Méry Laurent: “The tall fair woman like a tea-rose”

Stéphane Mallarmé with Méry Laurant.
Stéphane Mallarmé with Méry Laurant. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

George Moore remembers Méry and Manet in Memoirs of My Dead Life:

Were she not dead I might stop at her little
house in the fortifications among the lilac trees. There is her
portrait by Manet on the wall, the very toque she used to wear. How
wonderful the touch is; the beads–how well they are rendered! And
while thinking of the extraordinary handicraft I remember his studio,
and the tall fair woman like a tea-rose coming into it: Mary Laurant!
The daughter of a peasant, and the mistress of all the great
men–perhaps I should have said of all the distinguished men. I used
to call her toute la lyre.

The last time I saw her we talked about Manet. She said that every
year she took the first lilac to lay upon his grave. Is there one of
her many lovers who brings flowers to her grave? What was so
rememberable about her was her pleasure in life, and her desire to get
all the pleasure, and her consciousness of her desire to enjoy every
moment of her life. Evans, the great dentist, settled two thousand a
year upon her, and how angry he was one night on meeting Manet on the
staircase! In order to rid herself of her lover she invited him to
dinner, intending to plead a sick headache after dinner…. She must
go and lie down. But as soon as her guest was gone she took off the
_peignoir_ which hid her ball dress and signed to Manet, who was
waiting at the street corner, with her handkerchief. But as they went
downstairs together whom should they meet but the dentist _qui a
oublie ses carnets_. And he was so disappointed at meeting his
beautiful but deceitful mistress that he didn’t visit her again for
three or four days. His anger mattered very little to Mary. Someone
else settled two thousand a year more upon her; and having four
thousand a year or thereabouts, she dedicated herself to the love and
conversation of those who wrote books and music and painted pictures.

We humans are more complicated than animals, and we love through the
imagination, at least the imagination stimulates the senses, acting as
a sort of adjuvant. The barmaid falls in love with No. 1 because he
wipes a glass better than No. 2, and Mary fell in love with Coppee on
account of his sonnet “Le Lys,” and she grew indifferent when he wrote
poems like “La Nourrice” or “Le petit epicier de Montrouge qui cassait
le sucre avec melancolie
.” And it was at this time when their love
story was at wane that I became a competitor.

[A note on sources:]

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