Charles Baudelaire

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Charles Baudelaire (letter date 1862)

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SOURCE: "To Arsène Houssaye," in Paris Spleen, 1869, translated by Louise Varèse, New Directions, 1947, pp. ix-x.

[Below, Baudelaire describes his prose poems to Arsène Houssaye, editor of La Presse, who published twenty of his pieces in late 1862. ]

My dear friend, I send you a little work of which no one can say, without doing it an injustice, that it has neither head nor tail, since, on the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally. I beg you to consider how admirably convenient this combination is for all of us, for you, for me, and for the reader. We can cut wherever we please, I my dreaming, you your manuscript, the reader his reading; for I do not keep the reader's restive mind hanging in suspense on the threads of an interminable and superfluous plot. Take away one vertebra and the two ends of this tortuous fantasy come together again without pain. Chop it into numerous pieces and you will see that each one can get along alone. In the hope that there is enough life in some of these segments to please and to amuse you, I take the liberty of dedicating the whole serpent to you.

I have a little confession to make. It was while running through, for the twentieth time at least, the pages of the famous Gaspard de la Nuit of Aloysius Bertrand (has not a book known to you, to me, and to a few of our friends the right to be called famous?) that the idea came to me of attempting something in the same vein, and of applying to the description of our more abstract modern life the same method he used in depicting the old days, so strangely picturesque.

Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?

It was, above all, out of my exploration of huge cities, out of the medley of their innumerable interrelations, that this haunting ideal was born. You yourself, dear friend, have you not tried to translate in a song the Glazier's strident cry, and to express in lyric prose all the dismal suggestions this cry sends up through the fog of the street to the highest garrets?

To tell the truth, however, I am afraid that my envy has not been propitious. From the very beginning I perceived that I was not only far from my mysterious and brilliant model, but was, indeed, doing something (if it can be called something) singularly different, an accident which any one else would glory in, no doubt, but which can only deeply humiliate a mind convinced that the greatest honor for a poet is to succeed in doing exactly what he set out to do.

Yours most affectionately,



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Baudelaire, Charles 1821-1867

French poet, critic, translator, novella and short fiction writer, diarist, and dramatist.

Regarded among the world's greatest lyric poets, Baudelaire is the author of Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), a highly influential work esteemed both for its technical artistry and as the first collection of poems to depict human life from a distinctly modern perspective. Baudelaire's view of contemporary life also informs his pioneering achievement in the prose poem genre, Petits poèmes en prose: Le spleen de Paris, a collection of short fictional sketches possessing characteristics often associated with poetry: concision, emphasis of images over plot,...

(This entire section contains 1008 words.)

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and heightened attention to word choice, phrasing, and cadence. Baudelaire's only other fictional composition, the novellaLa Fanfarlo, revolves around the artistic aspirations and amorous entanglements of a young Parisian writer and is prized for its autobiographical content and elucidation of Baudelaire's aesthetic theories.

Biographical Information

Baudelaire was born in Paris to financially secure parents. His father, who was thirty-four years older than his mother, died when Baudelaire was six years old. Afterward Baudelaire grew very close to his mother, and he later remembered their relationship as "ideal, romantic .. . as if I were courting her." When Madame Baudelaire married Jacques Aupick in 1928, Baudelaire became deeply resentful. Initially he had excelled in school, but as he grew older he increasingly neglected his studies in favor of a dissipated, rebellious lifestyle. In 1841 the Aupicks sent him on a trip to India in hopes that his experiences abroad would reform him. During his travels he began writing poetry and composed the first poems that would be included in The Flowers of Evil. When Baudelaire returned to Paris in 1842, he received a large inheritance and began to live as a highly self-conscious dandy. In Baudelaire's view, the dandy was one who glorified the ego as the ultimate spiritual and creative power—a heroic individualist revolting against society. At this time, Baudelaire fell in love with Jeanne Duval, whom many scholars believe inspired not only the "Black Venus" cycle of love poems in The Flowers of Evil but also the titular character of La Fanfarlo. In 1844 Baudelaire's mother obtained a court order blocking his inheritance, and thereafter he supported himself by his writing, much of it art criticism. Published in 1857, The Flowers of Evil shocked readers with its depictions of sexual perversion, physical and psychological morbidity, and moral corruption. Not only was the work a critical and popular failure during Baudelaire's lifetime, he and his publisher were consequently prosecuted and convicted of offenses against religion and public morality. Several years later Baudelaire attempted to reestablish his reputation and deteriorating financial situation by traveling to Belgium on a lecture tour. The tour was unsuccessful, and in 1866 he returned to Paris, where he suffered a debilitating stroke. Having recently reconciled with his mother, he remained in her care until his death in 1867.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Petits poèmes en prose comprises fifty prose poems; Baudelaire projected the collection to contain one hundred pieces but his vision of the work was never realized. The prose poems tend to present a disheartening picture of the world inhabited by Parisian underclasses and lowlife; a broader underlying theme is the fragmented, alienating quality of modern life, especially as manifested in human relationships. For example, "Les yeux des pauvres" ("The Eyes of the Poor") depicts an impoverished family on the street gazing in the window of an expensive restaurant in which a couple sits discussing their opinions about the people outside. The social and economic disparity between the two diners and the poor is apparent, but the reader also becomes cognizant of a basic incompatibility between the diners, as evidenced in the personal convictions and outlooks on life that surface in their dialogue. The prose poem "Le désespoir de la vieille" ("The Old Woman's Despair") describes an elderly woman who stops to admire a baby but is rebuked when the child begins to cry. Here the reader senses an inherent inability of humans to establish community. In "Le mauvais vitrier" ("The Bad Glazier") a deluded man smashes the transparent panes carried by a window maker in the belief that the world, seen through colorful tinted windows, would be a more happy place. In the novella La Fanfarlo, a young aesthete named Samuel Cramer—in whom many commentators have observed a strong similarity with Baudelaire—fancies himself to be a gigolo and a very talented poet. As a result of his egotism as well as his love for a married woman whose husband left her for the dancer La Fanfarlo, Cramer accepts the challenge of seducing La Fanfarlo away from the unfaithful husband. By the conclusion of the story, Cramer is revealed to have neither true commitment to his art nor the upper hand in his personal relationships.

