Authors: Jules Laforgue

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet

Author Works


Les Complaintes, 1885

L’Imitation de Notre-Dame la lune, 1886

Des fleurs de bonne volonté, 1888

Les Derniers Vers de Jules Laforgue, 1890

Poésies complètes, 1894, 1970

Œuvres complètes de Jules Laforgue, 1902-1903 (4 volumes; includes Le Sanglot de la terre), 1922-1930 (6 volumes)

Poems, 1975

Long Fiction:

Stéphane Vassiliew, 1946

Short Fiction:

Moralités légendaires, 1887 (Six Moral Tales from Jules Laforgue, 1928)


Le Concile féerique, pb. 1886

Pierrot fumiste, pb. 1892


Lettres à un ami, 1880-86, 1941


If a poet can be judged, in part, by the breadth and depth of his influence, Jules Laforgue (lah-fawrg) occupies a lofty niche: He inspired musical composers (Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Honegger, and Darius Milhaud) and stimulated a legion of writers, both in France (in particular, Alain-Fournier and Jules Supervielle) and in English-speaking countries (James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allen Tate, and Hart Crane).{$I[AN]9810000488}{$I[A]Laforgue, Jules}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Laforgue, Jules}{$I[tim]1860;Laforgue, Jules}

Laforgue once described himself as “a good Breton, born below the tropics.” His mother was Breton, his father a Gascon transplanted to Uruguay, where he founded a school. Jules was born in Montevideo in 1860, the second of eleven children. When the school failed in 1866, Jules was brought to Tarbes, his father’s native village, located in the Pyrénées. In 1876 the family moved to Paris; there Jules finished his education and secured a position for two years as secretary to the art historian Charles Ephrussi. During this period his exposure to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and to Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious prompted him to momentarily adopt an attitude of ascetic detachment and to consider the unconscious as a kind of divine fount of creative activity. Allusions to these philosophical concerns appear in his first collection of poems, Le Sanglot de la terre, published posthumously.

In 1881, he obtained, thanks to the efforts of Ephrussi and Paul Bourget, a position as reader to the Empress Augusta. The five years spent in Germany were both tedious and fruitful for Laforgue; he felt himself exiled, but he had the time to write the bulk of his works. The first volume of poetry published in his lifetime, Les Complaintes, appeared in print in 1885. Placed next to his first work, these poems reveal an artistic maturation and a highly personal style characterized by a trenchant wit, a mastery of irony, a flair for dramatization of experience, and a felicitous use of colloquialisms couched in a form derived from folk songs. L’Imitation de notre-dame la lune is notable for its singularly engaging portraits of marmoreal and worldly wise clowns who provide Laforgue with a poetic mask behind which he mocks the banality and futility of life and, at the same time, preaches acceptance rather than revolt against humankind’s lot.

In 1886, Laforgue left his post in Germany, and the following year he married Leah Lee, who had given him English lessons at the court. Plagued by financial worries and illness, Laforgue settled in Paris for a brief time before tuberculosis cut short his life at twenty-seven years. Leah Laforgue died of the same ailment only one year later.

Appreciated by his successors as an innovator, Laforgue was one of the first to experiment extensively and successfully with free verse. His prose writings have been examined more meticulously since the mid-twentieth century, with the result that his reputation has been greatly enhanced. As a literary critic, he was capable of penetrating insights, especially in regard to Charles Baudelaire, whose work was an important influence during his formative years. In addition, the stories in Six Moral Tales from Jules LaForgue demonstrate that his gift for inventing audacious techniques was not restricted to poetry; stream-of-consciousness composition, for example, is found in this prose work.

BibliographyArkell, David. Looking for Laforgue: An Informal Biography. New York: Persea Books, 1979. A biographical study of Laforgue with a bibliography and index.Dale, Peter, trans. Introduction to Poems of Jules Laforgue. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2001. Dale’s twenty-page introduction provides a solid overview of the poet, his body of work, and the history of the texts. This bilingual English-French edition also offers notes on the text, a brief bibliography, and indexes of both French and English titles.Franklin, Ursula. Exiles and Ironists: Essays on the Kinship of Heine and Laforgue. New York: P. Lang, 1988. Critical analysis considering the influence of Heinrich Heine on Laforgue’s work. Includes a bibliography.Holmes, Anne. Jules LaForgue and Poetic Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. A critical analysis focusing of Laforgue’s innovations in technique. Includes bibliographical references and index.Howe, Elisabeth A. Stages of Self: The Dramatic Monologues of Laforgue, Valéry, and Mallarmé. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1990. A study of the representations of the self in three nineteenth century French poets. Includes bibliographic references and an index.Laforgue, Jules. Poems of Jules Laforgue. Translated by Peter Dale. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2001. Dale’s twenty-page introduction provides a solid overview of the poet, his body of work, and the history of the texts. This bilingual English-French edition also offers notes on the text, a brief bibliography, and indexes of both French and English titles.Ramsey, Warren, ed. Jules Laforgue: Essays on a Poet’s Life and Work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. A collection of critical and biographical essays with bibliographic references.Watson, Lawrence J. Jules Laforgue: Poet of His Age. Rev. ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Ramapo College of New Jersey, 1980. A short introduction to Laforgue and his work.
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