Mallarmé, Stéphane (Étienne) (1842–1898) By De Rosnay, Emile
Along with Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé is a preeminent poet of the latter part of the nineteenth century, notably as the head of Symbolism (with Verlaine). Like many of his generation, Mallarmé built upon Charles Baudelaire’s, Théophile Gautier’s and Edgar Allan Poe’s contributions to poetry and criticism, and anticipated the various Modernist and avant-garde movements to come, being a key voice of modernism. Mallarmé is mostly known for his very difficult, hermetic language, for his conceptualization of a “crisis of verse” (crise de vers), and for his innovations in versification and free verse.
Étienne Mallarmé, commonly known as Stéphane, was born in Paris to Numa Mallarmé, a government administrator, and Élisabeth Desmolins, who died when Stéphane was five, after which point Stéphane came, along with his sister Maria, under the tutelage of his grandfather. His father remarried Anne-Hubertine Léonide Mathieu, who had three girls and a son. Mallarmé’s performance at school was mediocre, and his teachers at Passy reproached him for his “rebellious and vain character”; he was subsequently expelled in 1855. His first poems date from 1854. He was deeply affected by the death of his sister in 1857, as testified in some early prose (“Ce que disaient les trois cigognes,” “Plainte d’automne”).