Authors: Paul Valéry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet and playwright

Author Works

Poetry:

La Jeune Parque, 1917 (The Youngest of the Fates, 1947; also known as The Young Fate)

Album de vers anciens, 1920 (Album of Early Verse, 1971)

Charmes: Ou, Poèmes, 1922 (Charms, 1971)

Short Fiction:

“La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste,” 1896 (“An Evening with Monsieur Teste,” 1925)

Drama:

Amphion, pr., pb. 1931 (musical drama; English translation, 1960)

Sémiramis, pr., pb. 1934 (musical drama; English translation, 1960)

Cantate du Narcisse, pr. 1939 (musical drama; The Narcissus Cantata, 1960)

Mon Faust, pb. 1946 (My Faust, 1960)

Nonfiction:

Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci, 1896 (serial), 1919 (book; Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci, 1929)

Eupalinos: Ou, L’Architecte, 1921 (dialogue; Eupalinos: Or, The Architect, 1932)

Variété, 1924-1944 (5 volumes)

L’âme et la danse, 1925 (dialogue; Dance and the Soul, 1951)

Analecta, 1926 (Analects, 1970)

Regards sur le monde actuel, 1931 (Reflections on the World Today, 1948)

Degas, danse, dessin, 1938 (Degas, Dance, Drawing, 1960)

Les Cahiers, 1957-1961

Miscellaneous:

Selected Writings, 1950

The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, 1956-1975 (15 volumes)

Biography

Paul Valéry (va-lay-ree) was the son of an Italian mother and a Corsican father. He first attended school in his hometown of Sète, France, then spent 1884 through 1888 at the lycée of Montpellier. His career there was undistinguished. Judging himself too untalented in mathematics to attend the Naval Academy, Valéry turned his interest to the arts, especially poetry. Among the chief literary influences on him at this time were Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, and Charles Baudelaire; by 1889 Valéry had written a number of poems.{$I[AN]9810000329}{$I[A]Valéry, Paul}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Valéry, Paul}{$I[tim]1871;Valéry, Paul}

Paul Valéry

(© Verlag Ullstein, Berlin)

He served in the military from 1889 to 1890, during which time he developed an interest in Symbolist poetry. His reading of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1884 novel Against the Grain directed Valéry to the poetry of Paul Verlaine and, particularly, Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1890 he met Pierre Louÿs, who put him in touch with Mallarmé, José-Maria de Hérédia, and André Gide. Louÿs also began publishing Valéry’s poetry in his literary journal, La Conque. In the meantime Valéry devoted himself to the study of law, again at Montpellier.

In 1892, caught up in a personal crisis, Valéry went to spend his vacation in Genoa, Italy, with his aunt. In the course of an October night of anxiety and insomnia, he became obsessed with the idea that the emotional and aesthetic life distorted and crippled intellectual clarity and activity. He decided to reject writing and the artistic life to devote himself to what he valued most: self-knowledge and the consideration of the intellect and the life of thought.

In 1894 Valéry went to Paris to seek government service. He became a member of Mallarmé’s “Tuesday Circle” of Symbolist writers. In 1895 he entered the Ministry of War. The next year he published Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci and “An Evening with Monsieur Teste.” Valéry left the Ministry of War in 1900 to become private secretary for his friend, Edouard Lebey, an influential businessman. He held this position for twenty-two years, until Lebey’s death. Valéry was also married in 1900. His position with Lebey took little time, and he spent many hours each day during these two decades noting his observations of his mental and intellectual activity: He watched the self in thought, in dream, and in time, and he examined the relation of thought and language. His metaphor for himself during these years was that of a man caught in the labyrinth of his own thought, attempting vainly to find the thread that would guide him out. This writing resulted in more than 250 notebooks.

In 1912, twenty years after he had given up poetry, Valéry was asked by Gide and another friend to publish an edition of his early poems; Album of Early Verse finally appeared in 1920. This project resulted in a single new poem, The Young Fate. The success of this poem led Valéry to write and publish more poetry, most notably his famous “Cemetery by the Sea” (1920). Charms, a collected volume of his poetry written after The Young Fate, was published in 1922, and Valéry’s reputation grew rapidly.

Although first identified with the Symbolists because of his association with people such as Mallarmé and Verlaine, Valéry’s later work took him on an introspective course of his own. His writing is delicately balanced and lyrical, yet often obscure. His philosophical probing led to the formulation of aesthetic and poetic theories that had a major influence on later writers.

With the death of Lebey in 1922, Valéry devoted himself completely to the life of a writer. He was lionized by the reading public, and his essays and prefaces were in great demand. The French Academy elected him to the chair of Anatole France in 1925. He received many other honors in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the period when he wrote most of his celebrated dialogues, and in 1937 he took the chair of poetry at the Collège de France. Continuing to teach during World War II and the Occupation, Valéry did much to encourage the Resistance. He died just after the liberation, and he was buried in the cemetery beside the sea in Sète.

BibliographyAnderson, Kirsteen. Paul Valéry and the Voice of Desire. Oxford, England: Legenda, 2000. An exploration of the power of voice as image and theme throughout Valéry’s writing. Anderson highlights the tension between a dominant “masculine” imaginary and the repressed “feminine” dimension which underpins Valéry’s work.Gifford, Paul, and Brian Stimpson, eds. Reading Paul Valéry: Universe in Mind. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A collection of essays by internationally recognized scholars offering a comprehensive account of Valéry’s work. Perspectives are offered on the immense range of Valéry’s experimental and fragmentary writings.Kluback, William. Paul Valéry: Illusions of Civilization. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. A discussion of the meaning of civilization, in particular, Western civilization, as it was investigated in the philosophical works of Valéry. Studies the infrastructure of Valéry’s philosophy as it embraced the questions of civilization, history, evil, love, and mortality.Kluback, William. Paul Valéry: The Realms of the “Analecta.” New York: Peter Lang, 1998. A study of a particular aspect of Valéry’s philosophical work, the Analects. This is the realm of the imagination, of the image and metaphor. Readers are presented with epigrams that are designed to confuse and challenge their thinking.Putnam, Walter C. Paul Valéry Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1995. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Valéry. Includes bibliographical references and index.
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