Mallarmé and Un coup de dés

Upon his death in 1898, Stéphane Mallarmé was working on a definitive edition of his work Un coup de dés, the iconic poem of European modernism, with the publisher Ambroise Vollard.  Mallarmé’s amendments to the text of the poem published in Cosmopolis in 1897 involve changes to the typeface and layout of the poem in order to emphasise his interest in structure and graphic layout. This edition was well advanced, and sets of proofs survive in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) and the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet which have precise annotations relating to format, size and proportion. The text  was to include lithographs by  Mallarmé’s friend Odilon Redon, and was composed in Didot.  It was never published.

Un coup de dès jamais n'abolira le hasard

Un coup de dès jamais n’abolira le hasard

The first so-called original edition in book form, which was published by Gallimard in 1914 (a digitised copy of which is available through the BNF), ignored Mallarmé’s vision and intended layout. The University Library’s copy is missing, and perhaps Mallarmé would not have lamented its disappearance, since it is printed in Elzevir, a font which Mallarmé disliked, and the page size is wrong. Nevertheless, this version of the text became standard, and also the basis for most translations, including those in English.

The University Library has recently acquired a bilingual edition of Un coup de dés published by Ypsilon Éditeur which follows the proofs which Mallarmé had corrected and includes the lithographs by Redon. Ypsilon was founded in September 2007 specifically to produce this item. It is made up of 4 volumes, including Mallarmé’s text and the first Arabic translation, by the Moroccan poet Mohammed Bennis, one of the most important poets of modern Arabic.  The set is completed by the third volume, Relativement au poème– Un coup de dès jamais n’abolira le hasard, which consists of three parts: Journal d’une traduction by Mohammed Bennis ; Brève histoire de l’édition Vollard du Dé by Isabella Checcaglini ; Divagation by Bernard Noël. The fourth volume contains the material of the third volume translated into Arabic. We now closely monitor all new publications from Ypsilon, since they continue to publish classics of typography.

The full publication history of the poem is given in the first volume of the Pléiade’s Complete works of Mallarmé (1998).

The Library also currently has on order a copy of the artist’s book of the same title by Marcel Broodthaers, the Belgian artist and poet, which was first published in Antwerp in 1969. This removes all the text from the Mallarmé edition, of which Magritte had given a copy to Broodthaers in 1945, and replaces it with black stripes corresponding to Mallarmé’s typographic layout. This work by Broodthaers is seen as a seminal example of the post-avant-garde.

Un coup de dès jamais n'abolira le hasard

Un coup de dès jamais n’abolira le hasard

Mallarmé has long been an important figure for the University Library’s collection development policy. Lloyd Austin (1915-1994), a former Drapers Professor of French and Head of the Cambridge French Department, started to edit Mallarmé’s correspondence in 1959. Initially it was a collaborative project with Henri Mondor, but when his co-editor died in 1962 Austin carried on alone. As his obituary in French studies makes clear, this turned out to be a vast undertaking. “The edition itself, when finally completed in 1985, was three times longer than originally envisaged. Meticulous and richly annotated, it is a work of paramount importance not only for Mallarmé scholars but for all those interested in Symbolism and its aftermath”.

-Josh Hutchinson

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