Critical Response

Considered the earliest significant collection of prose poetry in French literature, Petits poèmes en prose deviates sharply from traditional poetry in its subject matter. Here Baudelaire portrays marginal and loveless lives in prosaic, urban terms, rejecting more elevated themes and language. While critics such as Jonathan Monroe and Edward K. Kaplan have insisted that the prose poems are concerned with ethics and social injustice, J. A. Hiddleston avers that in this collection Baudelaire depicts the world as absurd and lacking moral order. Commenting on La Fanfarlo, some scholars have speculated that Baudelaire feared that he was like the protagonist Cramer, an arrogant, self-absorbed, affectatious artist with unproven talent. Critics agree that in La Fanfarlo Baudelaire expresses contempt for the character of Cramer, a man with an overactive imagination and an inclination toward extreme romanticism, and La Fanfarlo is generally considered a reproof to the moralizing stories by Romantic writers in France, who had done little to legitimize the short story as a genre. According to historians of French literature, La Fanfarlo and works by Gérard de Nerval and Gustave Flaubert precipitated the modern short story, and, consequently, accomplished writers in the second half of the nineteenth century began to specialize in short fiction.

Renée Riese Hubert (essay date 1970)

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SOURCE: "Contexts of Twilight in Baudelaire's 'Petits poèmes en prose,'" in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 25, 1970, pp. 352-60.

[Hubert is a German-born poet and educator specializing in contemporary art and literature. In the following essay, she examines the symbolic uses of light, darkness, and color in Petits poèmes en prose.]

Even if its effect and function seem more limited than in Les Fleurs du mal, even if it never suggests spiritual aspiration as in "Bénédiction", light is present in most of the Petits poèmes en prose. Nothing offers escape, in"Le Fou et la Vénus", from the dazzling sun whose watchful eye never blinks. Overpowered by this force, nature voices no protest; not even the murmur of waters can disturb the silence. But muteness does not imply the reduction of nature to an object. The word ecstasy ("L'extase universelle des choses") refers to sensuous pleasure while expressing a feeling of admiration, as well as an expansion upward, echoed by such terms as rivaliser, croissant, crescendo. As a result, the silence, comparable to meditation, is compensated for by visual effects. As every particle of nature sparkles and produces heat, light fills the world with visible elements, generating enough power and energy to make even the fragrance of flowers perceivable. What relation does this setting, where every flower expresses an erotic vitality, bear to the scene between Venus and the fool? Does the goddess of love encourage those who look up to her or pay her homage? Surrounded by sensuous lights, Venus remains cold to the entreaties of the fool. Her marble eyes, peering into the distance, contrast with the fiery glance of the sun, as the bent posture of the teary-eyed fool contrasts with the upward drive of nature. For the solitary fool who remains estranged, the sun creates but an inhuman illusion.

The same omnipresent sun prevails in the tropical setting of "La Belle Dorothée" where sand and sea become but dazzling reflections. As in "Le Fou et la Vénus" its luminosity, its erotic temptations appear all-pervading. However, it suffices to oppose the initial sentences: "Quelle admirable jour-née!" of "Le Fou et la Vénus" to "Le Soleil accable la ville de sa lumière droite et terrible" of "La Belle Dorothée", to note that nature is no longer characterized by fertility, by an upward motion, but by a downward gesture, a sort of capitulation: "une sieste qui est une espèce de mort savoureuse". As the sun crushes the world by light and weight rather than heat, man submits to this hostile force, the vertical sun rays that act like daggers. But Dorothée asserts herself against the mighty sun. She becomes a rival of the star by wandering alone through the streets, by maintaining her upright posture while others take a siesta. In spite of her black skin Dorothée becomes a focal point of luminosity: "faisant sur la lumière une tache éclatante et noire". This radiant blackness is stressed a second time: her leg bared by the wind is "luisante et superbe". To the strong color and light of her skin, Dorothée adds those of her clothes: a brilliant pink dress, a red sunshade. Dorothée, who has left her cozy, well-adorned boudoir, triumphs symbolically in a world where man dares not withstand sunlight. A former slave, she asserts her freedom at the very moment when she consents to make love. Not only does she become stronger and more beautiful than everyone else on her tropical island, but she reasserts her superiority over sophisticated Parisians. Like the sun, she creates reflections of her power around her: "Elle apercevait au loin dans l'escape un miroir reflétant sa démarche et sa beauté". Within Dorothée, at once proud and nonchalant, the contrasts that divorce mankind from the sun harmoniously unite.

In "Le Tir et le cimetière", even less than in "Le Fou et la Vénus" and in "La Belle Dorothée", does brilliant sunshine espouse the human cause. Near the cemetery the sun attains its greatest intensity, rolling like a drunk person on the flowerbeds to the accompaniment of explosions from a nearby shooting stand. The vitality and richness (cf. magnifiques, riches, engraissées) of grass, sun and flowers banishes the sadness and even the very silence of the tombs. Yet the heat and light, which permeate the earth, arouse the voice of death, which denounces the futility and nothingness of life: "Si vous saviez . . . combien tout est néant, excepté la Mort". Although the illuminating qualities of light have momentarily created the illusion that the powers of life are enhanced, the overwhelming presence of the sun remains alien once more to human sensitivity and communication.

The sunlight in the three preceding poems manifests its power by an excess of its natural qualities, whereas the moon in "Les Bienfaits de la lune" suggests a world of dream and legend upon which reality barely encroaches. Metamorphosed into a goddess, it can, through its powers of expansion, fill any room. Its permeating quality, expressed by analogies with the sea, and its poisonous nature, manifested by phosphorescence, a combination of a greenish color and a shining light which darkness can hardly overcome, explain its powers of seduction. The moon goddess stares at a child, resting at first in her cradle; then crossing the window, she stoops over the baby girl and grips her by the neck. In a threatening cradle song she predicts that the little girl, unable to resist, will become just like the goddess: "Tu seras belle à ma manière. Tu aimeras ce que j'aime et ce qui m'aime". Indeed, whereas at first, the moon merely colored the child's face with its green colors and opened widely her eyes in bewilderment, towards the end the child is so fully impregnated by the moon's characteristics that the poet can seek the goddess' reflection in her: "Cherchant dans toute ta personne le reflet de la redoutable Divinité". The strong sunlight merely remained indifferent to human endeavors; the moon, a far more dangerous force, bewitches even the innocent by means of its supernatural, not to say diabolical powers.

In "Les Yeux des pauvres" the scene takes place in a café into which no natural light ever penetrates. Gas lighting, by bringing out the whiteness of the table cloth and heightening the reflection of the mirrors, intensifies the effects of bad taste. However, to the poor, who watch from the sidewalk, this repulsive world takes on the dimensions of the marvelous. Their eyes, described by the poet's heartless mistress as "ouverts comme des portes cochères", characterize their receptivity, so different from the aggressive pretensions of the light. In the gas light, so destructive of dream and illusion, objects display themselves with ostentation, but never harmonize. Thus the café represents a stage in the poet's discovery of his mistress' inhumanity.

