Paris is a huge home-sick peasant
April 27, 2012 9:07 AM   Subscribe

This month marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Hope Mirrlees. She is best remembered for her fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist, but had earlier written a 600 line poem, published by her friend, Virginia Woolf, called Paris.

Only 125 copies of Paris were printed, and the poem was ignored for several decades, but is now regarded as a key context for The Waste Land, and increasingly as a central text in English literary modernism. Mirrlees, like Hardy, abandoned poetry for much of her life before returning to it in old age. A new collection of her verse was recently published.
posted by tigrefacile (6 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Lud-in-the-Mist is absolutely terrific. I had no idea that she was also a harbinger of Modernism, but what do you know?
posted by Iridic at 9:13 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend gave me a copy of Paris in college and I have loved it ever since, picking out pieces of it to suit my given mood. I had no idea about the book or the recent collection-so many thanks for this post.
posted by Isadorady at 9:50 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

And Michael Swanwick recently published a book on Mirrlees.
posted by Zed at 10:26 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's almost Hopeless Mire as an anagram, isn't it? Just saying...
posted by gallus at 11:33 AM on April 27, 2012

Well look at that-- thank you for this tigrefacile. I've done a fair amount of work on Paris: A Poem, including this paper entitled "Whatever happens, some day it will look beautiful": Hope Mirrlees' Paris, which I presented at a conference back in 2003. I was corresponding with Michael Swanwick during the time he was writing his initial article about Mirrlees, and we exchanged copies of her books although not, alas Paris: A Poem itself, which I had to go to New York to meet in person, so to speak. I've written a lot more about Paris since (it's the subject of my MA thesis). It's a bit of a fascinating paradox-- her facility with the techniques of the avant-garde disguise what I see as its fundamentally anti-revolutionary (for lack of a better term) themes.

This is a quick copy and paste from the introduction: "Mirrlees resists the concerns of the avant-garde within the forms of the avant-garde in not quite an act of appropriation but instead of redirection, that of technique turned to different ends. Her fragments are not shored up against the ruins but maintain a vision of the capital in a type of pre-lapsarian state, before the ruins took hold. It is, in this sense, a profoundly conservative work, one which looks backwards, not forwards, attempting to recoup and save history rather than remake it, resisting the trauma of the war by fixing cultural fragmentation within a kind of floating and endlessly circulating time. ... Through recording the fragmented experiential field of Paris, Mirrlees attempts to preserve an imaginary (and impossible) wholeness. Like Benjamin’s Angel of History, she would like to awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed."

I could talk about this poem for hours, but I'll spare you. Just working on it was a crash course in French history, the classics, Rabelais, and a dozen other wonderful things.
posted by jokeefe at 9:22 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should really clean up the Works Cited page for that paper; I edited it down from a longer version and forgot to fix that part. Nevermind.
posted by jokeefe at 9:36 PM on April 27, 2012

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