Wednesday, May 15, 2013

94. A French correspondence

The French publisher Du Lérot, éditeur, in Tusson, Charante, has published the letters of Félix Fénéon and John Gray in a small edition of 200 copies. The book, edited by Maurice Imbert and printed in 2010, reproduces on the cover a sketch by Gray of two students of the Scots College in Rome.
Cover of Félix Fénéon & John Gray, Correspondance (2010)
Félix Fénéon (1861-1941) was one of the early French contacts of John Gray, who approached him in the summer of 1890. Fénéon was 29 at the time, Gray only 24. However, Gray had already published an essay and a story in Ricketts and Shannon's journal The Dial in 1889, and he was about to publish a poem and an obituary during the following two months. Fénéon wrote about Gray to Francis Viélé-Griffin (1864-1937), editor of Les Entretiens Politiqies et Littéraires, and Gray was invited to contribute articles for the magazine. However, illness prevented his writing any pieces for it. 

Ricketts was also asked to contribute some of the woodcuts he had published in the first issue of The Dial, and he promised to do special drawings for Les Entretiens, but nothing came of this. Gray and Fénéon stayed in contact until 1913 (at least). Their letters have been kept in the John Rylands Library in Manchester (Fénéon's part of the correspondence) and in the Jean Paulhan foundation at IMEC (the letters by Gray), and are here published in full for the first time. Included are two pieces that Gray wrote for Fénéon's Revue Blanche, published in June 1897 and May 1898: a story and an obituary of Aubrey Beardsley (an English translation of the latter was edited by the Tragara Press in 1980).

Ricketts and Shannon were a lot on the mind of Gray in these years, who considered himself part of the 'Valistes', a name they invented to imitate the feeling of a school of artists that could rival with the modern movements in France. Gray suggested (16 April 1891) that the name was some sort of a joke, but he was dead serious about his future prospects as a writer, as we have seen. He tried to get published in France and in Holland, and he used his French contacts for a better knowledge of modern French poetry. He would become one of the earliest translators of Verlaine and Rimbaud in England.

Félix Fénéon
We know nothing about the young John Gray and the way he met the artists Ricketts and Shannon, and although these early letters do not reveal that much about their collaboration, their publication is a welcome addition to the Gray library. It still is an enigma how Ricketts and Shannon met John Gray, who quickly teamed up with them and Reginald Savage to write the texts for the first issue of The Dial. They must have been very fond of him. When the editor of the correspondence maintains that John Gray was 'le co-fondateur' of The Dial, we have to say that this is highly unlikely, and, certainly, there is no proof for it. The only named publisher of that first issue was Charles Shannon, while the editors were Shannon and Ricketts. It is a slip of the pen that I, perhaps, should not have mentioned, as I am pleased to see these letters of Fénéon and Gray in print. Price: €25.