Almost a century after the death of the French poet Stephane Mallarme, readers still puzzle over his writings, still seek to understand his seemingly impenetrable philosophy. In this highly original book, Graham Robb reveals conclusive answers to the mysteries of Mallarme. Robb's discovery of a "key" to Mallarme's poetry is an exciting achievement that entirely redefines Mallarme studies, illuminates large areas of French poetry, both before and after Mallarme, and opens the way for new interpretations of some of the most complicated poems ever written.
As Robb scrutinized the work of Mallarme, he discovered that the poet repeatedly used the hundred or so words in the French language that have no rhyme. This discovery, as Robb tells it, "proved to be the first step of a staircase leading to a tomb which had remained sealed since Mallarme built it."
It revealed the only perspective from which his poems "made sense"-as allegorical tales of their own creation. The "theme" of the poem turns out to be just one surface of a brilliantly coordinated whole.
In the first part of the book, Robb defines and explores the development of Mallarme's approach; in the second he applies the method to specific poems; in the conclusion he suggests ways in which the key might be applied to other poems and poets; and in the epilogue he offers a guided tour through Mallarme's famously uninterpretable shipwreck poem, Un coup de des. The book reveals how Mallarme's self-reflecting, self-destructive work poses, and perhaps answers, the central questions of twentieth-century criticism.
Graham Robb, formerly Fellow in French at Exeter College, Oxford, is now a full-time writer. His biography of Balzac was one of the New York Times selections for Books of the Year in 1994. He is currently working on a biography of Victor Hugo.