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Charles Pierre Baudelaire

Charles Pierre Baudelaire

The French author Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) was the poet of the modern metropolis and was one of the first great French precursors of the symbolists. He has also been recognized as one of the 19th century's finest art critics and translators.

Charles Baudelaire was born on April 9, 1821, in Paris. His father, Joseph François Baudelaire, had been a friend of the philosophers C. A. Helvétius and A. N. de Condorcet and tutor to the young sons of the Duc de Choiseul Praslin. His mother, Caroline Archimbaut-Dufays Baudelaire, was born in London in exile in 1793 and died at Honfleur in 1871. In February 1827, when Baudelaire was not yet 6, his father's death led to a period of very close intimacy with his mother, for whom the boy felt a passionate love. Her remarriage near the end of the following year to the handsome officer Jacques Aupick must have seemed to her son a cruel betrayal. Baudelaire's stepfather, a capable and resolute man, rose to the rank of general, was named minister to Turkey in 1848 and ambassador to Spain in 1851, and in 1853 became a senator. But his nature was different from Baudelaire's, and he took a very dim view of his stepson's desire to be a poet.

Baudelaire was expelled from the Lycée Louis le Grand in 1839 before receiving his baccalaureate degree, but he managed to obtain it later that year. He registered for legal studies in Paris and for a time led a dissipated, bohemian existence in the Latin Quarter, where he probably contracted syphilis, which later caused his death. He may also have begun taking opium and hashish during these years. In 1841 his worried parents arranged a sea voyage to India to draw the young poet out of his dissolute environment. His ship sailed from Bordeaux but was damaged in a storm, and Baudelaire apparently went no farther than the island of Mauritius, to the east of Madagascar. He returned home, however, with ineffaceable memories of exotic lands and seas.

When he was 21, Baudelaire inherited a modest fortune from his father's estate, but his extravagance soon led to the appointment of a legal guardian whose conscientious control of his finances drove the poet nearly to despair. A long affair with a multiracial woman who called herself Jeanne Duval added to his suffering, though she seems to have been the person, along with his mother, whom Baudelaire loved most in life. She was his "Black Venus" and the inspiration for some of his most beautiful and most despairing poems. Other women frequently celebrated in his verses were the voluptuous Madame Sabatier ("la Présidente") and green-eyed Marie Daubrun.

Baudelaire's significant early publications were two essays of art criticism (Le Salon de 1845 and Le Salon de 1846) and two volumes of translations from the tales of Poe in 1856 and 1857. At the end of June 1857 appeared Les Fleurs du mal, his greatest work, for which Baudelaire was tried for offenses against religion and public decency. He was found guilty of the second charge and sentenced to pay a fine of 300 francs and to remove six poems from his collection.

As the years passed, ill health and financial problems added to Baudelaire's miseries. In 1864 he went to Belgium to deliver a series of lectures that ended in dismal failure. He suffered further terrifying attacks of illness, and he began to pray—" to set out his sentinels for the night." In the midst of all this unhappiness he learned that Jeanne Duval might be going blind. Finally, in March 1866, he fell while visiting a church at Namur, Belgium, with friends. A few days later he was found dazed in a café and taken home, where he was later discovered paralyzed and aphasic. In July 1866 he was brought back to Paris and placed in a rest home. He died in his mother's arms on Aug. 31, 1867, and was buried 2 days later in the family vault in Montparnasse Cemetery, where a somber monument was unveiled to his memory in 1902.

Les Fleurs du mal

Baudelaire's most famous work is his collection of poems Les Fleurs du mal, whose title means both "Flowers of Evil" and "Flowers of Suffering." Baudelaire believed that original sin pervades man's world, and a sense of theological evil looms over his thought like a cloud. But he proclaimed suffering "a divine remedy for our impurities" and wrote that "it is one of the prodigious privileges of Art that… suffering put to rhythm and cadence may fill the mind with a calm joy."

The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal (1857) contains only 100 poems, and the posthumous edition of 1868 suffers from having been put in order by friends after the poet's death. Thus the second edition of 1861 (the last arranged by Baudelaire's own hand) is most useful for a study of his art. It comprises an introductory poem, "To the Reader, " which is a powerful indictment of the current society, and 126 poems divided into six sections: Spleen and Ideal, Parisian Sketches, Wine, Fleurs du mal, Revolt, and Death.

Baudelaire's imagination and moral nature were deeply rooted in his Catholic background, and though his gloomy conception of humanity doomed by original sin is not alleviated by any assurance of salvation, it is important to recognize that Baudelaire does keep for man's spiritual nature a dimension of eternity. Love in Baudelaire's poetry, as elsewhere in his writings, is seen most often in dark and despairing terms, and many of his epithets for woman are extremely cruel. His grim vision of love is evident, for example, in the hideous imagery of the poem called Voyage à Cythère and in Sed non satiata.

