Authors: Sully Prudhomme

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Stances et poèmes, 1865

Les Épreuves, 1866

Croquis italiens, 1866-1868

Les Solitudes, 1869

Impressions de la guerre, 1870

La France, 1870

Les Destins, 1872

La Révolte des fleurs, 1874

Les Vaines Tendresses, 1875

La Justice, 1878

Le Bonheur, 1888

Les Épaves, 1908

Nonfiction:

Préface à la Traduction du Premier Chant de Lucrèce, 1869

Discours de réception à l’Académie Française, 1882

L’Expression dans les beaux-arts, 1883

Réflexions sur l’art des vers, 1892

Sur l’origine de la vie terrestre, 1893

Que sais-je? Examen de conscience, 1895

Testament poétique, 1897

L’Histoire et l’état social, 1899

Le Problème des causes finales, 1899

Le Crédit de la science, 1902

Sur les liens nationaux et internationaux, 1904

La Vraie Religion selon Pascal, 1905

Psychologie du libre arbitre, 1907

Le Lien social, 1909

Fragments inédits: Notes pour servir à une physiologie de l’adultère, 1910

Lettres à une amie, 1911

Journal intime, 1922

Translation:

Lucrèce: De la nature des choses, 1869 (of Lucretius’s poem De rerum natura)

Miscellaneous:

Œuvres de Sully Prudhomme, 1908 (7 volumes)

Biography

René-François-Armand Prudhomme, later known as Sully Prudhomme (sewl-lee prew-dawm), was born in Paris in 1839, the son of a shopkeeper. When he was two, his father died, and thereafter he lived with his mother and an older sister in Paris and in Châtenay, a village south of Paris. In childhood he acquired the nickname “Sully,” which would become his pseudonym.{$I[A]Sully Prudhomme}{$S[A]Prudhomme, René-François-Armand;Sully Prudhomme}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Sully Prudhomme}{$I[tim]1839;Sully Prudhomme}

Although Châtenay was noted as a center of intellectual activity, in his youth Sully Prudhomme was more interested in mathematics than in literature. However, his hopes for an engineering career were blasted when he developed an eye disease. After clerking briefly in a foundry, in 1860 he went to Paris to study law and began working in a solicitor’s office. Meanwhile, encouraged by friends who were writers, he tried his hand at poetry. In 1863, his poem “L’Art” appeared in La Revue Nationale et Étrangère. By that time, Prudhomme confided in his journal, he wanted only to be a poet. When a bequest made him financially independent, he abandoned the law to devote his full time to writing. In 1865, one of his friends financed the publication of Stances et poèmes, his first collection. Another took the volume to Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, France’s most influential literary critic, whose favorable review established the young poet’s reputation.

Among Sully Prudhomme’s friends in Paris was Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, the leader of a group of poets who called themselves the “Parnassians,” after Mount Parnassus in Greece, supposedly the home of the Muses. The Parnassians sought to replace Romanticism with poetry marked by classical formality and decorum.

Sully Prudhomme’s lyrics reflected how much this aesthetic theory appealed to him. However, his intellectual interests also included philosophy, metaphysics, science, and technology. At the time he was producing some of his finest lyrics, he also published a metrical translation of De rerum natura (c. 60 b.c.e.; On the Nature of Things, 1682 c.e.), the philosophical poem by the Roman writer Lucretius. Moreover, his continuing interest in science was reflected in his poetic metaphors.

The melancholy tone of Sully Prudhomme’s early poetry reflects both his disappointment when the woman he loved married another man and a shattering loss of religious faith. In 1870, three of his closest relatives died in a single month. His army service in the Franco-Prussian War left him in fragile health. Moreover, like most of his generation, he felt deeply his country’s defeat and subsequent humiliation. After 1875, he turned from lyrical to philosophical poetry, then finally to prose.

During his later years, Sully Prudhomme won many honors, including election to the French Academy and appointment as a grand officer of the Legion of Honor. In 1901, he was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Literature. He spent his last fifteen years at his villa in Châtenay. Though he had long been troubled by insomnia, paralysis, and periods of anguish, his life ended peacefully. He died in his garden, his sister beside him, on September 7, 1907.

Though the long, didactic epics that he considered his most significant works were much admired when they were first published, it was his exquisitely crafted lyrics that most impressed the Nobel Prize Committee. Undoubtedly his scientific interests were a factor in his selection. Sadly, one hundred years later, Sully Prudhomme’s works were out of print and his name largely forgotten. The man who was once considered one of the most important writers of his time was now considered merely a minor poet in a movement of slight significance.

BibliographyCornell, William Kenneth. The Post-Symbolist Period: French Poetic Currents, 1900-1920. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958. Includes a perceptive analysis of Sully Prudhomme’s influence on Parnassian theory.Hunt, Herbert James. The Epic in Nineteenth-Century France. Oxford, England: B. Blackwell, 1941. A thorough study of the epic form as adapted by Parnassian poets. Sully Prudhomme’s epics are discussed at length.Legge, James Granville. Chanticleer: A Study of the French Muse. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1935. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1969. Provides an excellent overview of the importance of the Parnassians in the history of French literature. Several of Sully Prudhomme’s poems are analyzed.Levy, Gayle A. “Refiguring the Muse.” In Currents in Comparative Romance Languages and Literature. Vol. 59. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. Points out how changing attitudes toward gender are reflected in new definitions of the poetic muse. A segment of chapter 3, called “Sully Prudhomme and the Bergsonian Inspiration,” focuses on the early poetry. By connecting chance and inspiration, Sully Prudhomme contributed toward a modern redefinition of the muse. Includes a bibliography.Manns, James W. Reid and His French Disciples: Aesthetics and Metaphysics. Boston: Brill Academic, 1994. This study of Thomas Reid’s influence on French intellectuals concludes with a discussion of Sully Prudhomme’s works. Includes a bibliography and an index.
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