The Review Years

“You ask me how Commerce began… One day, all of a sudden, Valéry said: ‘Why couldn’t we continue our meetings by publishing our discussions in a review? As a title I suggest  Commerce, the commerce of ideas.’ That idea delighted all of us there. The editors (Larbaud, Valéry, and Fargue) were appointed immediately. Adrienne Monnier and I took respon-sibility for putting everything in motion and we started straight away.” These are the words of Marguerite Caetani, describing events in 1924. She was born Marguerite Gilbert Chapin, an American who had arrived in Europe in 1902 and married Roffredo Caetani, Prince of Bassiano. In Paris they called her “the Princess,” though she signed herself Marguerite Caetani.  Of the three editors, Paul Valéry was the authority, Léon-Paul Fargue a writer admired above all by other writers, and Valery Larbaud a great literary go-between, a mercurial ferryman whenever one spoke in a certain way about literature (as Italo Svevo and James Joyce could testify). Neither Marguerite Caetani, who financed Commerce, nor the three editors had anything to proclaim. There was never any question of drawing up a program for the review, nor was it ever raised in conversation with friends, however distant or occasional. Before the first issue had appeared, Valéry wrote to Larbaud:  I’m in receipt in Rome of your esteemed letter of the  12th which takes me back somewhat to the atmosphere of our lunches, infrequent though friendly. The fruit of this union is Commerce … The tedious thing is writing. … I would have been very pleased if we had founded a review where there was no need to write. You realize what advantage! Reader, author, everyone happy.   “Without pressing so far into the perfection of the genre, it would have been possible to fulfill what I had thought up

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