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This review is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

MALLARMÉ À LA MODE Mallarmé On Fashion: a translation of the fashion magazine La dernière mode with commentary by P.N. Furbank and A.M. Cain (Berg) £16.99

In October 1876 Stéphane Mallarmé sent a poem to America for a book of homage to the long-dead Edgar Allan Poe (died 1849): 'Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poë'. The first line of this sonnet proposes a curious paradox on the subject of time and change: 'Tel qu'en Lui-même enfin l'éternité le change' ('Such as into Himself at last eternity changes him'), introducing thereby a kind of time-shaken presence into the apparent finality of death and the cold memory of a poetic life long over. For the following seven years Mallarmé offered no poems for publication, as if he had himself suffered the kind of death from which all signs of life and change had been extinguished. In the interim his little son Anatole had died, prompting Mallarmé to attempt a tombeau for one much closer home, a project which was to prove recalcitrant to the point of virtual impossibility, and as such an ominous portent of the lifelong intractable difficulties he was to suffer in trying to write Le Livre. Neither Anatole nor Le Livre were, in the event, to be changed into Themselves as per the Poe sonnet. The poet's chronic privileging of means over ends left him, in these instances if not in all, in thrall to a continuous deferral, the grave of his hopes littered with the bric-à-brac of his efforts.

Two years before the Poe sonnet, however, Mallarmé had undertaken a much more manageable enterprise, ...


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