Poems concerned with esthetics, such a Correspondances, Les Phares (The Lighthouses), La Beauté, L'Idéal, and Hymne à la Beauté, reveal Baudelaire's very complex ideas on the beautiful. While greatly influenced by the esthetic concepts of romanticism, Baudelaire also recalls significant elements in the great neoclassic writings of the 17th century in his concern with the moral, psychological, and religious aspects of man's nature, in his relatively small vocabulary, and in his powerfully compressed expression.

It is in his subject matter and the range of his sensibility that Baudelaire seems most modern. His poems on spleen and ennui bear the accent of his age; and his poetic imagery, with its marvelous interplay of the senses—for example, Correspondances and Harmonie du soir (Evening Harmony)—introduces a powerful new sensuousness into French poetry and gives a new literary importance to odors and fragrance which will be exploited later in the novels of Zola and Proust.

Baudelaire's vision of Paris in the 18 poems of the Parisian Sketches includes what he called "the heroism of modern life." His Paris is a city of physical and spiritual and moral suffering, and the eyes of the men and women in the poems depicting it are full of unrest and sorrow. But over the great city are skies that make one think of eternity; and there is mystery and enchantment amidst the suffering.

In Les Fleurs du mal there are recurrent dominant images of ennui, time, and death. The clock is seen as a sinister god, terrifying and impassive (L'Horloge), and time is ultimately the victor over man. The last poem in Les Fleurs du mal is Le Voyage, representing death as a voyage that may lead to "something new."

Other Writings

Baudelaire's writings on the "artificial paradises" of wine, opium, and hashish mirror his concerns as artist and moralist. In his most famous writing on drugs, Les Paradis artificiels: opium et haschisch (1860), the opium essay is based on Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater but Le Poème du haschisch is Baudelaire's own. He knew from experience the hallucinations of both drugs and apparently suffered the miseries of addiction to opium. He concludes that man cannot, without terrible danger, alter "the primordial conditions of his existence"— if the artificial paradises enhance imagination, they destroy the "precious substance" of the will.

In the Petits poèmes en prose (1869), sometimes called Spleen de Paris, Baudelaire developed the prose poem into an exquisite form. The volume's 50 examples of this genre depict mostly a world of lonely people: old women, artists, children, workmen, crowds, widows, clowns, cold and perverted lovers—the poor and cynical and bored men and women of the great city. But again, beyond the suffering and misery, one finds Baudelaire's understanding of the strange "heroism of modern life."

Among Baudelaire's Journaux intimes (Intimate Diaries) the most notable are the two notebooks called Fusées (Skyrockets) and Mon coeur mis ànu (My Heart Laid Bare), a title that Baudelaire took from Poe. They contain invaluable insights into the poet's inner world—his intellectual, ethical, religious, and esthetic speculations and his comments on love and women, boredom, and material progress. There is constant evidence of Baudelaire's moral and intellectual elegance, of his dandyism, and of his violent antipathy to the society of his day; but above all, one is conscious in these pages of his inner distress—his fears and longings and his sense of the loneliness of the human situation.

Of Baudelaire's other volumes, the most significant are his translations from Poe: Histoires extraordinaires (1856), Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires (1857), Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym (1858), Eureka (1864), and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (1865); his criticism of art, music and literature: Curiosités esthétiques (1868) and L'Art romantique (1869) and such miscellaneous writings as La Fanfarlo (1847); and his violent diatribes against Belgium and the Belgians, Amoenitates Belgicae (1925) and Pauvre Belgique (1952).

Further Reading

Among the most useful English translations of Baudelaire are William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (1954), and Francis Scarfe, Baudelaire (1961), both in English prose with bilingual texts, and Lois Boe Hyslop and Francis E. Hyslop, Jr., Baudelaire as a Literary Critic: Selected Essays (1964) and Baudelaire, a Self-Portrait: Selected Letters … with a Running Commentary (1957). The best biography is Enid Starkie, Baudelaire (1958). Other valuable studies include W. T. Bandy, Baudelaire Judged by His Contemporaries (1933); Margaret Gilman, Baudelaire the Critic (1943); Percy Mansell Jones, Baudelaire (1952); Martin Turnell, Baudelaire: A Study of His Poetry (1954); Marcel A. Ruff, Baudelaire (1955; trans., slightly abridged by Agnes Kertesz, 1966); Henri Peyre, ed., Baudelaire: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962); and Lois Boe Hyslop, ed., Baudelaire as a Love Poet and Other Essays (1969). An early study of unusual value is Marcel Raymond, From Baudelaire to Surrealism (1933; trans. 1949). Robert T. Cargo, Baudelaire Criticism, 1950-1967 (1968), provides a useful bibliography of scholarship with critical commentary. □

