21 November 2013

Stéphane Mallarmé in Valvins, Vulaines-sur-Seine, Seine-et-Marne (77)

Stephane Mallarmé à Valvins: Livret de visiteur by Marie-Anne Sarda (Vulaines-sur-Seine: Musée départemental Stéphane Mallarmé, 1995)* is a very useful and beautifully illustrated guide to Mallarmé's holiday home, more than half of it consisting of biographical detail of Mallarmé in Valvins, and the rest is a more detailed description of the house itself.

The front, Seine-facing elevation, where Mallarmé loved sitting on the stone bench, and very much as it looked over a hundred years ago.

HABITA DE 1874 À 1898

Mallarmé, then, lived here for twenty-four years, although by no means all of the time because he had been teaching English in Paris since 1871. Shortly after arriving in Paris Mallarmé met Édouard Manet, who became a good friend and who executed the famous Portrait de Stéphane Mallarmé in 1876. It was partly under the influence of Manet – noted for his plein air paintings – and partly due to the example of his contemporaries – that he sought a holiday home. He rented only two rooms in the house at Valvins initially in 1874, renting more in 1895 after his retirement. It was then that the Mallarmés did work on the house, transforming the two rooms on the upper floor into bedrooms.

Mallarmé had married Maria Gerhard, with whom he had two children – Geneviève and Anatole, the latter dying at the age of eight. In 1874 they stayed at Valvins in the school summer holidays in August and September, although this was often extended in later years to include Easter and la Toussaint, and occasionally other days.

The poet spent his days at Valvins writing correspondence, but probably did little creative writing after his retirement in 1893. The river also took up a lot of his time. He had had a little wooden boat with a triangular mast and which he called a 'canot' and (idiosyncratically) Paul Valéry described as a 'yole' in his poem 'Valvins'; it was built at Honfleur and Mallarmé loved sailing 'S.M.', as he called her. In addition, Mallarmé enjoyed walking in Fontainebleau forest.

He also delighted in receiving a number of guests to his 'petite maison', some of the writers including Paul Valéry, Édouard Dujardin, Octave Mirbeau, Georges Rodenbach and Henri de Régnier.

The back of the house.

A new fruit press in the garden.
The outside lavatory.
Which has a quarry tile floor.

And a verse by Mallarmé:

'Toi qui soulages ta tripe
Tu peux dans ce gîte obscur
Chanter ou fumer la pipe
Sans mettre tes doigts au mur'

Outside the house is an extract from a letter Mallarmé wrote to Paul Verlaine on 16 November 1885, in which, with a little fantasy, he writes of his great love of the river and of sailing, of its ability to heal:

'[...] J’oubliais mes fugues, aussitôt que pris de trop de fatigue d’esprit, sur le bord de la Seine et de la forêt de Fontainebleau, en un lieu le même depuis des années : là je m’apparais tout différent, épris de la seule navigation fluviale. J'honore la rivière, qui laisse s'engouffrer dans son eau des journées entières sans qu'on ait l'impression de les avoir perdues, ni une ombre de remords. Simple promeneur en yoles d'acajou, mais voilier avec furie, très fier de sa flotille'

After Mallarme's death Geneviève, now married to Dr Edmond Bonniot, bought the house and left the rooms intact, and collected what her father had kept in his home in rue du Rome, Paris: in so doing she preserved much of the memory of her father's life.

The family grave is in Samoreau cemetery about a mile away.

mort à huit ans
*The photo on the front cover is by Nadar

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