Charles Baudelaire - Biography

Charles Baudelaire - Biography

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Short biography - Within the prestigious cohort of great names in 19th century French poetry, Charles Baudelaire occupies a significant place. His most famous work, The evil flowers, will be worth him many legal setbacks. Both the precursor of a modern aesthetic qualified as "supernaturalism" and a recognized literary critic, he served as a model for many French poets, including the brilliant Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.

From Dandy to Poet

Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris on April 9, 1821. His father, an amateur painter, died in 1827. His mother remarried the following year with General Aupik, much to Charles's despair. First placed in a boarding school in Lyon, he then studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he distinguished himself by his lack of discipline. He was nevertheless passionate about romanticism and the work of Théophile Gautier.

After obtaining his baccalaureate, determined to devote himself to writing, Baudelaire began a carefree and bohemian life in the Latin Quarter until 1841. To bring him back on the right path, his father sent him on a trip to the India. From this journey, which will go no further than Réunion, the young Baudelaire brings back the first poems of his main collection, Fleurs du mal, as well as a certain taste for the exotic that will never leave him.

Back in France, Baudelaire fell in love with Jeanne Duval in 1842, a mulatto whose erratic life he shared until the end and whom he established as the muse, the "black Venus" of his work. This connection, however, does not prevent the poet from pursuing with his assiduity other women to whom he dedicates fiery poems.

Based on the Ile Saint-Louis, Baudelaire, abusing his paternal heritage, lives, like dandies, spending indecent sums on his eccentric outfits or the acquisition of works of art. An idle esthete, he continued to write poetry as a dilettante, began to frequent Théophile Gautier with whom he shared a marked attraction for Artificial Paradise and Théodore de Banville. His way of life does not take long to start his inheritance: to avoid the squandering of his fortune, his stepfather and his mother place him under judicial supervision. Baudelaire, suffering from not being able to live freely, takes it into his head to live with his pen.

From Edgar Poe to the Flowers of Evil

It was thus the need for money that pushed him to engage in art criticism. Quickly excelling in this field, on the lookout for the most surprising novelties, he published in various journals, poems but also literary essays as well as a short story. In 1848 he briefly participated in revolutionary events in Paris before embarking on the translation of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Baudelaire felt a great admiration for the American author, mixed with a boundless attraction to the imagery he developed.

In June 1857, Baudelaire, then a recognized poet but on bad terms with the imperial regime, had the Fleurs du mal published, his masterpiece bringing together poems already published in review and fifty-two unpublished (including the famous Parisian paintings). This collection of poems earned him a conviction the same year for insulting religious morals "and" insulting public morals and good morals "(like Flaubert for Mme Bovary).

Forced to pay a heavy fine and withdraw several poems, Baudelaire emerges weakened from this ordeal.

The bitterness of recent years

After the Fleurs du mal scandal, Baudelaire, still in debt, continued to publish his critical texts and translations in review, to which were soon added the prose poems which would be grouped together and published in their final form after his death, under the title Small Poems in Prose. Les Petits Poèmes en prose is the counterpart of Fleurs du mal, whose theme they take up, but this time in a poetic, sensual and surprisingly musical prose.

With Les Petits Poèmes en prose (the original title of which was Le Spleen de Paris), Baudelaire broke definitively with classical and romantic aesthetics, imposing new poetic standards. This disillusioned work, breaking with a certain faith in progress, will later inspire generations of poets and still constitutes one of the peaks of this mode of artistic expression today.

Still struggling with academia and the French authorities, Baudelaire moved to Belgium for a few years, where he fully intended to pay off his debts. Showing little contact with the bourgeoisie of a country he considers artificial, the embittered poet begins a disappointing lecture cycle. In the spring of 1866, Baudelaire, already ill, was seriously uneasy in Namur. The consequences are irremediable: suffering from paralysis and aphasia, the poet is brought back to Paris in July. He died there a year later, on August 31, 1867, certainly penniless, but leaving behind an inestimable artistic legacy ...

Main works

- The Flowers of Evil (1857)

- Le Spleen de Paris: Small poems in prose (1869)


- A singular man Charles Baudelaire by Madeleine Lazard. Arlea, 2010.

- Charles Baudelaire by Walter Benjamin. Payot, 2002.

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