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Baudelaire, Charles

Charles Baudelaire (shärl bōdlâr´), 1821–67, French poet and critic. His poetry, classical in form, introduced symbolism (see symbolists) by establishing symbolic correspondences among sensory images (e.g., colors, sounds, scents). The only volume of his poems published in his lifetime, Les Fleurs du mal (1857, enl. 1861, 1868; several Eng. tr., The Flowers of Evil), was publicly condemned as obscene, and six of the poems were suppressed. Later recognized as a masterpiece, the volume is especially remarkable for the brilliant phrasing, rhythm, and expressiveness of its lyrics. Baudelaire's erratic personality was marked by moodiness, rebelliousness, and an intense religious mysticism. His life was burdened with debts, misunderstanding, illness, and excesses, and his work unremittingly reflects inner despair. The main theme is the inseparable nature of beauty and corruption. A collection of poetic prose pieces was published posthumously as Petits poèmes en prose (1869). As poet and critic Baudelaire earned distinction in literary circles. Believing criticism to be a function of the poet, he wrote perceptive appraisals of his contemporaries. His criticism was collected posthumously in Curiosités esthétiques (1868) and L'Art romantique (1869). He felt a great affinity to Poe, whose works he translated and brought to the attention of the French public. One of the great figures of French literature, Baudelaire has also been a major influence in other Western poetry.

See his letters (tr. by S. Morini and F. Tuten, 1970), his intimate journal (tr. by C. Isherwood, 1947), and selected letters (tr. and ed. by L. B. and F. E. Hyslop, 1957); biography by E. Starkie (rev. ed. 1958), studies by J.-P. Sartre (1950, repr. 1972) and M. A. Ruff (1965).

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Baudelaire, Charles Pierre

Baudelaire, Charles Pierre (1821–67) French poet and critic. His collection of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal (1857), represents one of the highest achievements of 19th century French poetry. Baudelaire explores the poetic theory of correspondences (scent, sound, and colour), and the aesthetic creed of the inseparability of beauty and corruption. The poems were condemned by the censor, and six of them were subsequently suppressed. Baudelaire was much influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, whose poetry he translated and whose works figure prominently in his major pieces of criticism, Curiosités Esthetiques and L'Art Romantique (both 1869).

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Baudelaire, Charles

Charles Baudelaire

BORN: 1821, Paris, France

DIED: 1867, Paris, France

NATIONALITY: French

GENRE: Poetry, fiction, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Les Fleurs du mal (1857)
Les Paradis artificiels: opium et haschisch (1860)
Journaux intimes (1887)

Overview

Charles Baudelaire is one of the most compelling poets of the nineteenth century. While Baudelaire's contemporary Victor Hugo is generally acknowledged as the greatest of nineteenth-century French novelists, Baudelaire excels in his expression of modern themes within structures of technical artistry. Baudelaire is distinctive in French literature also in that his skills as a prose writer virtually equal his ability as a poet. His body of work includes a novella, influential translations of the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, highly perceptive criticism of contemporary art, provocative journal entries, and critical essays on a variety of subjects. Baudelaire's work has had a tremendous influence on modernism, and his relatively slim production of poetry in particular has had a significant impact on later poets.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Complex Family Relationships Charles Baudelaire was born on April 9, 1821, in Paris. His father, Joseph François Baudelaire, had been a friend of the philosophers C. A. Helvétius and A. N. de Condorcet and tutor

to the young sons of the Duc de Choiseul Praslin. His mother, Caroline Archimbaut-Dufays Baudelaire, was born in London in exile in 1793 and died at Honfleur in 1871. At the time of their marriage, François was sixty and Caroline just twenty-six.

In February 1827, when Baudelaire was not yet six, François died. His father's death led to a period of very close intimacy with his mother, for whom the boy felt a deep love. Her remarriage near the end of the following year to the handsome officer Jacques Aupick might have seemed to her son a cruel betrayal.

It is understandable that Baudelaire might have been jealous of his mother's new husband, because he was deeply attached to his mother. Their close relationship was of enduring significance. Much of what is known of his later life comes from his extended correspondence with her.

Baudelaire's stepfather, a capable and resolute man, rose to the rank of general, was named minister to Turkey in 1848 and ambassador to Spain in 1851, and in 1853 became a senator. But his nature was different from Baudelaire's, and he took a very dim view of his stepson's desire to be a poet. Financial constraint, alienation, and complex emotions defined Baudelaire's life. It is against this backdrop of complicated family relations that some of the best poetry in the French language was written.

