Baudelaire by Joanna Richardson

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Synopsis

Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. He was the son of Joseph-Francois Baudelaire, a former abbe who had resigned the priesthood, and of his young wife, Caroline. When Baudelaire was six, his father died, and soon afterwards his mother married an army officer, Jacques Aupick. This second marriage was to have a disastrous effect on his life, and his intense, equivocal devotion to his mother largely explains his failure to form a stable relationship with any other woman. Baudelaire suffered not only from profound emotional problems, but from constant financial difficulties, and often from poverty. For most of his adult life he had no settled home. He contracted syphilis in his youth. He was to die at forty-six. His life was a predictable tragedy.

He moved, however, among the distinguished Frenchmen of his age, concerned with, and reflecting their achievements, furthering their fame. He was a friend of Gerard de Nerval, Gautier, Leconte de Lisle; he knew, but disliked, Victor Hugo. From his early years, he also paid homage to Sainte-Beuve. Baudelaire's relations with his literary elders and contemporaries were fruitful, illuminating, sometimes bitter; and much could be learned from his influence on the next generation of writers, Mallarme, Rimbaud and Verlaine. In art, he was a discerning critic: a lifelong admirer of Delacroix and Manet, both misunderstood in their time. In music he was among the earliest, most passionate supporters of Wagner. He is a crucial figure in the history of French culture in the nineteenth century.

He is, above all, a poet to the innermost recesses of his being. He is a classic in his exactitude; yet he remains, as Flaubert said, transcendently romantic. He faces the perpetual problems of humankind. He also creates a new, enchanted world. The visions Baudelaire creates add a new dimension to French poetry. He dreamed of an art which blended all effects and all expressions: which drew on art and music and words. Les Fleurs du mal was published in 1857. It touches heart and mind, it broke the mould of poetry in France, and changed the course of poetry to come. It remains an exemplar, and unique.

Since Enid Starkie's final Baudelaire appeared in 1957, no full-scale life of the poet has been written in English. There have been many books on different aspects of his life, many articles about his work, but no English biographer has assessed him for a new generation.

Joanna Richardson has spent six years writing this book. She has studied the massive bibliography; she has also discovered much that is unfamiliar and new. She has used the abundant papers of Eugene Crepet, the founder of Baudelaire studies, and his son, Jacques Crepet, in the Bibliotheque Nationale; she has seen the paper of Andre Billy at Fontainebleau, and those of Feli Gautier in Oxford. In the archives of Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, Nadar and Sainte-Beauve, in the memoirs of Edmond Richard, the confidant of La Presidente, in obscure newspapers, in official records, she has found much that illuminates the life of Baudelaire, his mother, his stepfather, and his wide, distinguished circle of friends. She has interpreted it all with an intuition which comes from long commitment to French studies. The result is a life of Baudelaire which is likely to become the classic work.

 

About Joanna Richardson

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Joanna Richardson is a principal lecturer of housing at De Montfort University in Leicester and the author of several books.
 
Published January 1, 1994 by Publisher. 602 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Quoting liberally from the poet's letters to his mother, Richardson limns a life as wearying to the reader as it must have been to the poet: the endless cajoling and castigating requests for money (youthful extravagance by the poet-dandy had led to the appointment of a trustee to dole out his inh...

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Publishers Weekly

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French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) posed as a dandy and bohemian to protect himself against the world, writes Richardson in this scholarly yet dramatic biography. Also the biographer

Oct 31 1994 | Read Full Review of Baudelaire

Publishers Weekly

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French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) posed as a dandy and bohemian to protect himself against the world, writes Richardson in this scholarly yet dramatic biography.

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The Independent

The dream, in which Baudelaire is a sort of Oedipus confronting the monster-sphinx (one thinks of Ingres' painting, which Baudelaire saw at the Louvre), reveals the poet as a hero incapable of changing his own fate.

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The Independent

Despite exhaustive researches by the general Baudelaire industry - and Joanna Richardson in particular - some things about this habitual liar's private life will never be known for certain.

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London Review of Books

Gaëtan Picon remarked that in the Nadar photograph of 1862 the 41-year-old Baudelaire looked as if he were a hundred (Baudelaire himself, in one of the ‘Spleen’ poems, made it a thousand).

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