Charles Baudelaire Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
0111201517-Baudelaire.jpg Charles Baudelaire (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Baudelaire was instrumental in the transformation from a classical conception of poetry, which concentrated on the subject, to the Romantic focus on the self and presented in his own poetry a heightened sensitivity to the dark dimensions of the beautiful, which served as a consolation for his own awareness of the human inclination toward self-destruction.

Early Life

Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. His father, a member of the senate during the reign of Napoleon I, died in 1827 at the age of sixty-eight, and his mother was married to a successful career officer twenty months later. In 1830, Baudelaire entered the Collège Royal, a boarding school in Lyons, where his stepfather was stationed, and remained there until his family returned to Paris in 1836. He loathed the routine and the excessively strict code of discipline at the Collège Louis-le-Grand and was expelled in 1839. To satisfy his stepfather, who hoped that he would follow a career in law, Baudelaire continued his studies at the Collège Saint-Louis and passed the examination for his baccalaureate later that year.

Between 1839 and 1841, Baudelaire lived as a sort of idle protodandy in the Latin Quarter while he tried to pursue a literary career. One of his closest friends, Ernest Praround, described him:

. . . coming down a staircase in the Baily house, slim, a low collar, an extremely long waistcoat, detached cuffs, carrying a light cane with a small gold head, walking with a supple, almost rhythmic step . . . Baudelaire had a somewhat yellow and even complexion, which had a little color on the cheekbones, a delicate beard which he didn’t clip, and which did not smother his face.

His expression, sharpened sometimes by genuine malice, sometimes by irony, would relax when he stopped talking or listening to withdraw into himself.

Théodore de Banville remarked on his “long, dense, and silk-black hair,” while others noted that he presented himself with a painterly regard for appearance, a reflection of his growing commitment to art as a means of enhancing every aspect of life. His stepfather believed that he could find “better sources of inspiration” than “the sewers of Paris,” and, to separate him from his “abominable friends,” convinced him to sail to India. The trip lasted eight months, giving Baudelaire a taste for the exotic.

In 1842, having returned to France, Baudelaire took possession of his inheritance, a small fortune equivalent to $100,000. He settled in the expensive Quai de Bethune area, the first of fourteen addresses he maintained in Paris during the next fourteen years, and with the resources to cultivate his public presentation of himself, he moved with a crowd that valued the shocking remark and the outrageous gesture. His experiments with hashish began at about this time, as did his liaison with Jeanne Duval, a beautiful actress of mixed racial descent—the “Black Venus” of Les Fleurs du Mal (1857, 1861, 1868; Flowers of Evil, 1909). His stepfather was so alarmed by Baudelaire’s style of living that he appointed a guardian to handle his monetary affairs, an act which irritated Baudelaire for the remainder of his life and may have contributed to a halfhearted attempt at suicide in 1845.

Baudelaire’s spirits were revived by his first real success as a writer, his review of the 1845 exhibition at the Louvre, which blended the emotional responsiveness of the poet with the critical acuity of the trained art critic. His “Salon de 1846” (“Salon of 1846,” 1964) was similarly successful, and on its last pages there was an announcement for a book of poems to be titled “Les Lesbiennes”—a title designed for its effect. This was the first public reference to Flowers of Evil, which in fact would not be published for another decade. In 1847, Baudelaire published La Fanfarlo, an extended short story with a protagonist who served as a semisatiric reflection on his inclinations toward the sensational and began to suffer from the periodic onslaughts of syphilis, which eventually led to his death. His gradually declining health caused a radical change in his appearance, the dandy now transposed into a prematurely aged flaneur with an almost-grim visage, high forehead, and piercing eyes.

Life’s Work

In 1846 or 1847, Baudelaire read Edgar Allan Poe and remarked, “The first time I opened a book of his, I saw, with horror and delight, not just subjects I had dreamt of, but sentences I had thought of.” He began to publish translations of Poe in 1848 and was also placing some poetry in Revue de Paris, a journal edited by Théophile Gautier and other friends. In 1857, the first edition of Flowers of Evil appeared. The title was proposed by Hippolyte Babou; Baudelaire liked its suggestion that beauty could be born of evil and that the seemingly perverse could be recast into poetic grace. Baudelaire knew that the book might be considered obscene, but a critic in Le Figaro may...

(The entire section is 2089 words.)

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

On June 25, 1857, Baudelaire’s volume of poetry Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil, 1909) went on sale. Some of its poems had been published years earlier in periodicals, but the full impact of what Baudelaire was attempting to do with verse was not felt until the collection was published as a whole. With this book Baudelaire boldly professed that it was possible for something beautiful to be a product of evil, and that so-called perverse topics, such as lesbianism, could be molded into poetic eloquence. Although Baudelaire understood that some conservative literary critics—possibly even the French government—would find parts of Flowers of Evil offensive, he was confident that ultimately vindication would be his.