An Extravagant Lifestyle Baudelaire was expelled from the Lycée Louis le Grand in 1839 for refusing to give up a note passed to him by a classmate. He had not yet received his baccalaureate degree, but he managed to obtain it later that year. He registered for legal studies in Paris. For a time he led a dissipated, bohemian existence in the Latin Quarter, where he probably contracted syphilis, which later caused his death. He may also have begun taking opium and hashish during these years. In 1841 his worried parents arranged a sea voyage to India to draw the young poet out of his dissolute environment. His ship sailed from Bordeaux but was damaged in a storm. Baudelaire apparently went no farther than the island of Mauritius, to the east of Madagascar. He returned home, however, with unforgettable memories of exotic lands and seas.

When he was twenty-one, Baudelaire inherited a modest fortune from his father's estate, but his extravagance soon led to the appointment of a legal guardian whose conscientious control of his finances drove the poet nearly to despair. A long affair with a multiracial woman who called herself Jeanne Duval added to his suffering, although she seems to have been the person, along with his mother, whom Baudelaire loved most in life. She was his “Black Venus” and the inspiration for some of his most beautiful and most despairing poems. Other women frequently celebrated in his verses were the voluptuous Madame Sabatier (“la Présidente”) and green-eyed Marie Daubrun.

The Revolution of 1848 The France of Baudelaire's time was a country of near-constant political unease. Though the French Revolution in 1789 had been fought to improve the lives of the lower classes, by the 1830s the

country was largely ruled by a monarch, King Louis-Philippe, who aimed to reduce the power of the masses by limiting the rights of the press and keeping the lower classes from voting. Opposition to this form of government built, especially as unemployment and economic hardship worsened. This resulted in a relatively bloodless revolution that led to the formation of a new provisional government advocating citizens' rights to work and to vote. Baudelaire, like many writers and artists of the time, supported the revolution and its ideals.

Controversial Work and Life Baudelaire's significant early publications were two essays of art criticism (“Le Salon de 1845” and “Le Salon de 1846”) and two volumes of translations from the tales of Poe in 1856 and 1857. Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal) appeared at the end of June 1857. It is considered his greatest work and is the work for which Baudelaire was tried for offenses against religion and public decency. He was found guilty of the second charge and sentenced to pay a fine of three hundred francs and to remove six poems from his collection.

Baudelaire's writings on wine, opium, and hashish mirror his concerns as artist and moralist. In his most famous writing on drugs, Les Paradis artificiels: opium et haschisch (1860), the opium essay is based on Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, but “Le Poème du haschisch” is Baudelaire's own. He knew from experience the hallucinations of both drugs and apparently suffered the miseries of addiction to opium. He concludes that man cannot, without terrible danger, alter “the primordial conditions of his existence.” If the artificial paradises enhance imagination, they destroy the “precious substance” of the will.

As the years passed, ill health and financial problems added to Baudelaire's miseries. In 1864 he went to Belgium to deliver a series of lectures that ended in dismal failure. He suffered further terrifying attacks of illness. In the midst of all this unhappiness he learned that Jeanne Duval might be going blind. Finally, in March 1866, he fell while visiting a church at Namur, Belgium, with friends. A few days later he was found dazed in a café and taken home, where he was later discovered paralyzed and unable to speak or understand those speaking to him. In July 1866 he was brought back to Paris and placed in a rest home. He died in his mother's arms on August 31, 1867, and was buried two days later in the family vault in Montparnasse Cemetery, where a somber monument was unveiled to his memory in 1902.

Other Writings In the Petits poèmes en prose (1869), sometimes called Spleen de Paris, Baudelaire developed the prose poem into an exquisite form. The volume's fifty examples of this genre depict mostly a world of lonely people: old women, artists, children, workmen, crowds, widows, clowns, cold and perverted lovers—the poor and cynical and bored men and women of the great city. But again, beyond the suffering and misery, one finds Baudelaire's understanding of the strange “heroism of modern life.”

Among Baudelaire's Journaux intimes (1930), the most notable are the two notebooks called Fusées and Mon coeur mis à nu, a title that Baudelaire took from Poe. They contain invaluable insights into the poet's inner world “his intellectual, ethical, religious, and aesthetic speculations and his comments on love and women, boredom, and material progress. There is constant evidence of Baudelaire's moral and intellectual elegance, of his dandyism, and of his violent antipathy to the society of his day; but above all, one is conscious in these pages of his inner distress—his fears and longings and his sense of the loneliness of the human situation.

Works in Literary Context

Sin and Despair Baudelaire's most famous work is his collection of poems Les Fleurs du mal (1857), whose title means both “Flowers of Evil” and “Flowers of Suffering.” Baudelaire believed that original sin pervades man's world, and a sense of theological evil looms over his thought like a cloud. But he proclaimed suffering “a divine remedy for our impurities” and wrote that “it is one of the prodigious privileges of Art that … suffering put to rhythm and cadence may fill the mind with a calm joy.”

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Baudelaire's famous contemporaries include:

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849): Well known today for his macabre mystery stories and gothic poetry, Poe is also generally considered the father of detective fiction and a major contributor to the birth of science fiction.

