Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

November 1987


Published in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 16, 1&2, Fall-Winter, 1987-88. pp. 197-199. Copyright 1987 Nineteenth-Century French Studies.


In this comparative study, it is Louis Marvick's aim to read Mallarmé’s prose writings in light of the historical discussion of the sublime as a category of esthetic experience. Understanding of the sublime comes primarily from Longinus and the English tradition (Burke, Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Coleridge), filtered through Kant's "Analytic of the Sublime." Except for a few brief references to French writers other than Mallarmé (Boileau, the seventeenth-century critic René Bary, Baudelaire), Professor Marvick eliminates from his study any discussion of the French literary tradition, preferring to focus on a body of essays specifically on the subject of the sublime. He is thus able to write a semantic history of that word "sublime" through 1820 and then to compare the results with Mallarmk's use of it fifty years later.

Mallarmé and the Sublime provides an interesting point of departure for further study in two areas, both suggested by Professor Marvick. The first would be an analysis of the parallels that exist between the English Romantics and Mallarmé, taking into account the French tradition of preciosity and the evolution of esthetics of le beau, particularly as they came to Mallarmé through Baudelaire. The second area (and I believe this is original with Marvick) would see an expansion and a deepening of the Kant- Mallarmé comparison throughout the poems outlined at the conclusion of this study. Such a project might involve a critical dialogue with others who have written on ontological questions in Mallarmé, Blanchot being the indispensable starting point, with critics like Bersani providing some of the more interesting developments since 1980. It could also perhaps complement the work done on Mallarmé and German idealism, particularly with respect to Hegel (Houston's being the best of the recent contributions).