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  • Les "Mardis" de Stéphane Mallarmé. Mythes et réalités
  • Anna Sigrídur Arnar
Millan, Gordon . Les "Mardis" de Stéphane Mallarmé. Mythes et réalités. Saint-Genouph: Nizet, 2008. Pp. 136. ISBN: 978-2-7078-1305-3

The weekly Salons hosted by Stéphane Mallarmé infamously known as the "Mardis" provided rich yet often indescribable experiences for many of its attendees. From the mid 1880s until the year of the poet's death in 1898, dozens of notable fin-de-siècle cultural figures passed through Mallarmé's doors on the rue de Rome in Paris. The "Mardis" attained legendary status from accounts shared in newspaper articles, memoirs and letters.

In reading various first-hand accounts of the "Mardis" experience, one often learns more about Mallarmé's voice, eyes, or conscious body movements than about the particularities of what was actually discussed at the gatherings. What is clear is that the poet was an extraordinary conversationalist ("Quel causeur!") who did not refrain from the occasional theatrical gesture for rhetorical emphasis. One account characterizes Mallarmé's gestures as both "priest"- and "dancer"-like, announcing the beginning [End Page 193] of a conversation, as one would designate an entrance to a scene in a play; another Mardiste notes the familiar "silences" of the poet's monologues, which were punctuated by a "hieratic gesture." Several accounts also refer to the poet's subtle yet discernable sense of showmanship including his conjuring of special lighting effects with the use of Japanese crêpe paper. We also learn that many visitors were somewhat surprised by the extreme modesty of Mallarmé's living conditions: not only was the apartment small and undistinguished, but the poet (often referred to as "Maître") answered the door himself as he had no servants. His wife Marie, and especially his daughter Geneviève, were often on hand greeting visitors and serving grog but then retreated to allow the men to converse. On rare occasions, other women were in attendance but for the most part the "Mardis" were an all-male affair.

While Mallarmé's biographers have certainly offered selected insights to the "Mardis," Gordan Millan has provided scholars with an invaluable resource by systematically assembling all the known primary sources describing these gatherings in Les "Mardis" de Stéphane Mallarmé. Mythes et réalités. Millan has annotated and arranged chronologically descriptions and reminiscences of the "Mardis" from such disparate sources as the private diaries of Henri de Régnier, Pierre Louÿs, or Edmond Bonniot to dozens of letters, essays, newspaper articles, monographs and memoirs by well-known Mardistes such as André Fontainas, André Gide, Camille Mauclair, Paul Valéry as well as by lesser known figures such as Maurice Pujo or Fernand Gregh. Since several of these resources were published in obscure reviews or out-of-print books, Millan's book will save scholars valuable time by putting these sources at their fingertips including the material that is more readily available. For example, despite the fact that de Régnier's private journals have been edited and published, the numerous references to the "Mardis" are scattered throughout that voluminous document making it cumbersome to assess the changes in the social dynamic and structure of the weekly gatherings. Not only has Millan culled the pertinent passages from Régnier's writings but his chronological arrangement of these passages beside other testimonials allows scholars to compare descriptions of the same gatherings. This arrangement also reveals inconsistencies between different accounts as well as changes in individual attitudes towards Mallarmé as Salon host. Pierre Louÿs is a case in point. After some snarky complaints in June and July of 1890 about Mallarmé's "unbearable" manner of pontificating, we find him in October of the same year describing Mallarmé's charm and intelligence; after one particularly stimulating "Mardi" he declares "Je crois n'avoir jamais entendu improviser phrase plus littéraire et plus dense . . . cet homme est étonnant" (p. 67).

As Millan himself argues, by reading these accounts side by side, month by month over the nearly 15 year span of the "Mardis," one can more clearly see that the gatherings were social events characterized in large...


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