Victor Hugo (1802–1885): Romantic poet, playwright, and novelist, best known in the English-speaking world for his novels Les Misérables (1862) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831).

Édouard Manet (1832–1883): Revolutionary French painter—forerunner of Impressionism and modern art.

Louis Napoleon (1808–1873): Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon was elected first president of the French Republic in 1848. Four years later he was proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III. His reign would last until 1872, when defeat in the Franco-Prussian War would bring an end to the last French monarchy.

The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal contains only 100 poems, and the posthumous edition of 1868 suffers from having been put in order by friends after the poet's death. Thus the second edition of 1861 (the last arranged by Baudelaire's own hand) is most useful for a study of his art. It comprises an introductory poem, “To the Reader,” which is a powerful indictment of the current society, and

126 poems divided into six sections: “Spleen and Ideal,” “Parisian Sketches,” “Wine,” “Fleurs du mal,” “Revolt,” and “Death.”

Baudelaire's imagination and moral nature were deeply rooted in his Catholic background, and although his gloomy conception of humanity doomed by original sin is not alleviated by any assurance of salvation, it is important to recognize that Baudelaire does keep for man's spiritual nature a dimension of eternity. Love in Baudelaire's poetry, as elsewhere in his writings, is seen most often in dark and despairing terms, and many of his epithets for woman are extremely cruel. His grim vision of love is evident, for example, in the hideous imagery of the poem called “Voyage à Cythère” and in “Sed non satiate.”

Beauty and Aesthetics Poems concerned with aesthetics, such as “Correspondances,” “Les Phares,”“La Beauté,” “L'Idéal,” and “Hymne à la Beauté,” reveal Baudelaire's very complex ideas on the beautiful. While greatly influenced by the aesthetic concepts of romanticism, Baudelaire also recalls significant elements in the great neoclassic writings of the seventeenth century in his concern with the moral, psychological, and religious aspects of man's nature, in his relatively small vocabulary, and in his powerfully compressed expression. Baudelaire's belief in the importance of beauty for its own sake had a marked influence on the so-called “decadent” writers of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde.

Modern Subject Matter It is in his subject matter and the range of his sensibility that Baudelaire seems most modern. His poems on ennui bear the accent of his age; and his poetic imagery, with its marvelous interplay of the senses—for example, “Correspondances” and “Harmonie du soir”—introduces a powerful new sensuousness into French poetry and gives a new literary importance to odors and fragrance that would be exploited later in the novels of Émile Zola and Marcel Proust.

Baudelaire's vision of Paris in the eighteen poems of the “Parisian Sketches” includes what he called “the heroism of modern life.” His Paris is a city of physical and spiritual and moral suffering, and the eyes of the men and women in the poems depicting it are full of unrest and sorrow. But over the great city are skies that make one think of eternity; and there is mystery and enchantment amidst the suffering.

In Les Fleurs du mal there are recurrent dominant images of ennui, time, and death. The clock is seen as a sinister god, terrifying and impassive, and time is ultimately the victor over man. The last poem in Les Fleurs du mal is “Le Voyage,” representing death as a voyage that may lead to “something new.”

Works in Critical Context

When Les Fleurs du mal was first published, reviewers were frightened away from offering positive reviews. As A. E. Carter explains it, this was a catastrophe that can hardly be understood in a modern age in which scandal often translates into sales: “In 1857 the uses of publicity were not properly understood: Instead of profiting by the lawsuit, Baudelaire's career suffered an undeniable setback. Poetry is seldom an easy article to market, especially poetry like his, and now publishers had a sound excuse for turning down his manuscripts. Not until twenty or thirty years later did the 1857 stigma prove negotiable. It has paid off pretty well since; Les Fleurs du mal have always smelled of forbidden fruit.”

The second edition of the book, in 1861, is the one on which Baudelaire's considerable reputation is built—the six poems deemed to be indecent were removed, and roughly a hundred new poems were added.

Baudelaire was considered a breakthrough poet, at least by other poets. His reputation was discussed, but his works were not widely available until after 1917, when the copyright ran out and his works fell into public domain. Baudelaire was a powerful influence on the French symbolists, who gained international acclaim in the late 1800s. He was also a strong influence on T. S. Eliot, whose artistic theories were central to the development of the Modernism movement from the 1920s forward.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Les Fleurs du mal provoked a scandal when it was published, but it has since been hailed as a classic. Other works whose reputation has shifted in the same way include:

Madame Bovary (1856), a novel by Gustave Flaubert. This novel, now considered one of the greatest works of literature ever written, was initially at the center of an obscenity trial. Flaubert expressed sympathy for Baudelaire when he came under fire for his work not long after.

Ulysses (1922), a novel by James Joyce. Irish novelist Joyce's modernist masterpiece was deemed pornographic in the United States, and its publication in America was banned until 1934.