In "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" and "Les Veuves" Baudelaire expresses man's desire for joy and festivity, his escape from reality, by repeated explosions of sound and light. In the former text, the swiftly turning skirts of beautiful dancers sparkle in the light. By linking the following paradoxical terms: "Tout n'était que lumière, poussière, cris, joie, tumulte", Baudelaire implicitly condemns these circus performers and spectators, as opposed to the saltimbanque who dwells in a mysterious, deep darkness upheld by silence and feeble candlelight. The crowd, as already indicated by the juxtaposition of the three verbs in the initial sentence: "Partout s'étalait, se répandait, s'ébaudissait", has the expanding quality associated with light; the old Saltimbanque, in contrast, seems (like the bent-down fool) restricted to a limited space. To the partout of the pleasure-seekers Baudelaire opposes the ici of the saltimbanque. Like the family of "Les Yeux des pauvres" his meaningful glance reveals the shallowness of the world clad in light.

The contrast between a crowd, which is only too visible and audible, and a solitary, self-effacing human being occurs also in "Les Veuves" where the widows' black dresses differ from the glittering manifestations of apparent joy and wealth. Yet their glance ("yeux caves et ternes") can contain this large, motley, somewhat hellish world which Baudelaire refers to as "l'étincelante fournaise". The spiritual greatness of one of these widows becomes outwardly manifest when the very blackness of her attire appears radiant. Twice the term éclatant is applied to the widow in order to suggest the revelation she brings to the poet. By her sadness and dignity, by the darkness and luminosity of her appearance, she becomes the creator of a new form of harmony more powerful than that of the "étincelante fournaise" and the orchestra. In "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" and "Les Veuves" light created by man embodies his ostentation and lack of depth, darkness becomes the sign of spiritual values.

In other poems, Baudelaire tends not only to dissociate light from spiritual illumination, but also from moral values. In "Le Confitéor de l'artiste" harmony, a state which defies explanation or analysis, characterizes at first the relationship between the poet and the world. As man embraces the outer world, the dusk of autumnal days penetrates his inner universe. The pulse of time does not beat, the past and the present merge into a single sensation of unbearable intensity. Then the poet's sensations revert from pleasure to pain, from peace to tension; he asserts himself against nature, which assumes more and more the cold beauty of Venus. What burdens him is the very purity and transparence of the sky, this absolute blueness which assumes, as the sun in "La Belle Dorothée", the characteristics of cruelty and indifference. To this attitude "L'Etranger" who finds comfort in an affinity with the clouds, provides a corollary. He opts for the veiled, the imprecise, the mysterious so different from the sharpness of the clear sunlight or azure. Yet how can we explain, in the same context, "A Chacun sa chimère", which evokes the spleen descending upon the poet through an all-pervading atmosphere of grayness? No flower, vegetation, or path will throw a speck of light or reflection onto the gray cupola, the outlines of which are mysteriously re-echoed by every man who advances with a sack on his back. From the sky and the procession, representing the spleen which envelops the poet's soul, there is no escape. In "A Chacun sa chimère", the grayness or lack of light evokes an undivided world without opposition, whereas in the texts where light emerges appear contrasts, conflicts or tensions. In order to assert the stranger's loneliness and his opting for, not the sky, but the clouds, the poet chose the dialogue form. In "La Belle Dorothée" the opposition between light and darkness constitutes the basis of a dramatic conflict. In "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" it stresses an irretrievable division.

"Anywhere out of the world" includes, however, both the spleen and the tension arising from changes in luminosity. The poet proposes voyages, new domains to his blasé soul, until the very limits of imagination have been reached. In the polar regions where the sun throws oblique rays falling into sheaves, light and darkness alternate with agonizing slowness. While "A Chacun sa chimère" evokes, through an absence of light, the poet's succumbing to spleen, "Anywhere out of the world", by a succession of light and obscurity, suggests the difficulty of overcoming this state. Still, this prolonged monotonous state moves towards a climax equivalent to damnation, an intensification of the previous light sequences against which the poet (as in "Confitéor de Partiste") reacts by an inner violence.

"Le Crépuscule du soir" shows the poet, gradually succumbing to peace as the day ebbs. The first suggestions of light, "Les couleurs tendres et indécises du crépuscule" and "les nues transparentes du soir", pointing towards a diminished harshness, lend to dusk the mysterious, indefinite qualities that "L'Etranger" is seeking in the clouds. Twilight produces a soothing effect by obliterating the struggle and anguish that the city at daytime creates in the poet, but spurs some people to violence or even to mania. Such distinctions lie in the very nature of twilight, its basic duality at once peaceful and stormy—as revealed by such expressions as: "l'harmonie de l'enfer", "lugubre harmonie". The approaching darkness frees not only the poet from the sorrows of work and the oppressions of reality, it creates an inner festivity, an imaginary spectacle, represented by the dying redness of day and the appearance of the first city lights. The sky, belonging at once to dream and reality, assumes erotic qualities as it simulates the dark skirt of a dancer which is sown with sparkling stars. Between the expanses of the sky and the walls of the mind no basic distinction remains: the same lights and colors shine within a pervading darkness. Bright lights, as we stated earlier, are usually dissociated from spiritual illumination. Twilight, not only in "Le Crépuscule du soir", but also in "Les Vocations", coincides with a form of self-knowledge, of religious contemplation.

The juxtaposition of the two rooms in "La Chambre double", translating again the poet's desire for escape, seems at first related to the alternation of ténèbres and aurores boréales of "N'importe où hors du monde". However, into the first, the timeless room, no sunlight penetrates. Indefiniteness characterizes its blue and pink shades, imitating those of sky and clouds: "C'est quelque chose de crépusculaire, de bleuâtre et de rosâtre". In this room more and more endowed with the subdued, dissolving qualities of dusk, the poet's dreams encounter no obstacles. The word harmonie stresses the blending of two elements: "Ici tout a la suffisante clarté et la délicieuse obscurité de l'harmonie". The lack of a precise source of light is crystallized in the word éclipse. The eventual emergence of the Idol with her eyes, at once luminous and dark, "ces toiles noires" consumates this state of wellbeing where the poet's mind no longer seeks to assert itself. In the context of twilight this prose-poem comes close to "Crépuscule du soir", where the effects of a mellowing light, unadulterated by shade, matters more than references to time or timelessness.

