The poet Léon-Paul Fargue (1876–1947) is something of a forgotten man in French twentieth-century literature. Although he both craved and disdained official honors, he was his own worst enemy when it came to his place in the world of letters, always late with his copy, presumptuous with his patrons, and inconsistent in his literary aims. The result is that his poetry books are difficult to find; he is remembered, if at all, for his brilliant essays on Paris and those funny poems about cats and frogs. Jean-Paul Goujon’s excellent biography, published recently by Gallimard, tries to give due credit to this most difficult man who was, in his curious way, highly influential in a variety of artistic fields.

Any account of Fargue’s life takes us across the much-mythologized cultural history of Paris, from nightclubs such as Le Chat Noir and, much later, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, with its talented...


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