Baudelaire (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The name Charles Baudelaire has a brooding magic of its own, the bitter music of a poet caught in a world of brisk values of security and prosperity. Baudelaire, born April 9, 1821, made himself an embodiment of the eccentric artist, the man for whom the Muse’s touch is a curse. Both the early death of his father and the presence of his domineering stepfather prefigured the disappointing and disapproving world in which he was forced to live, a dandy bored by middle-class society, yearning for unreachable ideals and imaginary paradises. He was the poet of urban despair, of hashish, cats, and wandering acrobats. He spent his life among bohemian artists and prostitutes and died of syphilis. He found a kindred soul in Edgar Allan Poe and produced versions of Poe’s stories which have served as models of translation and have made Poe one of the most studied of foreign writers in France. To his family, he was a failure, dissolute, financially irresponsible, a blasphemous writer whose most important collection was banned for obscenity. Today, this same man is revered as a master in verse and prose, and a seminal thinker in modern art criticism. Claude Pichois, in his Baudelaire, gives a straightforward, sympathetic portrait of this difficult man who frustrated his family and continues to inspire both poets and literary theorists.
Many illustrious scholars have studied Baudelaire, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, Roman Jakobson, and Claude Levi-Strauss....
(The entire section is 1877 words.)
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Baudelaire (Magill Book Reviews)
The first thing to be said about this book is that anyone interested in Charles Baudelaire--which is to say anyone interested in modern poetry--will read it with profit. Claude Pichois’s BAUDELAIRE, translated from the French by Graham Robb, easily supplants Enid Starkie’s long outdated work as the best biography of the poet of Paris available in English.
Unfortunately, the English version of Pichois’s biography is an abridged translation. The French edition was more than seven hundred pages long, while the translation is almost three hundred pages shorter. Exactly how much was cut is hard to determine, page-lengths not being standard, but clearly the loss was substantial. In a translator’s note, Robb says that “whenever possible” he tried “to perform a manicure rather than a surgical operation, to summarize rather than omit,” suggesting that he may have done some editorial condensing and paraphrasing in addition to straight translation, but this question is left ambiguous.
The reader must be prepared, then, for a fairly jerky narrative. The reward for bearing with it is a rich sense of Baudelaire’s life, both in its circumstantial detail and in its overall shape. Pichois quotes frequently from the letters by Baudelaire and from the recollections of his contemporaries; quotations of Baudelaire’s verse are given in French, with the translator’s prose rendering at the bottom of the page. Pichois’s account is strictly...
(The entire section is 328 words.)