'I have always wanted', Paul Valéry wrote to André Gide: 'to invent the story of a young man who thinks' (18 May 1896). The 'young man who thinks' stands for Monsieur Teste. This enigmatic figure first appears in La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste. Valéry had meant to dedicate this story to Edgar Degas, but Degas rejected this.
Novel of a brain
It was originally Valéry's intention to use La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste as the first chapter of a larger work, the 'novel of a brain' (roman d'un cerveau). The second chapter would possibly be called Agathe, with Agathe representing the interior of Teste's brain. These plans were never realised, but a more elaborate edition about Monsieur Teste did appear in 1926. With the title Album de Monsieur Teste, this volume brought together stories that had previously been published in magazines. After La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste, these were Lettre d'un ami, Lettre de Mme Émilie Teste and Extraits du log-book de Monsieur Teste. The original edition of the Album de Monsieur Teste is often confused with the posthumous edition from 1946, which contains five new texts from a collection of notes and sketches Valéry had meant to use in a new edition. He would always remain fascinated by the Teste character.
The name Teste actually has a double meaning: it is an archaic form of the French word tête (head), but it is also related to the Latin word testis (witness). Monsieur Teste seems to be testifying for himself. His gaze is directed entirely outward, limited to the act of thinking. He is described by his wife and his friend, but neither of them has any hold on his character. Monsieur Teste seems to consist entirely of self-consciousness.
They 'are what they are'
This edition of the Album de Monsieur Teste has been nicely illustrated with ten etchings produced in Valéry's own hand. Valéry himself was modest about his qualities as a visual artist. In his own introduction to this edition, he wrote that they 'are what they are: the work of an amateur'. Valéry drew sketches and aquarelles in his notebook for his own book editions throughout his entire life.
|Description:||Album de Monsieur Teste / par Paul Valéry ; avec des gravures de l'auteur. – Paris: Éditions de la Galerie Charpentier, 1945. - 116 p. : ill. ; 34 cm|
|Printer:||Jean Gabriel Daragnès (Paris)|
|This copy:||Number 83 of 200 on vélin teinté du Marais|
|Bibliography:||Bénézit 14-12 ; Carteret 4-385 ; Monod 10858|
|Shelf-mark:||Koopm K 311|
- Henry Grubbs, 'The Date of composition of Valéry's La Soirée avec Monsieur Teste', in: Modern language notes, 75 (1960), p. 585-589
- Alain Rey, 'Monsieur Teste de haut en bas', in: Poétique, 9 (1972), p. 80-88
- Paul Valéry, Meneer Teste. Vertaald door Piet Meeuse. Amsterdam, De Bezige Bij, 1995
- Jacq Vogelaar, 'Meneer Teste', in: Raster, 77 (1997), p. 31-37
- Correspondance d'André Gide et de Paul Valéry 1890-1942. Paris, Gallimard, 1955