Paul Valery Biography

Paul Valery, a renowned French poet, essayist, and critic, captivated readers with his profound and evocative poems such as La Jeune Parque and Le Cimetière marin. Despite his early passion for poetry, Valery abruptly abandoned it in his early twenties, choosing instead to immerse himself in the pursuit of knowledge. However, at the encouragement of his friend André Gide, Valery returned to writing in his forties and created La Jeune Parque, a masterpiece that catapulted him to fame. While Valery’s reputation primarily rests on his poetic prowess, his intellectual curiosity extended beyond the realm of literature, as he delved into science, mathematics, and various literary topics through his essays and occasional papers.

Quick Facts

  • Born in October
  • Also known as Ambroise Paul Toussaint Jules Valéry
  • Died at age 73
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Jeannie Gobillard
    • Father: Barthélémy Valéry
    • Mother: Fanny Gras
    • Children: Agathe, Claude, François
  • Born in France
  • Occupation: Poet, Essayist
  • Height: 5’4″ (163 cm)
  • Died on July 20, 1945
  • Place of death: Paris, France
  • Notable Alumni: Lycée Condorcet
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Collège International de Cannes
  • Education: Lycée Condorcet

Childhood & Early Life

Paul Valéry was born on October 30, 1871, in the small Mediterranean port of Sète, located on the coast of Hérault, France. His father, Barthelmy Valéry, was of Corsican descent and served as a customs officer at the port. His mother, Marie Françoise Alexandrine Grassi, came from a Venetian noble family of Genoese-Istrian origin. He had an elder sister named Jules.

In 1878, Paul Valery began his schooling at the local grammar school before moving to the lycée in Montpellier, a larger urban center close to Sète. He was a mediocre student and struggled with mathematics. Despite this, he developed an interest in poetry and architecture and began writing poems from 1888.

Life in Paris

In 1892, after earning his degree in jurisprudence, Paul Valéry moved to Paris. He lived in a bare hotel room and studied mathematics and psychology. Although he did not write any poetry during this time, he continued to associate himself with poets and frequented Stéphane Mallarmé’s artistic circle. He also began writing prose and published his first work, “Introduction De La Methode De Leonard Da Vinci,” in 1894.

In 1896, Valéry began his career with the British South Africa Company in London before joining the artillery ammunition bureau of the French Army. He then worked at the Havas newspaper agency as a private secretary. This job allowed him to have enough time to pursue his own interests and become a well-informed commentator on current affairs.

Emerging Poet

In 1912, Valéry started going through his old poems at the urging of his friend André Gide. He intended to publish some of them but found that most needed touching up. While revising his old poems, he started composing new ones as well. This led to the publication of his first major work, “La Jeune Parque,” in 1917. This long symbolic poem about Clotho, the youngest of the three Fates, brought him instant fame.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Valéry published several major works and became an established poet. He also gave lectures, wrote prefaces, and became a well-known public speaker. He held various official positions and represented France on cultural matters at the League of Nations. In 1937, he became a professor of poetry at the Collège de France.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1900, Valéry married Jeannine Gobillard, and they had three children together. He died in Paris on July 20, 1945, and was buried in his hometown of Sète. Valéry is remembered for his beautiful and introspective poems, particularly “La Jeune Parque” and “Le Cimetière marin.” His notebooks, called the Cahiers, were published posthumously and provide insight into his thoughts on science, mathematics, and literature.

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