Baudelaire was one of the greatest French poets of the 19th century. His
work has been a major influence on Western poetry and modern poetry in general
as, thematically, he was one of the first poets (along with Rimbaud) whose
subject was often urban life and its dark side, with all of its evils and
the degradation of its temptations. His poems, classical in form, introduced
Symbolism, he is also known as a writer of the Decadent group.
Baudelaire was moody and rebellious, imbued with
an intense religious mysticism, and his work reflects an unremitting inner
despair. His main theme is the inseparable nature of beauty and corruption.
His major work, Les Flers du Mal, translated as The Flowers of
Evil (1857), originally condemned as obscene, is recognized as a masterpiece,
especially remarkable for the brilliant phrasing, rhythm, and expressiveness
of its lyrics.
**More In-Depth Biography:
Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. He studied at the Collège
Royal, Lyon (1832-36) and Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris
(1936-39), from which he was expelled. His intention was, from his early
age, to live by writing, yet he enrolled as a law student in 1840 at the
École de Droit. Probably at this time he became addicted
to opium and contracted syphilis, which turned out to be leathal. During
this period Baudelaire fell heavily in debt and he never finished his
In 1841 Baudelaire was sent to on a voyage to
India, but he stopped off at Maurius. On his return to Paris in 1842 he
met Jeanne Duval, a woman of mixed race, who became his mistress and inspiration
for such poems as Black Venus. From 1842 Baudelaire lived on his
inheritance from his father. Two years later this income was deprived
by law of control over it by the Counseil Judicaire. In the late
1840s Baudelaire become involved in politics. He fought at the barricades
during the revolution of 1848 and in the same year he also cofounded the
journal Le Salut Public. He was associated with Proudhon and opposed
the coup d'état of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in December 1851. Subsequently
Baudelaire remained aloof from politics and adopted an increasingly reactionary
Baudelaire published his first novel, the
autobiographical La Fanfario, in 1847. From 1852 to 1865 he was
occupied in translating Edgar Allan Poe's writings. When his Les Fleursdu
Mal appeared in 1857 all involved - author, publisher, and printer
- were prosecuted and found guilty of obscenity and blasphemy. The remaining
years of Baudelaire's life were darkened by despair and financial difficulties.
He returned to Paris in 1864 from extended stay in Brussels and stayed
in a sanatorium. He died in Paris of aphasiac and hemiplagiac on August
31, 1867, in his mother's arms.
Although Baudelaire is chiefly known for
his poems, his critical essays have also gained attention of researchers.
His essays on art have been published under the collective title Curiosités
Esthéthetiques and those on literature and music under the
title L'art Romantique (in English translation Penguin has published
some of these essays under the title Selected Writings on Art and Literature,
The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays has been published
by Chronical Books [see Bibliography]). Baudelaire's starting point for
his aesthetic analysis was the lived experience, not principles of aesthetics
or abstract preconceptions about the beautiful. He was impressed by Wagner's
music,enthusiastic about Poe, and fascinated by the suggestiveness of
caricatures. As a subjective idealist, he was unsympathetic to Courbet
and to developments in French landscape painting that would lead to Impressionism.
This led to his negative attitude towards Édouard Manet (1832-83),
whose works were also frequently rejected by the salon jury.
For further reading: Baudelaire the Critic by
Margaret Gilman (1943); Baudelaire by Enid Starkie (1957); Baudelaire
by Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler (1989); Charles Baudelaire Revisited
by Lois Boe Hyslop (1992); Baudelaire by Joanna Richardson (1994)