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Report from Shields Library Stacks: Notes from the Field

One of the pleasures of a large research library is the discovery of riches tucked away in places not often browsed.  Such an example is afforded by La Nouvelle Revue Française, aka NRF.  And this particular title does not seem to have been converted to digital format, so it is a great boon to have a complete run, dating back to the founding year of 1909, and continuing to the present.  The back issues are shelved on the Lower Level of Shields, at AP20 .N6.  A check of the earlier issues reveals a fertile cache of  extraordinary materials sure to be of interest as primary sources in the study of French literature, culture, and society.  Early associates included André Gide,  Gaston Gallimard, and an amazing variety of names now enshrined as part of the canon of 20th century French literature.

The editors had actually assembled an issue the year before,  in 1908, but got to quarreling and were unable to come to agreement, and so they had to wait a year to get started.  When they did, the first issue included contributions by Paul Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, Francis Jammes, and Emile Verhaeren. Not at all outdone, Gide himself contributed the first appearance of his novel, La Porte Etroite,  as a series of  installments. By volume 2 others had joined, including Jules Romains and Paul Valery.  Alain-Fournier shows up as a book reviewer before eventually publishing a serial version of Les Grandes Meaulnes, in 1912.  In 1911,  Gide contributed more  novels seriatim, including Les Caves du Vatican, in 1911, and his early masterpiece La Symphonie Pastorale, in 1919. By that time Gaston Gallimard had gone on to found the publishing house that still bears his name, originally as an off-shoot of the NRF.

Translation studies scholars and comparativists will want to know that Gide also published an early translation of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in 1911.  Later, after the publication had been suspended for the four years of the First World War,  his translation of William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell appeared in 1922.  Valéry Larbaud published here his translations of excerpts from Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon in 1920.

There is also a serialized version of one of Paul Claudel’s most famous novels, L’Annonce Faite à Marie, appearing in several 1912 numbers. But probably the greatest find of all is in the volumes appearing in 1914, when the  published fragments of a work by a then relatively unknown writer named Marcel Proust, who was toiling away at A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, and contributed some fragments from what would become the second volume,  La Côté de Guermantes. It’s interesting to learn that Proust’s masterpiece was initially rejected by a number of publishers’ readers, including Gide himself, and had to be published–supposedly at the author’s own expense–by Bernard Grasset.   But it didn’t take long for these initial negative assessments to change.  By the early 1920s,  after Proust meets an untimely death in November of 1922, much space is devoted to extensive analyses of  Proust’s life and work. Other writers who contributed fragments or excerpts of works-in-progress or shorter pieces include Colette, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire,  Arthur Rimbaud (who also appears as Jean-Arthur Rimbaud), the anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl on primitive mentality, and Gertrud Stein contributed  parts of a memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  Antonin Artaud’s debut is a series of letters between him and the NRF editor who rejected his early submissions; later he became something of a regular feature.

Along with Alain-Fournier, a number of other writers make a debut here as reviewers of books, theatrical productions, and even films, including André Breton,  who reviewed Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror,  Aragon,  who reviewed, among other things, an edition of Les Contes de Perrault,  Antonin Artaud, Julien Benda,  and the early exponent of French existentialism with a Christian accent, the philosopher Gabriel Marcel.  Stephane Mallarmé reviewed musical performances. Many of these also contributed shorter versions of original works.  Along with Marcel, the philosopher Alain also contributed many pieces in the 1920s and the 1930s.

Perhaps the greatest curiosity is a brief item, with the appearance of an announcement or a very simple advertisement,  in 1919, heralding the beginning of “Le Mouvement Dada”; the announcement calls the attention of NRF readers to “Le Directeur,” Tristan Tzara, and even provides what looks like a mock-telephone number (1-2-3-4-5) and an address where he might be reached in Switzerland for inquiries.

Note:  For a notification and brief entry on NRF‘s predecessor, see the blog entry for La Revue Blanche.

 

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