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Vivien, Renée (1877-1909)  
 
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Despite her erratic lifestyle, which seemed to embrace both the encloistered, decadent urges of the Symbolists and the restless wandering of Rimbaud, she continued to write prolifically.

She published four volumes of poetry between 1906 and 1908, including A l'Heure des Mains jointes (At the Hour of Joined Hands, 1906); Sillages (Wakes, 1908); and Flambeaux éteints (Extinguished Torches, 1908). She also completed a novel, Anne Boleyn (which was not published until 1982), about the second wife of Henry VIII.

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She became increasingly alcoholic and anorexic and, after making a deathbed conversion to Catholicism, she died of those two diseases on November 18, 1909.

Three volumes of poetry were published posthumously: Dans un Coin de Violettes (In a Corner of Violets), Les Vents des Vaisseaux (The Winds in the Sails), and Haillons (Rags).

Vivien's Literary Achievements

Although Vivien is often remembered for her dramatic life and turbulent affair with Natalie Barney, she was an astoundingly prolific writer. Between 1901 and 1909, she wrote fourteen volumes of poetry, three volumes of short stories and prose poems, two novels, and translated Sappho into modern French.

In addition, most critics believe she collaborated with the Baroness de Zuylen de Nyevelt under the name of "Paule Riversdale" in writing two volumes of verse and two novels: Vers l'Amour (Towards Love), Echos et Reflets (Echos and Reflections), L'Etre double (Double Being), and Netsuké.

She also contributed to many journals, including the feminist La Fronde, edited by Marguerite Durand.

Her poems openly celebrated lesboerotic love twenty years before Radclyffe Hall published The Well of Loneliness. Although she often portrayed herself as someone who was in mourning for the loss of Violet Shilleto or who was abandoned by the faithless Natalie Barney, still she was completely unapologetic about the homosexual nature of her emotional longings.

As she said in "Psappha revit," "Our caresses are melodious poems / Our love is greater than all other loves." She knew that most of her contemporaries would scorn her because "my look sought out your tender look." As a result, like her beloved Sappho, she wrote for an imagined audience of contemporary and future lesbians who would share her adoration of other women.

She imagined lesbians as the prototype for what she idealized as gynandromorphs. In A Woman Appeared to Me, Double Being, and other works, she created a superior, sexless (but essentially female) entity who was complete unto herself and powerfully endowed with poetic talent.

Like many of her contemporaries, including Rachilde, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, and Natalie Barney, she was fascinated by the idea of . A revival of Greek culture at the turn of the century had brought Plato's myth of the androgyne to the public's attention, but Vivien subverted that myth by prioritizing the female element of the dyad instead of incorporating female elements into a male entity as most classical authors were wont to do.

Reclaiming Sappho as a Lesbian

Unhappy with the course of literary history, Vivien set out to rewrite it, starting with Sappho, whom she almost single-handedly reclaimed as a lesbian.

Nineteenth-century literature had generally portrayed Sappho as the mother of Cleis and the woman so betrayed by the ferryman Phaon that she leapt to her death over the Leucadian cliff.

Vivien anonymously translated the fragments of Sappho into modern French for the first time in her Sapho (1909). She rewrote Sappho's life, starting with the reclamation of the uncorrupted form of her name, "Psappha."

In a series of meditations and expansions on Sapphic fragments, entitled Sapho (1903), Vivien recreated Sappho's school of followers on Mytilene and gave them a voice. In later works, she raised Sappho to the level of a muse or even to that of a goddess of lesbian love.

Reestablishing Other Female Figures

Vivien also turned her attention to reestablishing other figures who, to her mind, were neglected or misrepresented by history. One of these was Lilith, the apocryphal first wife of Adam, whom Vivien saw as a heroine, who would rather sleep with snakes than submit to Adam's will.

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