The contemplation of a port scene where the lighthouse constitutes the main but not sole source of light, provides a similar peace to the poet's tired mind. The motion of clouds, an animated force in the vast sky, is echoed through the sea. Both movements exist independently and as reflections of each other. Clouds and sea, which bring into the great expanse a rhythmical sequence of movement and color, meet the glittering vibrations of the beams projected from the lighthouse. The beams, an independent entity, constitute also an extension of the harmonious movement of sea and sky. Epitomizing light, color and movement, they represent the essence of an ordered beauty which constantly recreates itself according to its own laws. Their encounter, transformation and concentration in the eye, is suggested by the word prisme. Thereby the phenomena of the outer world reach the poet's mind of which they are a reflection. This prism of understanding, reverberating the unending movement of ships in the harbor, indicates once more the inseparability and simultaneity of light and color vibrations. As in "La Chambre double", peaceful contemplation, lack of suffering stem from lights, of a complex or compound nature, where the corresponding elements blend and recreate effects.

In both "L'Invitation au voyage" and "Un Hémisphère dans une chevelure" the poet reaches out for an absent or imaginary world. In the former, similar to the first part of "La Chambre double", a mysterious order unthreatened by time or other interference propagates an atmosphere of peace. It stems from an equilibrium of spiritual and sensuous terms crystallized in such expressions as "l'infini des sensations" and "âmes raffinées" and brings out the similarity between the ideal land and the woman, mysterious, secret, yet tangible. The correspondence of soul and body, landscape and woman, intimacy and vastness, fantasy and simplicity, simulates not the recapturing of a natural land, but of a painting: "Verrons-nous jamais, passerons-nous jamais dans ce tableau qu'a peint mon esprit, ce tableau qui te ressemble?" In this silent painting, light, color and motion, first clad in a mysterious mist with subdued clearness, will become inseparable as in "Le Port". Later, when the poet evokes an interior, rich in painterly qualities, words referring to light abound. From "les soleils couchants" (the plural stresses again the reference to paintings) emanates a light in evolution gradually suffused by darkness which endows the objects in the room with picture-like attributes: panneaux, cuirsdorés, peintures béates, tamisés par de belles étoffes, ces hautes fenêtres ouvragées, meubles vastes et curieux, les miroirs. Every object is at once a receiver and a generator of light, blending its luminosity with that of others, producing thus a filtration which purifies or elevates spiritually. After the misty atmosphere of the beginning, followed by reflections which transform the evening sun into a work of art, the universe mirrors its infinite sky and sea in the limpidity of the woman's soul. In "Le Port" the interrelation of motion and light as well as the various constituents of the landscape, decomposed and recomposed, attain a unity which parallels that of the room in "L'Invitation au voyage". The limpidity or purity suggested in the final paragraph consumates not only the invitation to the imaginary land, but makes all sources of light obsolete and stresses, more than any of the previous poems, an inner experience with an inner landscape and an inner light.

Visual elements play a less significant role in "Un hémisphère dans une chevelure" for the woman's hair becomes a mysterious container of different sensations: "Tout ce que je vois! tout ce que je sens! tout ce que j'entends dans tes cheveux!" As intertwined visual, auditory, and olfactory memories recur, the very hair of the woman reflects alternately the immensity of the ocean or sky and the warmth of a hearth until the culminating image: "dans la nuit de ta chevelure, je vois resplendir l'infini de l'azur tropical". The very blackness of the woman's hair, simulating the walls of a boudoir, evokes the infinite, spacious luminosity of the skies. The mysterious azure reborn from an instantaneous sensation, the scent of the dark hair, constitute the threshold to the pure, lasting light of dream, so far removed from the aggressive sunlight, a dramatic condensation of reality.

Thus we may conclude that the solitary strength of the outer light is less beneficial than the atonement of dusk, its mystery, its harmonious blending with other sensations and that dusk in its turn is less propitious than the inner light, divorced from the world of reality. "Les Fenêtres" summarizes these very ideas. Looking through an open window with the help of sunlight does not permit the artist to discover or attain life, its truth, its suffering. Looking through a closed window dimly lit by a candle reveals an unsuspected depth which the direct light entering upon an open space fails to show. This rich vision, like the widow's eyes, like the Dutch interiors, contains at once darkness and light: "plus ténèbreux, plus éblouissant qu'une fenêtre", "dans ce trou noir ou lumineux". A penetration into a world not solely revealed from a unilateral, outside source must be attained through aesthetic distance. In "Le Mauvais Vitrier" the perfect panes are unrevealing until the poet breaks the glass, until he creates, be it by means of destruction, a rainbow of color and light. And alone the dim panes in "Les Fenêtres" stir him to creativity and to communion with others. Baudelaire, the symbolist, the modern poet, sought the challenge of retrieving distant elements from darkness rather than admiring the luminous contours offered by the skies.

Principal Works

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Short Fiction

La Fanfarlo 1847

Petits poèmes en prose: Le spleen de Paris 1869

Other Major Works

Histoires extraordinaires [translator; from the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe] (short stories) 1856

Les épaves (poetry) 1857

Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil] (poetry) 1857

Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires [translator; from the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe] (short stories) 1857

Aventures d'Arthur Pym [translator; from the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe] (novel) 1858

*Les paradis artificiels: Opium et haschisch [Artificial Paradises: On Hashish and Wine as a Means of Expanding Individuality] (autobiography and poetry) 1860

Curiosités esthétiques (criticism) 1868

L'art romantique (criticism) 1869

Journaux intimes [Intimate Journals] (diaries) 1887

Lettres: 1841-1866 (letters) 1905

Oeuvres complètes de Charles Baudelaire. 19 vols. (poetry, criticism, essays, novella, letters, journals, autobiography, and translations) 1922-63

The Letters of Charles Baudelaire (letters) 1927

Baudelaire on Poe (criticism) 1952

The Mirror of Art: Critical Studies (criticism) 1955

Baudelaire as a Literary Critic (criticism) 1964

Art in Paris, 1845-1862: Salons and Other Exhibitions Reviewed by Charles Baudelaire (criticism) 1965

Selected Writings on Art and Artists (criticism) 1986

*Includes Baudelaire's translation of Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

†Includes the diaries "Fusées" ("Skyrockets") and "Mon coeur mis á nu" ("My Heart Laid Bare").

Renée Riese Hubert (essay date 1970)

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SOURCE: "Intimacy and Distance in Baudelaire's Prose-Poems," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring, 1970, pp. 241-47.

[In the following essay, Hubert finds that Baudelaire 's prose poems present true intimacy as virtually unattainable.]

