Each month, the National Library of France highlights a work by an unknown writer, to be downloaded free of charge in Gallica. Today, the traveling poetess who asserted her desire and her independence.
In line with the Norman writers, Flaubert and Maupassant, we find Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, born in Honfleur in 1874 into a bourgeois family. Prolific author, insatiable traveler alongside her orientalist husband, the one who lived for a long time in the shadow of the Countess de Noailles offers us an incredible breath of freedom as a legacy. «Cry of pain or ecstasy» raised to “the dignity of music”, his work bears witness to a “torment of living”, “of despair in the face of everything that limits the human horizon”.
«Poetic dreams, calls for love and solitary study» punctuate his first years and very early on writing seemed essential. Faced with the scathing ax of Academician François Coppée – «Me, I would rather advise you to sew, to do housework… well, to take care of something else» – his determination is tenacious. «No, I wouldn’t sew, no, I wouldn’t clean!»she swears to herself. And the young girl then compels herself to an in-depth study of literature, philosophy and grammar.
Refusing the hand of Philippe Pétain, she married Doctor Joseph-Charles Mardrus, great translator of Thousand and one Nightpublishing at the White Review. Thanks to him, she published her first collections, West et Fervor, in 1901 and 1902. Criticism was harsh. Yet these are the verses which, by their ode to sensitive life, by their naive lyricism, will remain in the annals: «The smell of my country was in an apple…»
“Never came the day when I stopped being hungry”
After frequenting the Parisian socialite and intellectual milieu, the couple set sail for the Orient in 1904. Then began a long journey to discover the Maghreb and the Middle East. Each encounter, each discovery is the occasion for a poem. “To the left”,it offers these alexandrines: “I will go far away from the towns where you are, / Without goodbye and without farewell. I will go […] I will love this country which is not my country, / I will possess it in Muslim hands.” His subsequent collections, figurehead, Through winds and tides et Storm Breaths bear witness to an appetite for living and devouring the world: «Never came the day / when I stopped being hungry.» The fervor of the whirling dervishes encountered in Istanbul thus finds an echo in his passion: «They turn ! I see you, passionate circle, / And I feel you, spasm of the soul! / To the great mute rhythm of these women’s skirts / My whole being also wants to turn.
The Parisian public read the story of their travels in the form of an interview in the morning and his “letters from the Orient”, sometimes punctuated with poems, in Gil Blas. Honored in the Illustrated magazine and in happy life in the company of General Lyautey, “Princess Almond”, as she was nicknamed then, haloed with exotic magic and romance, heroine of a tale of Scheherazade, acquired both worldly and literary notoriety.
Steeped in oriental culture, mastering Arabic perfectly, she drew from her travels not only novels, restoring the mountains and cork oak forests of Kroumirie in monkey currencybut also lectures on the harems and mores of Arab women.
His poems, intimately personal, echo the tension between the irrepressible desire to leave, the desperate quest for new horizons, and the need for a saving return to the native land: «I wanted the destiny of figureheads / Who leave the port early and who come back late», she confides, before writing her very beautiful “Dialogue du retour”. At his «Grassy Normandy, bright and wet», she will indeed often declare her love.
“I get drunk on my sterility which bleeds slowly”
In 1906, Catulle Mendès, director of the Journal, offers him to try his hand at writing stories. Filled with ghosts and corpses, his often morbid supernatural texts – invitation to death, the Funeral Maternity – are in the vein of those of Poe, an author she will translate and illustrate in pastel, and readers are unsubscribing en masse. the Journal nevertheless publishes Mary, daughter mother in 1908, whose tragic story met with great popular success. From her first collections, the relationship between men and women, the claim of independence and desire never cease to preoccupy her. In the form of a confidence, “For the youngest”, or a declaration of love, “Women”, her verve is often part of a denunciation of the female condition in the grip of «brutal desire like a cudgel» of violent masculinity. She herself emancipated herself from a certain social conformism, refused motherhood – “I get drunk on my sterility which bleeds slowly”, she says – and has an affair with Natalie Barney, whose Our secret loves are the testimony.
“My verses have remained almost in the shadows” she regrets in her Memoirs,“and it was in my verses that I really gave my soul. For my poetry alone explains and justifies me. More than in his altogether classic versification, it is in his romantic prose that we taste his poetic inspiration. Just read the first pages of the Ex-voto. With this novel, we enter a world made up of repeated slaps on the cheeks of kids, drunkenness of port men, ambient misery. She portrays an impressive female character in the guise of the «rebellious, rebellious, vindictive» Ludivine Bucaille, a 14-year-old girl from Normandy, whose story is carried out at a beating pace to the rhythm of her struggles. “Unconscious descendant of the ancestral sea queens”, the latter is transformed, out of love for an orphan whom she obliges her parents to take in, into “a small force of nature born for command”. A fine example of balance between a naturalism inherited from novels à la Zola and a poetic romanticism, this suspenseful love novel, which she dedicates “to the pequeux of Honfleur”, is also an ode to his native land, Normandy.