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Stages of Self
Dramatic Monologues of Laforgue, Valéry, and Mallarmé

By Elisabeth A. Howe

Winner of the 1989 NEMLA-Ohio University Press Book Award

“The book is gracefully written, clearly organized, and coherently argued…. This is a worthwhile and interesting book, which convincingly establishes the centrality of the dramatic monologue in late nineteenth-century poetry and the importance of the varying concept of the self evolved in it.”

Michele Hannoosh, Comparative Literature

The dramatic monologue has attracted considerable critical attention in English but is rarely considered relevant to French poetry and has generally been ignored in studies of comparative literature. In Stages of Self, various poems by Jules Laforgue, Stephane Mallarmé, and Paul Ambroise Valery are analyzed to show that they conform to the norms of the genre even though they bear little surface resemblance to the dramatic monologues by Browning, Pound, or Eliot.

Traditionally, a dramatic monologue is a poem spoken by an identified persona placed in a dramatic situation. This description fits poems such as L'Après-midi d'un faune and La Jeune Parque, though the persona and the drama are quite unlike those of English and American dramatic monologues. The latter two tend to characterize the speaker fully, and to place him/her in a well-defined spatial and temporal context, while the French poems ignore characterization and give very little contextual detail. The figures of the Parque and the Faun are engaged in purely internal dramas, which again distinguishes these poems from the Browning-esque dramatic monologue; they belong to the dramatic tradition of Racine rather than Shakespeare. LaForugue’s oetry constitutes an interesting half-way point between the representational dramatic monologue typical of Browning, which Laforgue ironically undermines, and the more impersonal and universal, though still dramatic, monologues of Mallarmé and Valery.

Howe seeks to redefine the scope of the term “dramatic monologue,” which she feels is often unduly limited. She notes that the term is frequently confined to the use of spoken, colloquial language – so foreign to Mallarmé, Valery, or indeed, Tennyson – or the presence of a silent interlocutor. However, Howe contends that such narrow interpretations restrict the genre to Browning’s monologues, and not all of those. Admitting that far more examples of the genre exist in English, Howe attributes the scarcity to the differing assumptions on the part of French poets about poetic voice and about the nature of spoken – as opposed to written – language.

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Hardcover
978-0-8214-0953-4
Retail price: $32.95, S.
Release date: July 1990
230 pages
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