Within a few weeks of the book’s going on sale, Baudelaire and his publisher, the partners Auguste Poulet-Malassis and Eugène de Broise, were indicted for offending religious morality, and copies of Flowers of Evil were confiscated by the French government. In January, 1857, similar charges had been brought against Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary. After Flaubert was found innocent, the government risked another embarrassment by prosecuting Baudelaire. On August 20, 1857, Baudelaire appeared before the sixth court of the Tribunal de la Seine. His attorney, Gustave Chaix d’Est-Ange, argued that Baudelaire intended through the poems of Flowers of Evil to illustrate his contempt of evil. The judges dropped the charge of offending religious morality but found Baudelaire guilty of the lesser charge of offending public morality and fined him three hundred francs. The publishing partners were fined 100 francs each. The judges also decided to suppress six poems from the collection.

Although Baudelaire did not receive a prison term, he was deeply saddened by the verdict; he died ten years later. It would not be until 1949 that the judgment against him was officially reversed by the French government and the six suppressed poems were legally included in a French edition of Flowers of Evil.

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Charles-Pierre Baudelaire was born in Paris on April 9, 1821. His father, Joseph-François, was of modest origin but well educated, for he attended seminary and became a priest before the Revolution. Well connected, he became preceptor to the children of the Duke of Choiseul-Praslin and, as a painter, was personally acquainted with Enlightenment figures such as Condorcet and Cabanis. After the Revolution, having left the priesthood, Joseph-François Baudelaire worked on the administrative staff of the French senate. Caroline Archenbaut-Defayis, Baudelaire’s mother, was thirty-four years younger than his father. Widowed, she remarried when her son was six years old. Baudelaire’s stepfather, Jacques Aupick, was a career military officer who had him placed in a series of boarding schools, first in Lyons, when the child was nine, and then in Paris, at fifteen. The choice of schools permitted Baudelaire to be near his mother as the Aupick household moved in response to the officer’s promotions.

As an adolescent, Baudelaire was friendly, religious, and studious. He won prizes in Latin verse composition (one of the poems in Flowers of Evil is in Latin). He seems to have had few serious disputes with his stepfather until after obtaining the baccalauréat in 1839. After that, however, the now successful general became progressively the object of Baudelaire’s dislike and even hatred. Disapproving of the young man’s friends and conduct, the general sent him on a long boat trip toward India, but Baudelaire, once embarked, refused to go farther than...

(The entire section is 645 words.)

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111201517-Baudelaire.jpg Charles Baudelaire Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Charles-Pierre Baudelaire (bohd-LEHR) was born on April 9, 1821, in Paris, France. His father, François Baudelaire, was thirty-four years older than his mother, Caroline Dufayis. Born in 1759, François was ordained a priest prior to the French Revolution but was compelled to renounce his clerical order in 1793, the year of the most intense persecution of the clergy. François was already sixty years old at the time of his marriage to Caroline and he died in 1827 when their only child, Charles, was not yet six years old. The poet’s father left him a heritage of Catholic faith that may have influenced both the moral preoccupations and the choice of imagery in Charles’s later work and a financial inheritance that would come into...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Baudelaire’s personal evolution paralleled the evolution of his language. He came to recognize within his own life the signs of his spiritual fall, and the reader learns to attach special nuances to his often-repeated images. These evocative emblems finally become complex literary symbols. Baudelaire’s major achievement lay in part in the creation of this symbol vocabulary through which each object may convey much more than simply its own identity.

The corollary to Baudelaire’s symbol system was to become as important as the symbol itself. He persuaded his readers to analyze meaning in a new way, a process that would become fundamental to modern poetry.

(The entire section is 108 words.)

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his youth, Charles Pierre Baudelaire (bohd-uh-lehr) provided the classic example of rebellion against domestic restraint, and this rebellion has been used to explain much of his adult personality. His father, an artist for whose work Baudelaire always expressed great admiration, died very early, and his mother married an army officer named Aupick, with whom the young boy was at loggerheads all through his childhood. Baudelaire was educated at the Collège Louis-le-Grand in Paris, but by 1841 the domestic situation had become so strained that his stepfather sent him on a ten-month voyage. Upon his return to France he inherited a small property. He was so extravagant, however, that his family had to have his money put in trust....

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Charles Baudelaire Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was born on April 9, 1821, in Paris, France. His father, Joseph-François Baudelaire, had been ordained as a...

(The entire section is 381 words.)