The French Face of Edgar Poe

The French Face of Edgar Poe

The French Face of Edgar Poe

The French Face of Edgar Poe

Excerpt

In 1862, at the age of twenty, the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé went to London and began work on his translations of the poems of Poe. He had learned English before going to England, learned the language, he said later, for one simple reason: "the better to read Poe." If it was Mallarmé's hope that in England he would come to a better understanding of Poe than was possible in his own country, his excursion was, at best, unnecessary. If in the same hope he had come to America, the trip would have been a failure. Residence in either country would surely have improved his knowledge of English, but for an understanding of Poe he would have been better off had he remained in France. For it was in France, as Jean Richepin said some years ago in a series of lectures on American literature, "It was in France that Poe was soonest and most fully understood."

This opinion, with which I now agree, would once have seemed to me fantastic. For I was aware of the high regard which the French have for Poe and I thought it misplaced. I knew, for instance, that in La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, a superb set of books devoted almost exclusively to the classic French writers, there were editions of Plato, Shakespeare, Tolstoy--

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