- Œuvres by Paul Valéry
Unlike Valéry's Cahiers, which have been the subject of several editions, the two volumes of the writer's published works have constituted the sole reference since they first appeared respectively in 1957 and 1960 (ed. by Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard)). However, as Hytier stated in his Introduction, his edition was not complete for various reasons, including his difficulty in accessing certain material. Although these volumes have stood the test of time for sixty years, a sizeable amount of material eluded inclusion in them, particularly the verse Une chambre conjecturale and the prose series Alphabet (both published posthumously by Valéry's daughter Agathe), as well as the collection of essays published separately in Vues, which a reader less acquainted with Valéry's work might easily overlook. Moreover, Hytier's edition consigned numerous essays, poems, and other ancillary material to the notes section, which had the inadvertent consequence of rendering it less accessible and even subordinating it to other works therein.
The new three-volume edition of Valéry's works by Michel Jarrety, which gives precedence to chronology and thereby obviates such issues, is comprehensive, convenient, and user-friendly. Totalling over four thousand pages, it is an impressive accomplishment and a landmark moment in Valéryan studies. The edition, which Jarrety has judiciously chosen to divide into five chronological sections, is enhanced by succinct and informative footnotes and a short preface to each work. A cursory glance at the contents reveals a natural creative disproportion at the heart of Valéry's career. Since the writer published most of his poetic works before all other literary endeavours, it is not surprising that volume I (1889–1931) is by far the largest of the trilogy and comprises his most celebrated works, including the dialogues, the Teste cycle, and the famous trinity of verse—Album de vers anciens, Charmes, and La Jeune Parque—which made him the de facto poet laureate. Moreover, the 1920s witnessed the contemporaneous emergence of Valéry the political thinker and essayist, whose theories and ideas on society, civilization, Europe, and liberty (grouped under the rubric Regards sur le monde actuel) brought him immense renown, which soon led to the first invitations to lecture at conferences both in France and around Europe. This prompted Valéry in 1924 to bring together, under the title Variété, his various essays on literature and notably those pertaining to the influential intellectual figures in his development: da Vinci, Poe, and Mallarmé. This key work inaugurated a series of five volumes, spread over several decades, the first two of which are included here, along with the collection Pièces sur l'art.
In this first volume, one cannot fail to be struck by the prolific literary output in both verse and prose, as well as the astonishing array of essays on art, literature, aesthetics, politics, society, and philosophy. While the era of poetic writing had largely drawn to a close from around 1926, the subsequent interwar years witnessed a partial return to verse and to works for the stage. The second volume aggregates this immense output from a period of six years (1932–38) including two volumes of Variété, Alphabet, the famous monograph Degas danse dessin, and miscellaneous essays on art and literature. This is also the era when Valéry, newly elected académicien and widely regarded as the illustrious representative of French culture, became more involved in his work on the sub-commission of Arts and Letters of the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation, which functioned as a cultural advisory body and executive organ of the League of Nations in Geneva. The position and status that he occupied in the decades before the Second World War inevitably occasioned an increase in international conferences, including those at the Collège de France which continued into the Occupation, and is reflected in the diverse range of essays in volume III (1939–45). While the reader might...