Édouard Manet Illustrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in a French Edition Translated by Stephane Mallarmé (1875)

Manet's Raven

Edgar Allan Poe achieved almost instant fame dur­ing his life­time after the pub­li­ca­tion of The Raven (1845), but he nev­er felt he received the recog­ni­tion he deserved. In some respects, he was right. He was, after all, paid only nine dol­lars for the poem, and he strug­gled before and after its pub­li­ca­tion to make a liv­ing from his writ­ing.


Poe was one of the first Amer­i­can writ­ers to do so with­out inde­pen­dent means. His work large­ly met with mixed reviews and he was fired from job after job, part­ly because of his drink­ing. After his death, how­ev­er, Poe’s influ­ence dom­i­nat­ed emerg­ing mod­ernist move­ments like that of the deca­dent poet­ry of Charles Baude­laire (who called Poe his “twin soul”) and his sym­bol­ist dis­ci­ple Stéphane Mal­lar­mé.


Mal­lar­mé would write of Poe, “His cen­tu­ry appalled at nev­er hav­ing heard / That in this voice tri­umphant death had sung its hymn.” To bring that hymn of death, the raven’s cry of “Nev­er­more,” to French read­ers, he made a trans­la­tion of the The Raven, Le Cor­beau, in 1875 at age 33.


Poe also had a tremen­dous influ­ence on the visu­al arts in France. Illus­trat­ing the text was none oth­er than Édouard Manet, the painter cred­it­ed with the gen­e­sis of impres­sion­ism. The result­ing engrav­ings, ren­dered in dark, heavy smudges, give us the poem’s unnamed, bereaved speak­er as the young Mal­lar­mé, unmis­tak­able with his push­b­room mus­tache. Sad­ly, the New York Pub­lic Library tells us, “the pub­li­ca­tion was not a com­mer­cial suc­cess.” (See Manet’s design for a poster and the book cov­er at the top of the post.)


The book also illus­trates the rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­ship between Poe and French art and lit­er­a­ture. Chris Semter, cura­tor of a Rich­mond, Vir­ginia exhib­it on this mutu­al influ­ence, remarks that Poe “read Voltaire among oth­er French authors”—such as Alexan­der Dumas—“in col­lege” and found them high­ly influ­en­tial. Like­wise, Poe left his mark not only on Baude­laire, Mal­lar­mé, and Manet, but also Paul Gau­g­in, Odilon Redon, and Hen­ri Matisse.

You can read Le Cor­beau here in a dual lan­guage edi­tion, with all the orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions. View and down­load high-res scans of the engrav­ings here. And just above, lis­ten to The Raven read aloud in Mallarmé’s French, cour­tesy of the Inter­net Archive.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Splen­did Illus­tra­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Read by Christo­pher Walken, Vin­cent Price, and Christo­pher Lee

Sev­en Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Sto­ries and Poems

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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