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Vivien, Renee.

Flambeaux Eteints.

Book

The Dedication Copy
Vivien, Renée. Flambeaux éteints. Paris: E. Sansot, 1907.
8vo.; printed wrappers; lightly soiled. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.
First edition of Extinguished Torches, 50 press-numbered copies printed on Japan vellum (this is copy #13). In this collection of Vivien's poetry "doubt and anxiety deepen into full despair." Her affair with Barney had been over for several years-though that relationship had deepened into one of her most important friendships-but her closest lifelong friend, Violet Shillito, and her two other significant lovers, Zuylen and Turkhan-Pacha, were all dead. She herself was just two years away from an early death at 32.
The dedication copy, inscribed to Natalie Clifford Barney: To a wonderful woman from one who most fervently admires her, Renee Vivien. The printed dedication reads, "A mon amie / H. -L. -C. -B." With Vivien's autograph annotations and emendations in purple ink to three poems: she removed the last line from each stanza of the first poem and the third line of the first stanza, replacing it with an alternative line; and she partially revised a line from each of two other poems.  
Born Pauline Mary Tarn on June 11, 1877, to a wealthy Englishman and an American woman from Jackson, Michigan who had met in Honolulu and married the previous year, she was birthed in London but raised in both there and in Paris, where she met Barney in 1899. "The passionate relationship that developed was, for reasons unknown, short lived," but they remained close as evinced by the dedication and inscription of this volume to Barney. "Subsequently, Tarn-who had begun to call herself Renée Vivien-fell in love with Hélène de Zuylen, a woman fourteen years her senior, who became a stabilizing influence on her." Vivien published her first book, Etudes et préludes (1901), in the wake Shillito's death, an event which altered her permanently. Signed "R. Vivien," the collection of poetry was well reviewed. "Readers noticed the indebtedness to Baudelaire but also the authentic individuality of the poems. Directly autobiographical, the book seems like an extension of the passion between Vivien and Zuylen…. From 1902 to 1907 every collection of Vivien's poems was dedicated to her," with the exception of Flambeaux éteint. "From 1904 to 1908 Vivien had 'une flirtation d'âme' (soul flirtation) with Kérimé Turkhan-Pacha, the wife of a Turkish diplomat."
While early male biographers of both Vivien (1877-1909) and Barney (most notably Yves-G'erad Le Dantec's Renée Vivien: femme damnée, femme sauvée and Jean Chalon's Portrait d'une seductrice) have tended to play up the sensational aspects of their relationship together and of their separate lives, more recent work has appropriately paid more attention to their prolific  body of work. Barney produced 20 books and Vivien published more than nine volumes of poetry, a novel, two volumes of prose and a translation of Sappho from Greek into French, before her death at 32. Indeed, as Karla Hay suggests, in The Amazon and the Page: Natalie Clifford Barney and Renée Vivien, their work and intellectual interrelatedness is a particularly fruitful area for feminist scholarship. A close examination of the material led Jay
to the conviction that a serious reevaluation of the work of Barney and Vivien and of their literary relationship to one another was necessary. It also became apparently that Barney and Vivien were a rich topic of study for a feminist: they presented an interesting example of fruitful literary connection, one in which, evidently, Natalie Barney was a chief source of theoretical inspiration to Renée Vivian, who worked out the implication of Barney's lesbian feminism in her fiction, although Vivien in turn broadened the thematic scope of Barney's work. Furthermore, in their concern for the invention of new models and myths for women, Barney and Vivien anticipated some of the concerns of contemporary French and American feminist writers. But above all, it is in their partial failure as well as in their success that these two writers are significant to the contemporary reader. They were each committed to the full-scale redemption of the entire weight of Western literature and myth to serve their woman-centered philosophy. They ransacked the pages of history to find appropriate heroines for a women's literature. They sought to convert the conventions of courtly love to serve a new religion of love. They transformed the images of the Symbolist poetry they adored into an expression of a spiritual transcendence achieved through the devotion to an unapproachable woman. They daringly created a new approach to gender, sex, and sexual preference in a time when most of their contemporaries discussed the subject apologetically … both women were unquestionably serious artists whose works are long overdue for reconsideration. Their almost uncanny anticipation of the preoccupations of feminist writers whose work began almost sixty years after Vivien's death gives them a place as foremothers of feminist literature, though foremothers of feminist literature who have been sadly overlooked.
Despite their earlier comparative neglect, for Jay, both writers "have established a strong and permanent place for themselves as harbingers of a new age in women's literature," with several of their friends and lovers. Vivien "had relationships, perhaps primarily physical ones, with unnamed partners," but "Louÿs, Colette, and the painter Romaine Brooks were often guests."
For all her kindness to them, though, Vivien seems to have considered all these people as little more than passersby in her life. Far from celebrating or politicizing what today is called an "alternative lifestyle," she developed more and more self-hatred, to the point of attempting suicide. She came to hate her body because its sexual desires constantly won out over her need to live a life of spiritual distinction; she punished the flesh by starving it, and this starvation undoubtedly contributed to her death. She had also become an alcoholic and suffered from amnesia and eye disorders.
The drift of the perceptive Colette's reminiscences is that Vivien was one of the unhappiest women in Paris. Capable of sustained tenderness and certainly of passion, she seems nevertheless to have been unsuited to the demands necessarily made by any relationship entailing both physical intimacy and spiritual bonding. Obviously, the central problem was a blurred psychosexual identity. Throughout an unhappy life punctuated by impermanent fulfillments she grew steadily unhappier and more self-destructive. The wonder is that she never retreated into the false security of either politicization or peurile self-indulgence; she was, in fact, tragically too hard on herself-she gained in perspective, improved in her art, and continued prolific. She was, however, an artist of integrity. Her poetry, despite its repetitiveness and self-preoccupation and the manless universe it presents, deserves far more appreciation-particularly outside France-than it has received." (DLB, V. 217: Nineteenth-Century French Poets. By Michel Balmont and Robert Beum, A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Robert Beum. The Gale Group, 1999. pp. 289-295.)
(#6110)

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