Monday, March 23, 2009

Gifford, Paul. "The Ultimate French Intellectual: Paul Valéry." TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT March 11, 2009.

Jarrety, Michel. Paul Valery. Paris: Fayard, 2008. T. S. Eliot hailed Paul Valéry as the representative poet of the first half of the twentieth century (“not Rilke, not Yeats, nor anyone else”). This new biography broadens the specification: the most distinguished, versatile and best-connected mind of his time; the ultimate French intellectual; le contemporain capital, whose life (from 1871 to 1945) forms the most searching prism held up to a world-changing epoch of European history. Such large claims belong implicitly to this doorstopper of a book, over 1,300 pages in length, richly illustrated and with scholarly notes for specialist readers, as well as a serviceable index (helpful to the far greater number who will consult it as a reference work). The thoroughness of Michel Jarrety’s research produces a plethora of evidence: private letters made available by copyright-holders, memoirs of contemporaries, recently published diaries of key figures in Valéry’s personal life, newspaper articles and reviews; the proceedings of the organizations in which he held high office, personal papers of all kinds (love poems, draft letters, invitations, bank statements, stock exchange reports – Valéry threw nothing away). Scaling the paper mountain, his biographer has resolved to tell the whole story, and does so with chronological deliberateness, at the rate of roughly a chapter per adult year. Jarrety’s very readable narrative marshals a teeming cast of characters in an elegant and quietly dramatic life history which recounts his intellectual hero’s obscure early career as minor Symbolist poet, then as withdawn and solitary thinker, emerging to a late and paradoxical fame in 1917 with the publication of La Jeune Parque; and thence to international stardom as a roving ambassador for the Third Republic and the League of Nations. . . . Read the whole review here:

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