Tropic of Cancer (1934), a novel by Henry Miller. Miller's semiautobiographical novel, published in Paris, was still controversial enough to earn him an obscenity trial when the first American edition of the book was published in 1961.

Howl and Other Poems (1955), a poetry collection by Allen Ginsberg. American Beat poet Ginsberg was launched into stardom when he was put on trial for obscenity after the publication of this book.

Contemporary critics are able to see the influence that Baudelaire's poetry has exerted on the literary world

over time. Most literary analyses focus on his fascinations with Satan and beauty, such as when Lewis Piaget Shanks noted, in 1974, that “Baudelaire could never shake off the Catholic dualism, that consciousness of our warring flesh and spirit.” It is this dualism that has made him a model poet—his poetry is intellectually challenging, but still based in the experiences of the senses.

Responses to Literature

  1. “Hymn to Beauty” is about a beautiful woman who is considered a “sacred monster.” Research several female celebrities who are famous for their “bad girl” images. What about their behavior is considered shocking? Is there a point at which the public stops being titillated and starts being disgusted?
  2. Baudelaire makes frequent reference in Les Fleurs du mal to “spleen.” What does he mean when he uses this term? How does spleen contrast to his concept of the ideal?
  3. Baudelaire's poetry can either be seen as a condemnation or affirmation of love. Choose a side and then support your argument with evidence from his poetry.
  4. Using your library and the Internet, research current obscenity laws at the local and national level. Could these laws be applied to label any music or literature that you enjoy as obscene?
  5. Research a recent court case or public controversy that involves censorship of a writer, musician, filmmaker, or cartoonist. Have the issues or themes that provoke calls for censorship changed in the last century? How are they different? How have they remained the same?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Translated by Harry Zohn, London: NLB, 1973.

Bennett, Joseph D. Baudelaire: A Criticism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1944.

Gilman, Margaret. Baudelaire the Critic. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943.

Turnell, Martin. Baudelaire: A Study of His Poetry. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1953.

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Baudelaire, Charles

BAUDELAIRE, CHARLES

Charles-Pierre Baudelaire (1821–1867) was perhaps the greatest French poet of the nineteenth century. He is most famous for a volume of poetry, Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of evil), published in 1857, which was prosecuted for blasphemy as well as obscenity. Baudelaire was also an important art critic and translator. He appears in an encyclopedia of fashion because he proved to be an influential theorist of fashion and dandyism.

In his youth, Baudelaire devoted considerable time and money to his appearance. At a time when the masculine wardrobe was becoming ever more sober, he adopted an austere form of dandyism that was neither foppish nor bohemian. Whereas many of his contemporaries deplored the trend toward dark, severe clothing for men, he embraced and even exaggerated the style by wearing all-black clothing. But dandyism involved more than clothing for Baudelaire; he would certainly not have agreed with Thomas Carlyle's definition of the dandy as "a clothes-wearing man." Although Baudelaire's poetry does not touch on dandyism per se, he explored the topic both in his intimate journals, under such headings as "The eternal superiority of the Dandy. What is the Dandy?", and in two of his most famous essays, "On the Heroism of Modern Life," a section of his Salon of 1846, and The Painter of Modern Life (1863).

The modernity of dandyism is central to Baudelaire's analysis. Dandyism, he wrote, "is a modern thing, resulting from causes entirely new." It appears "when democracy is not yet all-powerful, and aristocracy is just beginning to fall." Like many artists during the nineteenth century, Baudelaire was ambivalent about the rise of democracy and capitalism. He described contemporary middle-class masculine attire as "a uniform livery of affliction [that] bears witness to equality." It was, he suggested, "a symbol of perpetual mourning." On the other hand, Baudelaire insisted that one should be of one's own time. "But all the same, has not this much-abused garb its own beauty?" The modern man's frock coat had both a "political beauty, which is an expression of universal equality," and also a "poetic beauty."

In place of the equality which modern men's uniform attire seemed to proclaim, Baudelaire suggested that dandyism announced a new type of intellectual elitism. "In the disorder of these times, certain men … may conceive the idea of establishing a new kind of aristocracy … based … on the divine gifts which work and money are unable to bestow. Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence." Baudelaire's modern dandy eschewed not only the foppish paraphernalia of prerevolutionary aristocratic dress, but also denied the bourgeois capitalist dominance of wealth. The Baudelairean dandy was not just a wealthy man who wore fashionable and expensive dark suits.

"Dandyism does not … consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for … material elegance," declared Baudelaire. "For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore, to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity." Part of Baudelaire's minimalist aesthetic involved the elimination of color in favor of black, a noncolor that remains strongly associated with both authority


and rebellion, as witnessed by the following lines from Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs:

MR. PINK: Why can't we pick out our own color?

