Authors: Charles Baudelaire

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet and critic

Author Works

Poetry:

Les Fleurs du mal, 1857, 1861, 1868 (Flowers of Evil, 1931)

Les Épaves, 1866

Petits Poèmes en prose, 1869 (also known as Le Spleen de Paris; Poems in Prose, 1905, also known as Paris Spleen, 1869, 1947)

Long Fiction:

La Fanfarlo, 1847

Nonfiction:

Les Paradis artificiels, 1860 (partial translation as Artificial Paradises: On Hashish and Wine as a Means of Expanding Individuality, 1971)

Curiositiés esthétiques, 1868

L’Art romantique, 1868

Mon coeur mis à nu, 1887 (My Heart Laid Bare, 1950)

The Letters of Baudelaire, 1927

My Heart Laid Bare, and Other Prose Writings, 1951

Baudelaire on Poe, 1952

The Mirror of Art, 1955

Intimate Journals, 1957

The Painter of Modern Life, and Other Essays, 1964

Baudelaire as Literary Critic, 1964

Art in Paris, 1845-1862: Salons and Other Exhibitions, 1965

Translations:

Histoires extraordinaires, 1856 (of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories)

Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires, 1857 (of Poe’s short stories)

Aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym, 1858 (of Poe’s novel)

Eureka, 1864 (of Poe’s poem)

Histoires grotesques et sérieuses, 1864 (of Poe’s tales)

Miscellaneous:

OEuvres complètes, 1868-1873 (7 volumes), revised 1961

Biography

In his youth, Charles Pierre Baudelaire (bohd-uh-lehr) provided the classic example of rebellion against domestic restraint, and this rebellion has been used to explain much of his adult personality. His father, an artist for whose work Baudelaire always expressed great admiration, died very early, and his mother married an army officer named Aupick, with whom the young boy was at loggerheads all through his childhood. Baudelaire was educated at the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, but by 1841 the domestic situation had become so strained that his stepfather sent him on a ten-month voyage. Upon his return to France he inherited a small property. He was so extravagant, however, that his family had to have his money put in trust.{$I[AN]9810000696}{$I[A]Baudelaire, Charles}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Baudelaire, Charles}{$I[tim]1821;Baudelaire, Charles}

Charles Baudelaire

(Library of Congress)

Baudelaire became intimately acquainted with Henri Delacroix and several other painters. Since he himself was not without artistic talent, his first two books were criticisms of art. His writings on painting established his reputation as the most insightful French art critic of his time. Because he had learned English as a child, he came under the influence of writers not generally known in France. The most important of these was Edgar Allan Poe, whose work he encountered in 1846 or 1847. Through Baudelaire’s translations of Poe’s short stories, the American writer became better known and had a greater effect in France than in his own country.

In 1857 Baudelaire published his great collection of poems, Flowers of Evil, which illustrates the eternal conflict between the desire for beauty and the drabness of daily life. More than half the poems in the book are sonnets, a poetic form that had generally been neglected in France since the sixteenth century. Baudelaire was recognized as representing a new poetic voice, but he and his publisher were prosecuted for offending against public morals; the poems dealing with lesbianism were removed and republished under the title Les Épaves in Brussels in 1866.

In Baudelaire’s poetry there was developed an aspect of Romanticism that was to be much more prominent in France than in England–a preoccupation on the one hand with the morbid and the perverse, and on the other with a deep religious mysticism. He was not above attempting merely to shock the bourgeoisie; yet much of his poetry was a genuine awareness, both psychologically and morally, of the problem of evil. He pushed the Romantic craving for sensation to its limit, and Victor Hugo congratulated him on having “created a new shudder,” but the shudder was the genuine one of a man both attracted and repelled by the idea of sin. Whereas nineteenth century literature, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, is one of exclusion, Baudelaire’s is one of inclusion.

Baudelaire was a meticulous craftsman, and French criticism commonly speaks of the “lapidary perfection” of his language. From Poe he had learned the art of brevity, and in this respect he ran counter to the usual Romantic diffuseness. He represented the breakdown of Romanticism and the beginning of modernism. He may be truly considered one of the greatest poets of the century, for he looked far beneath life’s surface and expressed what he saw.

Baudelaire was a visionary poet who helped French poets, including Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, to express their perceptions of reality in poems that permitted and even encouraged complementary levels of interpretation. His influence on American and English poets of the nineteenth century was limited, but later poets, including T. S. Eliot and Edna St. Vincent Millay, recognized and were influenced by the psychological depth of Baudelaire’s poetry.

In addition to his poems, Baudelaire published many critical pieces in magazines. In 1864 his finances caused him to move to Brussels. By the mid-1860’s his health had deteriorated, and he returned to Paris, where he died of syphilis in 1867.

BibliographyBlood, Susan. Baudelaire and the Aesthetics of Bad Faith. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997. Examines the role of Baudelaire in the history of modernism and the development of the modernist consciousness. Detailed analysis of the poetry, especially its relationship to Baudelaire’s writings on caricature and the problem of its “secret architecture.” Also examines the nature of Baudelaire’s symbolism.Evans, Margery A. Baudelaire and Intertextuality. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Study of Paris Spleen, 1869, which validates its reassessment as a work that rivals the success of Flowers of Evil. Sees these prose poems as hybrid works that set themselves up for comparison with the novel as much as with lyric poetry.Hemmings, F. W. J. Baudelaire the Damned: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982.Hyslop, Lois Boe. Charles Baudelaire Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. Useful and uncomplicated general introduction to the life and work of Baudelaire. Sees Baudelaire as transforming his emotional torment into aesthetic form, and as finding both beauty and spiritual revelations within the dark side of modernity. Discusses Paris Spleen, 1869 and Flowers of Evil as major works and pays much attention to Baudelaire’s theories of art. Includes a chronology and bibliography.Leakey, F. W. Baudelaire: “Les Fleurs du mal.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Thorough, appreciative, and thoughtful introduction to Flowers of Evil, with particular attention to the sociopolitical context in which the poems were written. Includes a detailed discussion of individual poems and a bibliography.Richardson, Joanna. Baudelaire. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. A reliable and well-documented biography.Thompson, William J., ed. Understanding “Les Fleurs du mal.” Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1997. Collection of sixteen essays by various authors on Flowers of Evil, with the express purpose of giving students a clear, scholarly introduction to the poems. Each essay selects one particular poem for detailed discussion, and the analysis may be theoretical or textual. Essays represent a variety of critical perspectives, including feminist, Jungian, sociopolitical, and structuralist.
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