In January 1915 Madeleine Pagès, a 22-year-old schoolteacher, shared a carriage on the train from Nice with Guillaume Apollinaire. The poet had been visiting his mistress, Lou de Coligny-Châtillon, and was returning to train with his artillery unit in Nîmes before deployment on the front line. Strangers, they talked avidly for most of the journey. He wrote to her in April from the front, with his relationship with Lou on the wane, and Madeleine promptly replied with a gift of cigars. So began a passionate correspondence that lasted for a year. The letters were published in full for the first time in 2005 (a bowdlerised edition appeared in 1952), and are here translated into English.
Apollinaire came back from his Christmas leave – during which he and Madeleine had their second and final meeting – changed and distanced. By this point, the two were five months into their engagement, and had been liberally stoking fantasies about their eventual physical union. There was not