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 Claude Pichois’s BAUDELAIRE, translated from the French by Graham Robb, easily supplants Enid Starkie’s long outdated work as the best biography of the poet of Paris available in English.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 biographical--there are shelf-fulls of criticism for the reader who wants that--cautiously factual, humane without special pleading. The text is supplemented by notes, an index, two appendices, and an ample selection of illustrations.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXVI, December 15, 1989, p.808.
Choice. XXVIII, October, 1990, p.314.
Library Journal. CXV, January, 1990, p. 110.
The New Leader. LXXIII, March 5, 1990, p. 19.
New Statesman and Society. II, July 21, 1989, p.34.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, March 25, 1990, p.23.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVI, December 15, 1989, p.51.
The Spectator. CCLXIII, July 1, 1989, p.23.
The Times Literary Supplement. October 6, 1989, p.1089.
The Washington Post Book World. XX, April 29, 1990, p.13.