Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (sahnt-buv) was born in humble conditions. After beginning his education in Boulogne, he completed his studies in the Collège Charlemagne and the Collège Bourbon, in Paris. When he was invited by a former teacher to write reviews for Le Globe, Sainte-Beuve abandoned the study of medicine, begun a year before, and began to write.
Although he wrote for the influential Le Globe, where he gained the attention of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Victor Hugo, and for La Revue de Paris, his early reputation was largely associated with La Revue des Deux Mondes. The columns he wrote for these papers he collected in seven volumes entitled Portraits. During this period of his life he fell in love with Adèle, Hugo’s wife, an affair that led to a temporary break with his friend. In 1844 he was elected to the French Academy, where he was received by Hugo, with whom he had become reconciled. After holding a post in the Mazarin Library for a time, he taught French literature at the University of Liége, Belgium. He also taught Latin poetry briefly at the Collège de France and from 1858 to 1862 at the École Normale Superieure.
Sainte-Beuve, who prided himself on his workaday journalism, produced his greatest series of critical articles in his Causeries du lundi (Monday chats), written for Le Constitutionnel and later for Le Moniteur, which when collected filled fifteen volumes. Thirteen additional volumes were accumulated from his final series, Nouveaux lundis. Of all the literary figures of the period, he alone continued to write and prosper during those turbulent times, and he was made a senator in 1865. In the last year of his life he severed his connection with the official government journal, Moniteur, as the result of a political dispute.
Sainte-Beuve wrote poetry and a novel, but he remains best known for his literary portraits of French authors and for his analysis of their works. Dissatisfied with theories, he emphasized a methodology, based both on psychological and artistic considerations, that involved understanding a work before judging it and investigating the author behind the art.