Œuvres complètes, vol. 2
"Nous annonçons au silence et à l'incuriosité un événement littéraire de quelque valeur. Car à quels autres interlocuteurs parlerions-nous de [M. Mallarmé], qui a pensé jusqu'à ce jour que le public devait venir à lui, poëte, et qu'il n'y avait à faire aucune avance à la critique, afin qu'elle préparât cette rencontre. Le public ne vient plus pour ces choses, cher ami, croyez-moi" (OC 403). So opens Mallarmé's "L'Œuvre poétique de Léon Dierx," a review appearing 16 November 1872 in La Renaissance littéraire et artistique. This review in which I have substituted one poet for the other may be of minimal significance in the erudite production of the master of literary obscurity. But the encounter with Dierx serves as an evocative representative, one jewel among many glimmering treasures, revealed so invitingly in Bertrand Marchal's new Pléïade edition of the second volume, the prose volume, of Mallarmé's Œuvres Complètes. Lest the public remain "incurious," however, the literary event announced here in silence is not only the second volume of a new Pléïade edition of Mallarmé, but the 'encounter prepared by the critic.' Indeed, this is the first time any such edition has been reviewed in Nineteenth-Century French Studies!
The second volume? While this may be a tiny detail in the great history of making literature available to scholars in beautiful books, this second volume is a monumental [End Page 425] contribution to the study of Mallarmé. Mallarmé's own presentation of the "poëte" is, by way of this treasure trove, broadened and completed by a portrait of the necessities of life that make his stylized chatting (and thinking) about poetry into a much larger portion of the poet's literary accomplishment than ever before imagined. But the addition of a second prose volume opens inquiries. As Marchal muses in his Avant-propos, "Est-ce à dire qu'il y aurait. . . un Mallarmé du Livre et un Mallarmé du journal, ou du manuel?" (OC XII). This distinction, between the "poëte" and that writer whose "circumstances" result in manuals or translations, has in fact severed the link provided by Mallarmé's "poëme critique" with its theoretical "work" on the science of language. Now, however, these "poëmes critiques" replete with social purpose but redeemable only through the hand of the "poëte" are no longer lost in a rarefied mystery of letters, or buried beneath those truncated and re-chiseled morsels we have always called, "poèmes en prose" (OC XIII). Newly highlighted, the theorizing of these "critical poems" now articulates relationships between what Mallarmé called the two halves of our bifurcating "mental needs": "l'esthétique d'une part et aussi l'économie politique" (OC 250). This is another way of saying that that obscurely effervescent slim volume of poetic "ébauches faute de mieux" leading to that never-realized great Book we savored in Henri Mondor's and G. Jean-Aubry's 1945 Pléïade now finds it's mundane complement in a remarkable collection. . . . "voulez-vous n'y point songer et permettre que je mêle plusieurs paroles à celles que peuvent être proférées parmi nous ?" (OC 403).
While the prose familiar to us from the first Pléïade reappears in this new edition, in its variety of versions and cultural contexts – brilliantly assembled and easy to access – many more pages are included here. The poet's journalistic productivity is stunningly prolific and the number of pedagogical projects remarkable. This critical and pedagogical writing is divided into three broad panoramas elegantly arranged. The massive journalism, excessive beyond our wildest dreams and debunking the notion of the one single year Mallarmé spent writing a fashion journal, is complemented by prefaces, toasts, conferences, discourses, and interviews. For the writer of slim poems, these too seem prodigious. Translations from English form the second broad panorama and include Poe's poems, other literary translations, and still more that are "plus alimentaires" (OC XVI). Assuming its place as a truly challenging and poetic enterprise, translation now centers itself at the core of much of Mallarmé's theoretical thinking. The third panorama brings together pedagogical projects on language, mythology, and English literature. While some of these manuals and collections have enjoyed posthumous publication, they have never been gathered together into Gallimard's Pléïade. Still others have remained entombed until now. Along side the familiar Mots anglais, for example, we can read a reedited Receuil de "Nursery Rhymes," the first time editions of L'Anglais et la Science contemporaine and L'Anglais récréatif, and still more commissioned works including a commercial guide in English, New English Mercantile Correspondence, and an anthology of British literature, Les Beautés de l'anglais.
Of all these parts – the various delicious details of presentation which with they delight notwithstanding – I have found the journalistic bravura to be the most extraordinary. Here I refer not so much to Mallarmé's bravura, itself a remarkable accomplishment, but to Marchal's. Let me illustrate with a personal anecdote. Some years ago I set out on a quest to find the original version of "Magie" published 28 January 1893 in the National Observer. Though the text did not appear in Gallimard's first Pléïade, [End Page 426] a reference to it did. Anxious to understand the significant socio-cultural underpinnings of this "poëme critique" on magic as a vestige of the pre-scientific age, I worked closely with librarians at the BNF to recover the whereabouts of the original. On the wings of the excitement urged by the discovery of its location and unable to travel there myself, I finished by contacting the friend of a friend at Trinity College in Ireland to secure a precious photocopy of the piece. Ah! But the context. As is the case of all of Mallarmé's "grands fait divers," "Magie" included the illustration of a meaningful social tendency cast in the terms of a very topical debate. But in the English language journal no clear idea of the topical debate was made manifest, leaving only suggestive traces: Huysmans, Sar Péladan, the renovators of the Rose-Croix, "nos confrères," the Abbé Boullan and Stanislas de Guaita. So it was back to the BNF to piece together the scholarly puzzle. Today, on the contrary, one need only flutter the pages to find three different versions of the text and an ample portrait of the cultural context it engaged.
As one mere example of the magnificent accomplishment of Marchal in the new Œuvres complètes, volume II, the case of "Magie" demonstrates the rich resource this monument offers and the deep labor of love it entailed. With all due respect to Mondor and Jean-Aubry whose original project was to save the poet from oblivion, and there is no question that that project finds its place carefully carved among these new pages, this masterfully prepared tome is destined to transform forever our idea of the domestic genius and to add immeasurable scholarship on a body of work we might have dismissed as not sufficiently literary. I recommend the perusal of this book to any and all scholars of nineteenth-century literature and culture, but also to any scholars interested in cracking open the mythic disinterestedness of the masters of literary modernism in France.