JOE: I tried that once. It don't work. You get four guys fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black.

If modern men's clothing—and still more so the clothing of the dandy—was characterized by simplicity, the same could not be said of nineteenth-century women's fashion, which was highly complicated and decorative. It was only in the twentieth century that such women as Coco Chanel created a radically simplified style of female fashion epitomized by the little black dress. Indeed, it could be said that Chanel was one of the first female dandies. Yet Baudelaire's attitudes toward women are problematic for modern feminists. "Woman is the opposite of the dandy," declared Baudelaire, because she is "natural." Only to the extent that she creates an artificial persona through dress and cosmetics is she admirable, and, even then, Baudelaire describes her as "a kind of idol, stupid perhaps, but dazzling."

Putting aside his ambivalence towards women, Baudelaire analyzed fashion in ways that illuminate both modern life and modern art. In particular, his essay ThePainter of Modern Life was one of the first and most penetrating analyses of the relationship between la mode (fashion) and la modernité (modernity). For Baudelaire, fashion was the key to modernity, and one simply could not paint modern individuals if one did not understand their dress. Baudelaire argued that it was simply "laziness" that led so many artists to "dress all their subjects in the garments of the past." "The draperies of Rubens or Veronese will in no way teach you how to depict … fabric of modern manufacture," he wrote. "Furthermore, the cut of skirt and bodice is by no means similar…. Finally, the gesture and bearing of the woman of today gives her dress a life and a special character which are not those of the woman of the past."

According to Baudelaire, there were two aspects to beauty—the eternal and the ephemeral. The fact that fashion was so transitory, constantly changing into something new, made it the hallmark of modernity. The modern artist, whether painter or poet, had to be able "to distill the eternal from the transitory." As Baudelaire wrote, "What poet would dare, in depicting the pleasure caused by the appearance of a great beauty, separate the woman from her dress?"

As a theorist of fashion, Baudelaire moved far beyond such other dandies and writers of his era as George ("Beau") Brummell, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, and Théophile Gautier. He inspired such modernist poets as Stéphane Mallarmé and such philosophers as Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to imagine the modern study of fashion without taking account of Baudelaire's contribution.

See alsoBenjamin, Walter; Brummell, George (Beau); Dandyism; Fashion, Theories of; Little Black Dress; Mallarmé, Stéphane; Simmel, Georg; Wilde, Oscar .

bibliography

Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Edited and translated by Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1964.

Lehmann, Ulrich. Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000.

Moers, Ellen. The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm. London: Secker and Warburg, 1960.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History. 2nd ed. New Haven, Conn.: Berg, 1999.

Valerie Steele

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Baudelaire, Charles

BAUDELAIRE, CHARLES

poet
translator
critic, essayist, and autobiographer
bibliography

BAUDELAIRE, CHARLES (1821–1867), French poet.

Charles Baudelaire's short life spanned only the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Born in Paris on 9 April 1821, he was five years old when his father died and not yet seven when his mother was remarried to Jacques Aupick, a military officer who eventually became a general, an ambassador, and a senator. Having envisioned a diplomatic career for his stepson, Aupick opposed Baudelaire's vocation for literature and put a stop to his bohemian student years by sending him on a voyage to India in 1841. But Baudelaire so resented this exile from Paris that he interrupted the trip at the island of Reunion and returned home several months earlier than planned. Upon inheriting his father's fortune in 1842, Baudelaire plunged into an extravagant life as a dandy among artists and writers until his mother, appalled to find nearly half his inheritance spent in just two


years, appointed a legal guardian to manage his affairs. Baudelaire remained under this humiliating guardianship for the rest of his life, perennially unable to live within his means and given to begging frequent loans from his mother. His health progressively deteriorated, undermined throughout the 1850s by the syphilis he had contracted in 1839 as well as by his use of alcohol and laudanum. In 1864, Baudelaire went to Belgium in an unsuccessful attempt to earn an income from public lectures and to find a publisher for his collected works. He was still living in Brussels when, in the spring of 1866, he suffered a stroke that resulted in aphasia and partial paralysis. His mother brought him back to Paris, where he died on 31 August 1867.

Although Baudelaire was known within French literary circles, he did not achieve widespread celebrity during his lifetime. His posthumous fame grew steadily, however. Both a reasonably complete edition of his works and a fairly reliable biography appeared within a few years of his death; among others, symbolist authors of the 1880s and surrealist writers of the 1920s recognized him as a major precursor. Paul Valéry emphasized in 1924 that Baudelaire was one of very few French poets to attain genuinely international stature, and his reputation has never diminished.

poet

Baudelaire is principally admired today for Les fleurs du mal (The flowers of evil), the sole volume of poetry that he authored. Although he began writing poems for it in the early 1840s, the collection was not published until June 1857. Within two weeks, it was first attacked in the press for its alleged immorality, then denounced by government censors as an affront to public decency. When the case was tried a month later, the court condemned Baudelaire to pay a fine and suppress six of the poems. In 1861, he published a second edition of Les fleurs du mal; originally composed of one hundred poems grouped into five sections, it now included 126 poems divided into six sections ("Spleen and Ideal," "Parisian Scenes," "Wine," "Flowers of Evil," "Revolt," "Death"). Following Baudelaire's claim during the trial that the book's meaning and moral implications were implicit in its structure as a whole rather than explicit in individual poems or sections, various scholars have debated the possibility of discovering what Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly posited in 1857 as its "secret architecture."

