Eliza Deac

Babeş-Bolyai University, Romania


Shaping the visual identity of Modernist poetry: the role of typographical layout in French & Romanian Symbolist poems

When Symbolism, which originated in France in the 19th century, started to blur the classical and clear-cut distinction between genres by producing two innovative and hybrid forms such as the prose poem and the free verse, it was the typographical layout which assumed the role of drawing the line between poetry and prose; even as the innovators themselves made use of musical analogy to establish the generic identity of their products. Ever since the invention of print, the contrast between italic and roman letters has been associated with a genre distinction: prose was printed in roman letters, while the italics became the preferred characters for representing poetry as early as Aldus Manutius’ time. Once the established codes of versification relying on auditory features were progressively abandoned with the advent of Symbolism, it was these typographic elements that served as indicators whether a text belonged to the realm of poetry or not, and granted poetry a renewed visual identity. Furthermore, the use of italics for texts in verse was in tune with a poetics of expression which regarded poetry as a privileged means of externalising emotions. It was from this view that Stéphane Mallarmé, for instance, distanced himself when he objected that italics were too close to handwriting and opted for roman letters instead for the publication of some of his volumes, thus signalling a turn towards the poetics of impersonality. The aim of this paper is to analyse the roles that certain typographical characteristics, most notably the contrast between italic/roman letters, and the line break, acquired in the poetry of some symbolist innovators – Rimbaud, Kahn, Laforgue and Mallarmé – and to evaluate the extent of their influence on contemporaneous Romanian poetry, which developed a strong link with the French milieu at the time.


Eliza Deac earned a PhD in philology in 2016 at the Faculty of Letters of Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where she presented a dissertation on the transformations of the poetic language in response to the development of new media, as illustrated by the experimental literary trends of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her published work includes contributions to various literary journals and magazines, such as Transylvanian Review, Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai, Philologia, Philobiblon, Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities, Études Stéphane Mallarmé, Screen Bodies: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Experience, Perception, and Display and to collective volumes such as Recherches et rencontres INTER-ARTS, Études sur la littérature et autres productions artistiques, Éditions universitaires européennes (2014), Book Practices & Textual Itineraries: Contemporary Textual Aesthetics, PUN-Éditions Universitaires de Lorraine (2015). She is a member of the European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies and of The Australian Modernist Studies Network.

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