In his Poesie in prosaischer Welt, Fritz Nies claims that some typical Baudelairean themes, such as love, do not fully belong to the world of the Petits poèmes en prose. To be sure, Baudelaire, by emphasizing the contemporary scene either in its everyday aspects or viewed as a satanic city haunted by humble but disturbing creatures, recasts, as it were, the traditional lyrical themes. Nonetheless, love is present, in all its diversity, from the mysterious charm of a beautiful woman in "Un hémisphére dans une chevelure" and "La Belle Dorothée," or woman's paradoxical nature in "Laquelle est la vraie?" and "Le Désir de peindre" to man's unrequited love in "Le Fou et la Vénus" and "Les Yeux des pauvres," or even imaginary love inspired by dream in "Les Projets" and "L'Invitation au voyage." The opposition between spleen and ideal, suffering and dream, mystery and discovery, is usually expressed within each prose-poem rather than suggested by contrasting series of poems as in Les Fleurs du mal Thus conflict and tension become dominant. "Un Cheval de race" begins with the contradictory statement: "Elle est bien laide. Elle est délicieuse pourtant." In "Laquelle est la vraie?" to the poet's claim: "J'ai connu une certaine Bénédicta, qui remplissait l'atmosphère d'idéal. . ." the woman opposes her verdict: "C'est moi, la vraie Béné dicta! C'est moi, une fameuse canaille!" Woman, an ambivalent creature, will inspire a mixture of hatred and love, of disappointment and hope, of cruelty and affection. Repeatedly Baudelaire addresses as "mon ange" or "ma très chère" women whom he detests, curses, or threatens. In "L'Horloge" he hopes to escape the tyranny of time by looking in the eyes of Féline. But the poet's wish that in one glance he might arrest time and affirm an intimate relationship cannot be granted. Féline with her adorable eyes becomes a remote "Madame" when the poet shows his ironic attitude toward the madrigal he has just devoted to her. A similar desire for intimacy, to be sealed by a meaningful glance, marks "Les Yeux des pauvres." Next to the poet sits a woman with whom he had exchanged a pledge: "Nous nous étions bien promis que toutes nos pensées nous seraient communes à l'un et à l'autre et que nos deux âmes désormais n'en feraient plus qu'une." By looking into the eyes of the three poor people the poet feels the kind of mysterious solidarity he hopes to attain with his mistress. In her dangerous green eyes he discovers that she does not share his warm feelings for the deprived family, whose very presence in the cafe she finds objectionable. Her unvoiced comment, which does not directly concern the lovers' relationship, actually seals their separation. "Le galant tireur" describes his wife as "chère," "Délicieuse," and "exécrable." Her merciless laughter at his failure to hit a target at a fair spurs him to success. He kills "ce monstre-là," an impertinent doll in which he sees a symbol of man's perennial enemy, Time, as well as the very image of his wife. The first shots directed against time with a capital T were aimed too high and pierced the ceiling. But, when the marksman closes his eyes, an inner vision or hostile awareness frees him from the immediate source of boredom and separates him from the woman, who is thus reduced to the state of victim and onlooker.

In the texts discussed so far, the poet's conflicting attitudes, born from woman's paradoxical nature, ultimately bring about a detachment, a greater distance rather than a renewed promise of intimacy. It would seem, however, that when the poet in "Le Désir de peindre" tries to recreate the absent, beautiful woman within his own universe no tensions could possibly arise. Nevertheless, her dangerous, dark features emerge. Her eyes flash like fiery warnings preceding a storm, illuminating a dark abyss. A remark concerning his critical method, taken from the Curiosités esthétiques—"Il m'arrivera souvent d'apprécier un tableau uniquement par la somme d'idées ou de rêveries qu'il apportera dans mon esprit"—sheds light on "Le Désir de peindre," for the woman's physical appearance is alluded to only in regard to the effect she produces. Her mysterious beauty bears no relationship to any terrestrial scene. Not even a black sun, radiating a heretofore unseen light, offers an equivalent. The woman whose very eyes possess the power of lightning and storm resembles a moon covered with volcanic peaks. Her allure pertains less to the poet's earthly attachments than to his aspiration toward the unknown. She is not merely an absent beauty who by her very distance in space intensifies the poet's desire. A modern muse who refuses to whisper soothing verse into the poet's ear, she conquers him by her determination and her predatory passion. Desire and suffering become more necessary than intimacy to artistic inspiration.

The three dreams evoked in "Les Projets," which have little to do with everyday experience or memory, barely refer to the paradoxical nature of women. As the poet wanders through a big deserted park, then along a street with shop windows, and finally along an alley, he daydreams. The first imaginary woman whom the poet pursues in his quest for beauty assumes the air of a princess. Dressed in a ritual costume, she steps down the marble staircase in the midst of a vast lawn. She remains remote, as if she belonged to the world of fairytales or painting. This pompous vision, where every detail is foreseen, soon bores the poet. He sets eyes on a tropical landscape represented in an engraving, which enables him to imagine a richer, more sensuous dwelling. And the poet hopes to enjoy a greater intimacy with a second, but equally imaginary, woman than that bestowed by the ceremonious princess. The nearby seawaves will rock the lovers in their little wooden hut, surrounded by brightly colored, scented trees. In spite of the repeated chez nous, autour de nous, as well as notre petit domaine (as opposed to the grande pelouse and the grand parc of the first paragraph), the attainment of this happiness remains out of reach. The poet attempts to focus his attention on this woman. But his mind wanders on—"plus loin," "derrière notre petit domaine," "au-delà de la chambre éclairée," "au-delà de la varangue"—until he realizes that all this was a mere decor. He wonders why he has strayed so far, as he passes an inn glowing with an intimacy belonging to everyday existence: "un grand feu, des faïences voyantes, un souper passable, un vin rude, et un lit très large." A feminine presence is missing in this cozy setting, which, by its very existence, evokes the fulfillment of a promise and suggests, as do all the settings in this poem, the security of peace. Thus the growing intimacy of the decor veils the increasing distance from the woman or, rather, the remoteness of the poet's encounter with her.

