A recently acquired volume of correspondence of Henri Michaux, the Belgian-born writer and painter, provides a very specific view of his writing. Described as “highly idiosyncratic”, his “poems are noted for their extraordinary fantasy and bitter humour” according to the Tate.
This new volume, entitled Donc c’est non (C204.d.4913), is filled with his letters of refusal: to offers to set his poems to music; to inclusion in an anthology of surrealists (“Le Surréalisme est un groupe et un mouvement dont je n’ai jamais fait partie. … Veuillez donc supprimer mon nom de votre anthologie du Surréalisme et mes poèmes…”); and a variety of offers and requests for publication.
Cambridge University Library contains a significant collection of volumes of correspondence; primarily, but not entirely, those of literary, historical or political figures. These volumes often help to provide new insight into the life and (perhaps more importantly) works of important people (see, for instance, this new study of Cambridge economists, 1907-1946). We regularly purchase volumes of exchanges of correspondence, as well as collections of one person’s letters, such as this one.
We do, of course, have the 3 volumes of the Pleiade edition of the Œuvres complètes of Michaux (S950:01.d.1.1-3), edited by the prolific Raymond Bellour, who also edited the Cahier de l’Herne (701:01.b.10.8) dedicated to Michaux in 1966.
Finally, I will highlight here just one of the final letters, written in 1983, the year before his death:
En réponse à votre lettre du 1er juin, je suis, sachez-le, contre la publication des lettres de moi. Laissez-moi mourir d’abord…