Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the spring of 1873, Arthur Rimbaud wrote to a friend that he was preparing a “pagan book” with “half a dozen horror stories.” He called the stories “stupid and innocent,” but he added that his fate depended on them. A few months later, he took the finished manuscript to a printer in Brussels, who was to publish the work at the expense of Rimbaud’s family. Rimbaud was not yet nineteen years old.
Rimbaud gave advance copies of A Season in Hell to his former mentor and lover, Paul Verlaine, and to a few other friends. Snubbed socially and artistically following a scandal that landed Verlaine in prison, Rimbaud burned the remaining copies of the book in a fireplace at his mother’s house. He also burned a sheaf of his unpublished poems. He said he no longer thought about poetry. The boy who had been the talk of Paris at the age of sixteen—“an infant Shakespeare” in the words of novelist Victor Hugo—gave up poetry for a life of wandering and, eventually, running guns to rebel tribes in Africa.
Not until 1901, a full decade after Rimbaud’s death, were the unsold copies of A Season in Hell discovered in a Brussels warehouse and sold to an admiring public. The apparently autobiographical nature of his “horror stories,” which are really prose poems, only added to their appeal. His was the ultimate voice of tragic youth, of a poet risking all to attain the sublime vision that older poets only talked...
(The entire section is 1422 words.)
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