As "La Belle Dorothée" does not belong to this distant world of dream or desire, a form of intimacy could emerge from this poem. Dorothée walks in the bright sunlight, swaying from her hips, her earrings dangling, her tight dress revealing the curves of her body. She is undoubtedly on her way to a tryst. But let us not mistake the meaning of such a possible meeting. Dorothée, like so many other women of the Petits poèmes en prose, possesses antithetical attributes: "tête délicate," "énorme chevelure," "torse mince," "hanches larges," "lourdes pendeloques," "mignonnes oreilles," "visage sombre," "fard sanglant." Above all, she is both "triomphant" and "paresseux." She gives way to her indolence when, in her boudoir, she relaxes under the coolness of a fan or looks in the mirror. Now, in the dazzling sunlight, the more active side of her personality takes the upper hand. Under the heat of the daggerlike beams, nature, bereft of energy, seems to languish. Against this prostration, Dorothée scores her first triumph; she walks, "Forte et fière comme le soleil" in the deserted streets, creating a dark shadow in the azure. When the wind bares her legs, she becomes a statue who needs no admirers: ". . . elle apercevait au loin dans l'espace un miroir reflétant sa démarche et sa beauté." When she does meet with the officer, she will assert her freedom, as though aware of the superiority of her natural beauty over the pale, artificial world of Paris. Although Dorothée is undoubtedly a prostitute, her self-sufficient beauty triumphs in all its majesty. The reflection of her beauty in the distance, rather than her feminine attractions, constitutes the highpoint of the poem.

"Laisse-moi respirer longtemps, longtemps, l'odeur de tes cheveux, y plonger tout mon visage." The very beginning of "Un Hémisphère dans une chevelure" promises an intimate relationship between the poet and a woman. Contact through sight, smell, and touch provides a blissful state that the poet wishes to prolong. As he caresses the woman's hair, his memories awaken. He repeats in imagination voyages through sea and landscapes. Houses, people, songs, scent, flowers make up this dreamlike universe that has become as close as the locks the poet touches. The woman thus plays the role of an intermediary who reinvigorates the poet by kindling his memory and imagination. Time and space are abolished, thus allowing the poet to experience a state of intensity as though he were truly intoxicated by opium under the tropics. The woman, sensed merely as an ocean of black hair, repeatedly recedes in the background whenever the vision of beautiful lands becomes immediate.

Does this mediator between everyday existence and dream participate—be it for one brief moment—in the poet's experience? Does she share his sensations, feelings, or ideas? "Si tu pouvais savoir tout ce que je vois! tout ce que je sens! tout ce que j'entends dans tes cheveux!" Does this statement express merely the poet's gratitude, or also his awareness that the woman cannot take the trip from sensation to imagination with him? Although the final sentence has striking overtones in which the spiritual assets of memory are barely stressed—"Quand je mordille tes cheveux élastiques et rebelles, il me semble que je mange des souvenirs"—it confirms the separateness of the poet and the woman by the very absence of the pronoun nous and by the use of the indefinite article before souvenirs.

Does the same distance separate the poet and the woman in the verse poem where the word nous is equally absent? A comparison of the opening sentences of the two versions immediately brings out important differences: "O toison moutonnant jusque sur l'encolure" and "Laissemoi respirer longtemps." The poet, merely by addressing the latter words to the woman, by begging her consent, grants her a willful existence beyond the presence of her hair. In "La Chevelure" the invocation expresses an immediacy, an expectancy that makes her wishes in the matter superfluous. Her hair and the sea are not merely associated; they are metaphorically interwoven. Warmth, fertility, and indolence characterize a passionate state belonging to both the tropical landscape and the woman, while the sea opens her arms in an erotic gesture. The poet's imaginary voyage, indistinguishable from the movement of the sea, becomes a poetic trance where the very fusion of woman and journey makes distance irrelevant.

In "L'Invitation au voyage" the hope for a common journey binds from the beginning the poet to the woman. "Il est un pays superbe, un vrai pays de Cocagne, dit-on." The last two words indicate that the land exists only according to a still unproven legend. It is a land where nature is transformed into art, where reign harmony, order, peace, a land without the threat of contradictions and the sorrows of fragmentation. It represents not only an artistic dream, but also the very image of the beloved—in other words, the chosen land where ideal love would find a haven. Baudelaire first addresses the woman as "une vieille amie," later as "mon cher ange"; at first, he uses "vous," later the familiar "tu." He mentions first the resemblance between the girl and the land, then he states an identity: "ces parfums, ces fleurs miraculeuses, c'est toi." Has he thus moved closer to fulfillment? Not really. More than in the verse poem, Baudelaire suggests an invitation rather than an attainment. Repeatedly he interjects questions, moments of doubt: "Vivrons-nous jamais, passerons-nous jamais dans ce tableau?" In the verse poem the songlike qualities of the verse so transport the reader that he barely wonders whether or not the dream has become true. Moreover, the resemblance between the woman and the imaginary land is not only stated, but evoked—for instance, in a comparison between her eyes and the sky:

Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes

Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.

The room, a mysterious series of correspondences between reflections and perfumes, becomes not merely an ideal interior, but a home for the poet and the beloved. In the final stanza—written in the present indicative instead of the conditional—the poet shows a perfectly visible scene to his mistress:

Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux.

At sunset, when the world sinks into a gentle sleep and dream, the beloved does not need persuasion or encouragement as in the prose-poem. In the latter, the poet has extended the barriers of the world and its movements in order to tell the woman that her soul mirrors the infinite sea and the deep sky. In the verse poem, the motionless boats in the port under the evening sun enclose the lovers in an intimacy where all dreams and desires can find fulfillment.

Whether motivated by love, hatred, or ambivalence, in the Petits poèmes en prose all attempts to establish satisfying human relationships are threatened by failure. Yet the poet evokes a harmonious relation and an intimacy with the outer world—be it only temporarily—in such poems as "Le Gâteau," "Le Crépuscule du soir," "Le Confìtéor de l'artiste," and "La Chambre double." These texts, when compared with poems devoted to women, contain a great number of sensuous, almost erotic terms: "Grand délice que celui de noyer son regard dans l'immensité du ciel et de la mer! Solitude, silence, incomparable chasteté de l'azur!" And does the poet often say to a woman such words as he addresses to dusk? " . . . comme vous . . . êtes doux et tendre!" In most cases an ephemeral harmony or intimacy is followed by a reversal where the poet becomes, as in poems that deal with love, the victim, spectator, or performer of a violent action. No basic distinction exists, according to "L'Etranger," between man's love for man, for the world, for beauty. The duel that the artist has to fight against nature, seen as a bewitching woman, in "Le Confitéor de l'artiste," belongs in the same world as his attack on "la petite maîtresse," who barely disguises her true nature, that of a savage woman. In "Le Fou et la Vénus" the goddess' coldness and beauty inflict even greater suffering, since the fool is surrounded by a sunny, sensuous landscape where every flower quivers with excitement. In this expansive universe no doors separate man from the outer world, dream from reality. A reality that lies within easy reach may lead to the temptation of the infinite; relationships that promise an obvious kinship may be metamorphosed through an act of revolt. Baudelaire is never the chronicler of obvious feelings. He refuses to accept the romantic and usually sterile familiarity with the self until he has uncovered kindred souls in an everchanging world.

