reputation in part on his Poétique du fragment: Essai sur les Illuminations de Rimbaud (À la Baconniere 1985), and on numerous publications in 1991, the centenary of the poet’s death, including his revisions to Suzanne Bernard’s important 1960 Classiques Garnier edition, Guyaux proves to have the mettle to navigate the complex and murky waters of Rimbaud criticism.
The volume surpasses its predecessors thanks to the discovery (often via facsimiles in auction catalogues) of a great number of manuscripts previously unknown, or, at best, rarely consulted (cf. the ten collections, all dated between 1998 and 2008, listed in “Catalogues de collections et de ventes,” 1067). For example, Guyaux was able to include the 2004 discovery of an earlier version of the poem “Mémoire,” which first bore the enigmatic title “Famille maudite. d’Edgar Poe”; that this manuscript came from the family of Verlaine’s ex-wife Mathilde, who had claimed to have destroyed all Rimbaldiana in her possession, raises the expectation that other Rimbaud manuscripts, including the legendary prose work La Chasse spirituelle, might eventually see the light of day. Another welcome addition is the section “Glossaire des mots amhariques” (1057–60), a useful aide in reading Rimbaud’s African correspondence. (This section is not negligible; 342 pages – almost a third of the 1101 pages – attest to the incredible volume of letters written and received by Rimbaud after he left Europe in 1875.) Guyaux’s edition also includes the recent discovery by Patrick Taliercio, a documentary filmmaker who was rummaging through old newspapers belonging to a carolopolitain bookseller, of “Le Rêve de Bismarck (Fantaisie),” a satirical piece written by Rimbaud under the pseudonym Jean Baudry and published in Le Progrès des Ardennes in November 1870.
High-quality reproductions of manuscripts have renewed interest in the moments of poetic creation that surround Rimbaud’s work, and have led to two kinds of editions: those that reproduce every known copy of every poem; and those that present each poem’s definitive version. The Pléiade series has long pursued the latter strategy, perpetuating a canon of texts within the canon of select authors included among its ranks. Guyaux has moved the Pléiade more in the direction of the more inclusive editions published in recent years (most notably those of Pierre Brunel, La Pochothèque 1999; and Steve Murphy, 4 vols., Champion 1999–). In continuing a direction established by Jean-Luc Steinmetz in his three-volume edition (gf-Flammarion 1989), Guyaux correctly discards the title “Vers nouveaux et chansons,” a wholly unsatisfactory catch-all; and he does so without entirely espousing the approach undertaken in the error-riddled Œuvre-vie (ed. Alain Borer et al., Arléa 1991), which recklessly sought to impose an unequivocal linear chronology upon a vie and an œuvre so full of lacunæ. As Guyaux explains, “Le parti que j’ai adopté se distingue [End Page 127] à la fois de l’option générique ancienne et d’une option chronologique globale, et tente de les concilier” (xliv).
Lost in Guyaux’s treatment of Rimbaud’s early poetic production, however, are the traditional groupings of Rimbaud’s verse poems (commonly referred to as “recueils”), which the poet never edited for publication as ensembles per se but which are thematically, poetically, and/or historically linked, like the “recueil Demeny” (the twenty-two poems Rimbaud copied and gave to his friend Paul Demeny before November 1870). Guyaux disposes of these groupings because each time that...