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This review is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

RESTRICTED VIEW GORDON MILLAN, A Throw of the Dice: The Life of Stéphane Mallarmé (Secker and Warburg)

To each generation of French poets during the past century Mallarmé has been a beacon, even when poets were not looking that way: sonnets in his manner exist among the juvenilia of some Surrealists, too. Mallarmé's work, after all, was densely mapped upon the discovery - after sardonic Baudelaire but before outrageous Rimband - that a gap was steadily widening between signifiers of lyrical imagination and those of convention (poetic conventions included). For all his supposed obscurity, he had arisen in horror from the deeps to flourish, not quite single-handedly, the slingshot of revolt against the Goliath of Stereotypes. Scholarly inquiry into his work began during the 1930s, Henri Mondor's great biography appeared in 1942, and since the mid-1950s the work of excavation, reconstruction, and analysis has gone ahead, with French, American, British, and German scholars dedicated to the field. Gordon Millan's biography is the first since Mondor's, but (a large but) the ground had been extensively prepared. Mallarmé's first writings were fastidiously explicated by the late Austin Gill in two volumes, The Early Mallarmé (1976, 1986). Jacques Scherer resuscitated the legendary Livre as long ago as 1957, Jean-Pierre Richard the Tomb for Anatole in 1961: between 1956 and 1984, nine volumes of Correspondence were published. Robert Greer Cohn's later books, Towards the Poems of Mallarmé, 1980, and Igitur, 1981, sound out every seed (or seme) in Mallarmé's pomegranate; and three British scholars, Gardner Davies, Lloyd James Austin, and Malcolm Bowie, have brought a razor edge of enlightened empiricism ...


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