In "Les Fenêtres," the poet observes a woman at a window. Belonging to the same family as "Les Veuves," she evokes in the poet a mysterious bond unsullied by any sign or gesture. He feels the urge to decipher the enigma, to recreate the woman's life, "Je me couche, fier d'avoir vécu et souffert dans d'autres que moi-même." Here, through suffering, the poet achieves an understanding that love has not provided and that he prefaces with an aesthetic credo: "Celui qui regarde du dehors à travers une fenêtre ouverte ne voit jamais autant de chose que celui qui regarde une fenêtre fermée." Thus communication, related to distance, leads the poet to a deeper probing.

Long before the Surrealists, Baudelaire aspired to the spiritual fusion of the lovers, an intimacy that in his universe is irrevocably associated with distance.

John Jeremy (essay date 1981)

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SOURCE: "Samuel Cramer—Eclectic or Individualist?," in Nottingham French Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1, May, 1981, pp. 10-21.

[In the following essay, Jeremy maintains that the protagonist of La Fanfarlo is a writer who lacks the intense focus and aesthetic vision of an artistic genius, and therefore represents Baudelaire's fear about himself]

Baudelaire criticism has long been familiar with the idea of Samuel Cramer as the poet's alter ego and of a Baudelaire who treats his fictional counterpart with indulgent irony—"un Baudelaire dont Baudelaire se détache" as Ferran calls him [in L'esthéstique de Baudelaire, 1933]—in order to mock and no doubt also to exorcize his own weaknesses, and to examine, within the secure boundaries of fictional invention, the complexities of his own nature. [In "Baudelaire and Samuel Cramer", Australian Journal of French Studies 6, nos. 2-3] C. A. Hackett goes further. "Above all, it seems that he needed, at this moment in his career, to exhibit all his talents, to test, examine and analyse himself; and he draws attention to the ambiguity in the character of Samuel and to Baudelaire's ambivalent relationship with his hero, varying as it does between close identification and ironic distance. Jean Prévost is convinced that the nouvelle expresses Baudelaire's anxiety that he may "manquer sa carrière" [Baudelaire, 1953]; and if we accept Claude Pichois's date [offered in Pinchois's edition of Baudelaire's Oeuvres complètes] for the composition—or, at any rate, the completion—of La Fanfarlo, then we may suppose it to be roughly contemporary with the Conseils aux Jeunes Littérateurs (published 15th April 1846) and we may assume that Baudelaire's rather brisk advice in these pages about the importance of cultivating the will and refusing to accept the existence of le guignon is directed equally at himself: "la littérature", says the poet-journalist in 1846, "est avant tout un remplissage de colonnes".

Baudelaire presents Samuel's story as a cautionary tale, a warning to himself of the dangers into which he may be led by his own paradoxical nature and his laziness. In the opening paragraphs Baudelaire introduces Samuel to the reader in the present tense, although there is no suggestion that this is a Rahmenerzählung or that the events to be narrated have already occurred. It seems that the choice of this tense is to provide Baudelaire with a distancing device whereby he can offer his hero to the reader's gaze as an object for analysis before the story begins, as a complex phenomenon to be illustrated in the events which follow. This effect of separation from the narrative as such is strengthened by his addressing the reader directly: "ajoutez à cette double origine [a German father and a Chilean mother] une éducation française et une civilisation littéraire, vous serez moins surpris,—sinon satisfait et édifié,—des complications bizarres de ce caractère". At the end of La Fanfarlo and at certain moments during the narrative Baudelaire once again slips into the present tense, for similar effect.

The poet makes it clear that Samuel is already an anachronism, "l'un des derniers romantiques que possède la France"; his "folies romantiques" were written "dans le bon temps du romantisme". For Ferran, he is "un fantôme de jeunesse qui se transforme peu à peu et devient le poète-type de 1840". [Samuel's verse collection] Les Orfraies is described by Baudelaire as "un recueil de sonnets, comme nous en avons tous fait et tous lu, dans le temps où nous avions le jugement si court et les cheveux si longs". By emphasizing that his young hero is also a grotesque survivor from another age—and by presenting this survivor to the reader as a typical contemporary phenonemon—"dans le monde actuel, ce genre de caractère est plus fréquent qu'on ne le pense"—the poet is enabled to pose sharply the question of Baudelaire-Cramer's future and that of a whole generation. This is the problem that is to the forefront of the Salons of 1845 and 1846 in the famous plea for modernity and a new Romanticism. Baudelaire is at this moment in his life attempting to create for himself an aesthetic based on the visual arts; and it is no accident that as La Fanfarlo develops it becomes more and more the story of a man's relationship with a woman whom he treats as though she were a work of art.

At this moment in Baudelaire's life his heroes are above all Balzac and Delacroix. Balzac directly influenced La Fanfarlo, as Prévost has shown, and Delacroix is the object of a sustained eulogy in the Salon de 1846. To the young poet these are the great individualists of the age by virtue of the strength and primacy of their inner vision. When Samuel Cramer speaks derisively of Scott to Mme de Cosmelly he contrasts the "ennuyeux écrivain" with "nos bons romanciers français" in whose works "la passion et la morale l'emportent toujours sur la description matérielle des objets". Delacroix, the hero of the Salon de 1846, is there described as "toujours respectueux de son idéal".

Moreover, the nouvelle reveals a Baudelaire who is as hypersensitive to the dangers of the poncif for the creative artist as he is in the Salon de 1845. In La Fanfarlo, cliché everywhere threatens: Les Orfraies themselves, the Romantic storm which rages at the climax of the story, the final drearily predictable defeat of the enslaved poet all testify to the fact that behind the obvious irony Baudelaire is concerned with the question of artistic integrity. Indeed, Samuel's "faculté comédienne" puts the matter firmly in the centre of things.

