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Stéphane Mallarmé as Miss Satin: The Texture of Fashion and Poetry* Claire Lyu MALLARMÉ'S LA DERNIÈRE MODE,' the eight issues of the fashion journal he published between September and December of 1874, has always been considered a curious enterprise. The contrast is immense indeed between Mallarmé, "le maître," on the one hand, whose "difficult" and "obscure" poems are read and praised by a very select elite readership, and Mallarmé, the fashion journalist, on the other, talking about jewels, hats, fashionable vacation destinations, lunch and dinner menus to bourgeois ladies. The clear distinction Mallarmé himself made between journalistic language and poetic language, between "universel reportage" and "littérature," that is, between the "double état de la parole, brut ou immédiat ici, là essentiel" (368), justifies, and even forces, the opposition between the "frivolous" fashion writings and the "serious" pure poetic writings. The growing interest in the subject of fashion within the field of art and literature seems to generate a desire to reread La Dernière Mode and to reevaluate its position within the Mallarméan corpus.2 If it is becoming increasingly clear that one cannot simply dismiss La Dernière Mode as a mere "ouvrage alimentaire ," as has sometimes been done in the past, it is not yet certain what relation it has to Mallarmé's poetic writings. How do we read it? If Mallarmé, the poet, condemns journalistic writings, from what authorial position does he write La Dernière Model What are we to make of this alternative practice and identity? In the present essay, I examine the relation between fashion and poetry in Mallarmé's work by analyzing the ways in which Mallarmé signed his own articles in the journal. In doing so, I hope to offer a reading of one of the journal 's most salient and puzzling features: Mallarmé's use of various, and mostly female, pseudonyms. Let me first outline briefly some basic information about La Dernière Mode. Between September and December of 1874, Mallarmé became the sole writer and editor of a fashion journal, which had previously been in circulation for about a year.3 Each of the eight issues contained features ranging from "mode," "chronique de Paris," and "conseil sur l'éducation" to "correspondance avec les abonnées" and menu suggestions, all written by Mallarmé himself and signed with various pseudonyms, the majority of which are female: "Madame Marguerite de Ponty," "Miss Satin," "une Dame créole," "une Vol. XL, No. 3 61 L'Esprit Créateur Chatelaine bretonne," "une Aïeule," "Zizi, bonne mulâtre de Surate," "Olympe, négresse," and "une Lectrice alsacienne." There are fewer male pseudonyms, which are: "Ix," "Chef de bouche chez Brébant," "Marliani, le tapissier-décorateur," and "Toussenel." The only, and very significant, exception to this practice of pseudonymic signature was the literary section where poems and short stories Mallarmé commissioned from his male friends appeared, accompanied by the real name of the authors such as Banville, Coppée, Sully-Prudhomme, Valade, Daudet, d'Hervilly, des Essarts, Mendès, and Cladel. The opposition between journalistic writing and literary writing, which exists in Mallarmé in general, seems to play itself out within La Dernière Mode, as the literary section singles itself out from the rest of the journal through its clearly distinct authorship. It appears as the only "authentic" part of the journal. In light of my overall inquiry into the relation between poetic writing and fashion writing in Mallarmé, it seems logical to examine the relation between the literary section and the main fashion section within La Dernière Mode. The main fashion section, signed by "Madame Marguerite de Ponty" and "Miss Satin," could not be more opposed to the literary section, as the female pseudonyms form the most radical counterpart to the authentic male names. A series of oppositions is produced—authenticity vs. pseudonymic disguise, truth vs. simulation and travesty—which extends to the opposition between the two genres of writing—high vs. low, literary vs. journalistic, poetry vs. fashion—which, in turn, articulates itself in terms of gender division—male vs. female. According to this configuration, poetry is to fashion what authenticity is to travesty...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 61-71
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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