From the mid-1850s on, Baudelaire also composed and published short texts that he described as poetry in prose, a genre he did much to found. A group of twenty prose poems appeared in 1862 in La Presse, together with a preface dedicating them to his friend Arsène Houssaye, the journal's literary director, and linking them to the complex rhythms of modernity in "enormous cities." Baudelaire intended eventually to prepare a larger collection of prose poems as a counterpart to Les fleurs du mal, but this project remained unfinished at his death. The fifty poems in prose now collected under the title Le Spleen de Paris (Paris spleen) were first published together among Baudelaire's posthumous complete works in 1869.

translator

By far the most immediately lucrative of Baudelaire's literary endeavors—and those most appreciated by his contemporaries—were his translations of works by Edgar Allan Poe, whose reputation Baudelaire established in France. He discovered "The Black Cat" in 1847 and started translating Poe's short stories, poems, and essays for literary reviews the following year. His collected translations later appeared in five volumes: Histoires extraordinaires (Extraordinary stories) in 1856, with five more editions issued by 1870; Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires (New extraordinary stories) in 1857, with three more editions by 1865; Les Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym (The adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym) in 1858; Eurêka in 1863; and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (Grotesque and solemn stories) in 1865. In addition to his work on Poe, Baudelaire made a free, elaborately glossed translation of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of a English Opium Eater, publishing this as part of the book Les paradis artificiels (Artificial paradises) in 1860.

critic, essayist, and autobiographer

Although he began composing poems early in his life, Baudelaire actually launched his career in letters as an art critic; his first substantial publications were reviews of the Salons of 1845 and 1846, both of which—like his subsequent reviews of the 1855 Exposition Universelle and the 1859 Salon—were notable for their eloquent praise of Eugène Delacroix. His art criticism culminated with a ground-breaking exploration of the esthetics of modernism in "Le peintre de la vie moderne" (The painter of modern life, 1863). Baudelaire showed equal acumen for scrutinizing other contemporary figures, and his critical corpus includes important essays on Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, Edgar Allan Poe, and Richard Wagner. His impulsion toward self-scrutiny first appeared in La Fanfarlo (Fanfarlo), the 1847 novella whose main character resembles the young Baudelaire, and critical introspection also provided part of the impetus for the extensive reflections on substance use and abuse (wine, hashish, and opium) that he published between 1851 and 1860. Beginning in 1859, Baudelaire made notes toward a series of autobiographical projects entitled "Fusées" (Rockets), "Mon Cœur mis à nu" (My heart laid bare), and "Pauvre Belgique!" (Poor Belgium!), but he was unable to complete any of them before his death.

Baudelaire's works have been widely read, taught, glossed, and translated since the late nineteenth century. They continue to stimulate much interest, particularly in their reflections on urban life, their inquiry into the dynamics of memory, and their stringent questioning of the ties between ethics and esthetics in modern art.

See alsoAvant-Garde; Flâneur; Paris; Symbolism.

bibliography

Primary Sources

Baudelaire, Charles. Œuvres complètes. Edited by Claude Pichois. 2 vols. Paris, 1983–1985.

Baudelaire, Charles. Correspondance. Edited by Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler. 2 vols. Paris, 1973.

Secondary Sources

Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Translated by Harry Zohn. London, 1997. Translation of Charles Baudelaire: Ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus (1955). Celebrated study of relations between Baudelaire's work and social conditions in nineteenth-century Paris.

Lloyd, Rosemary. Baudelaire's World. Ithaca, N.Y., 2002. A thoughtful, highly readable discussion of the main themes running through Baudelaire's writing, together with helpful reflections on reading Baudelaire's poetry in translation.

Pichois, Claude. Baudelaire. Additional research by Jean Ziegler. Translated by Graham Robb. London, 1989. Translation of Baudelaire (1987). An excellent biography, comprehensive and scrupulously researched.

Valéry, Paul. "Situation de Baudelaire." In Oeuvres by Paul Valéry, edited by Jean Hytier. Vol. 1, pp. 598–613. Paris, 1957. Presented as a lecture in 1924, this essay was the first to analyze Baudelaire's rise to the status of a canonical author.

Margaret Miner

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