Anna de Brancovan, comtesse de Noailles (1876 – 1933), a Greek-Rumanian princess, born and living in Paris, ascribed her poetic vocation to her childhood among musicians and to her garden in Amphion near Lake Geneva. Famous for her poems since she was 24 years old, and also a prodigious speaker among her contemporaries, she awoke languishing French literature and led “the invasion of women authors” before her friend Colette, whose later glory has survived better.
Noailles was rather forgotten in 1986, when I began my publications about her — currently available only in libraries except for the Cocteau-Noailles Correspondence, ed. Gallimard, Cahiers Cocteau no. 11, 1989. My monograph, Anna de Noailles (éd. Méridieus – Klincksieck, 1989, 456 pp.), full of unpublished documents, throws light on her formation, her literary start, her loves often struck down by death : Barrès, Henri Franck — who in 1908 – 1912 led her to renew her inspiration and to contribute to the N.R.F. — Edmond Rostand, Henri Gans. And her friends : Proust, Cocteau, Mauriac, Valèry, Jean Rostand… This survey also deals with the genesis, originality and reception of her works : after Po¬emes d’Enfance (in fact written at the age of 18), her “naturisme” sparkles in Le Cœur Innombrable (1901) and L’Ombre des Jours (1902), written before she encountered Francis Jammes’s poetry. Afterwards, in spite of illness, 17 volumes (9 verse and 8 prose works : novels, short stories, prose poems) came out during 30 years and obtained a world fame.
Anna de Noailles relives also through my separate editions of her Correspondence with Loti, Jammes, Gide, Cocteau and, more recently, my revelation (long forbidden) of the Noailles-Barrès Correspondence éd. L’Inventaire, Paris, 1994, 838 pp.
My works amend clichés : Noailles ‘pagan’? but she was nostalgic for “un dieu fraternel”; ‘oriental’ ? but chiefly in a dream; ‘Muse of Gardens’ ? more poet of life, dance, jubilation, distress (hence her hold on young readers as revealed in my study about the review Les Essais, 1904-1906, which she sponsored). Behind her traditional metrics, she breaks the Carte4siajn discourse, the corset of sonnet, the matrix of abstract vocabulary replaced by plain sensations and puissant cries. Her aesthetics of snapshot and surprise liberate our spontaneity, open our fancy to a poetic of motion, verticality, where body mingles with space, confronts love and death.
Claude Mignot-Ogliastri, Université Paul Valèry, Montpellier, France.
Note : I am deeply grateful to Mme Claude Mignot-Ogliastri, who has, by her writings, done so much to keep the memory of Anna de Noailles alive, for this piece which I invited her to contribute. Mme Mignot’s English is virtually perfect and, though authorised to make any corrections I deemed necessary, I did no more than change one or two words. Sebastian Hayes