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This article is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

Mallarmé's Pour un tombeau d'Anatole Patrick McGuinness

For Alan Raitt

                                                                 brother sister
                                                          no never will the absent
                                                                -
                                                          be anything less than
                                                          present-
                                                    Mallarmé, A Tomb for Anatole

'And there she stood, before his eyes, composed of will and memory'
                                                            
                                                        Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Véra



In Villiers's short story, Véra, a young aristocrat, the Count of Athol, knows that the death of his wife need not present any overwhelming difficulty to their life together. Though she now lies in the family mausoleum, all incense and chilled marble, Death has won the battle but not the war. To win that it has to convince him, to convince their home, their possessions, to convince the air around them, that she is gone. In that crucial second stage is played out the real struggle, and until that is over she is simply lifeless - not dead but lifeless. The story, a tale of resurrection-through-perpetuation, describes the effort of will required of the young man to reconstitute her, or recompose her, unchanged. For a year he talks to her, has his meals a deux, sleeps with her, wakes with her. Even his old manservant, from thinking his master insane, begins to see flashes of her dress sweeping up the winding stairs, begins to hear her voice through doors ajar, begins to see these as perfectly normal occurrences. Her jewellery, still warm from her neck, her wrists, attests to her continuation. The mirrors hold her reflection ...


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