If we can accept that the poet is laying his own ghost (and that of a generation) and measuring his potential against the gigantic achievement of his two heroes, then the detailed presentation of Samuel and his predicament may help us to understand Baudelaire's precise anxieties and aspirations at this period. What details of the self-portrait does he cause to emerge most clearly? He emphasizes Samuel's heredity and his abnormal psychological makeup in order to explain why his hero allows himself to become the dupe of two women. Both women are, in their different ways, strong and integrated personalities compared with Samuel. Mme de Cosmelly is allowed to tell her story at length, and she does so with the impressive straightforwardness of a normally virtuous and by now experienced woman. La Fanfarlo, through Baudelaire's powerful evocation of her and her surroundings, is an equally dominant figure in the later part of the story. There is, of course, a ready psychological explanation of the two relationships in Baudelaire's famous sado-masochism, of which there are many hints scattered throughout the narrative, and no doubt this aspect is important: his own drawing shows the figure of La Fanfarlo dominating the tiny, impassive head bearing his own features. But this is not the whole explanation. The tyranny La Fanfarlo exercises over him, finally annihilating him as a creative being—he is forced to experience "toutes les horreurs de ce mariage vicieux qu'on nomme le concubinage" and becomes a littérateur whose mistress is angling for honours on his behalf—springs from the fact that he is unable to leave her because for the first time in his life he feels genuine passion: "quant à lui, il a été puni par où il avait péché. Il avait souvent singé la passion; il fut contraint de la connaître"; and this passion, at the moment when it came into being, was an aesthetic phenomenon, "moins une affaire des sens que du raisonnement", "surtout l'appétit et l'admiration du beau". The identification of woman with "le beau" is commonplace in Les Fleurs du Mal, but here Baudelaire evokes explicitly the destructive power of Beauty (symbolized by Woman) for the artist who is irresistibly drawn to pursue it. This survivor in a post-Romantic world, who has not yet discovered a new orientation, is aroused, then enslaved and destroyed by his uncritical pursuit of Beauty; he is, in Diderot's terms (which Baudelaire borrows to explain Samuel's character) "crédule"; he sees too many possibilities in every circumstance (unlike the "incrédule" Mme de Cosmelly, who lives in a closed world of enduring rules and immediate self-interest); he is the moth dazzled by the candle or the poet/sun tempted by all experience: "il se jetait dans toutes les flammes et entrait par toutes les fenêtres".

The artist cannot but pursue the Beautiful; but, as an artist in an age of individualism, he is forced to pursue it without the supporting and controlling influence of tradition. "Il est vrai que la grande tradition s'est perdue, et que la nouvelle n'est pas faite" (Salon de 1846). Even the guarantee that he has attained his ideal is purely subjective, since the absolute beau idéal has been dethroned. In Baudelaire's new romanticism, as he says in the same Salon, "il y a autant de beautés qu'il y a de manières habituelles de chercher le bonheur". Under the circumstances, individualism can be either a magnificent victory of the artist over his subject-matter, or a miserable defeat.

This problem is dealt with directly in the art criticism of this period in Baudelaire's life. The main preoccupation of the two Salons is the need for contemporary painters to find a way of expressing their own "tempérament"; mere observance of academic rules (the following of a dead tradition), even technical brilliance on its own, leads to lifelessness. Baudelaire describes a painting by Baron in the Salon de 1845 as "le rococo du romantisme"—the painter at the tail-end of a tradition that has lost its vigour and authority—just as Samuel Cramer's Les Orfraies are the standard poetic product of 1840. Any artist at this moment in history, including Baudelaire himself, must wrench himself free of this imitative sterility and embrace modernity, but "pour courir sur les toits, il faut avoir le pied solide et l'œil illuminé par la lumière intérieure" [Baudelaire, "Eugène Delacroix"]. The hero of the modern movement, Delacroix, is able to "courir sur les toits", first because he is a master of the technical aspects of his craft, but more particularly because he possesses "tempérament", because he can dominate his subject-matter: "Delacroix part donc de ce principe, qu'un tableau doit avant tout reproduire la pensée intime de l'artiste, qui domine le modèle, comme le créateur la création". For weaker souls, left without the support of a strong and living tradition, the risk is that they will be defeated by their subject-matter: they painstakingly copy the external details of nature or make an elaborate display of technical skill.

What both Samuel (from one point of view) and Horace Vernet ("nulle passion et une mémoire d'almanach") represent for Baudelaire is the perils of individualism for all but the genius. And yet individualism, in this post-Romantic world, is the inescapable fate of every artist. Baudelaire deals with the subject explicitly in the section of the Salon de 1846 called "Des écoles et des ouvriers". Only the genius, says Baudelaire, has the power and originality to create a new style or impose a fresh vision, and the disappearance of the "écoles" means that lesser men must do without the instruction and leadership that could have given to their talents some of the masters' authority: "la division des efforts et le fractionnement de la volonté humaine ont amené cette faiblesse, ce doute et cette pauvreté d'invention".

"Ce doute et cette pauvreté d'invention"—these are the weaknesses which, according to the Salon de 1846, result from one kind of individualism, namely eclecticism. Samuel Cramer, the eclectic par excellence, is analysed in similar terms. Doubt, in his case, expresses itself as a willingness to pursue any inspiration, and this very "crédulité" engenders his "impuissance", the inability to bring any project to a successful conclusion. And so the eclectic's curse, that "impartialité" which Baudelaire adduces in the 1846 Salon as the reason for creative weakness, is at the heart also of Samuel's character, which is, we are told, that of a "comédien". His ability, like that of the actor, to feel at home in any role, implies the lack of a distinct personality independent of role-playing—indeed, even when he finally falls in love, we remember, "Samuel s'arrêta avec respect,—ou feignit de s'arrêter avec respect; car, avec ce diable d'homme, le grand problème est toujours de savoir où le comédien commence". The most striking example of his eclecticism is one on which Baudelaire dwells at length, a kind of psychological plagiarism: "après une lecture passionnée d'un beau livre, sa conclusion involontaire était: voilà qui est assez beau pour être de moi!—et de là à penser: c'est donc de moi,—il n'y a que l'espace d'un tiret".

Eclecticism makes ultimately impossible that expression of "tempérament" which Baudelaire proclaims in the Salons to be the only salvation for an artist in an individualistic age. In 1845 he makes frequent use of the word naïveté to describe this spontaneous and sincere expression of the artist's nature: it is seen as the only possible alternative in an individualistic world to pedantic academicism. By 1846 the concept of naïveté has widened to include technical skill, "la science du métier", but it is still above all "la domination du tempérament dans la manière" [Baudelaire, "Des écoles et des ouvriers"]: the artist can produce great work only if he allows his "tempérament" to express itself independently of academic tradition, with even technical virtuosity kept under firm control. But this form of extreme individualism is rare, as Baudelaire confesses; it is "un privilège divin dont presque tous sont privés". Only Delacroix, among the artists discussed in 1846, truly possesses it. Unless, therefore, the artist is a great master, by virtue of the "fatalité de son organisation"—if, like Samuel Cramer, he is only a "demigrand homme"—then he is bound to be, in an age without tradition, an eclectic, the other form of extreme individualist: in place of "une école, c'est-à-dire l'impossibilité du doute" we have "une vaste population de médiocrités, singes de races diverses et croisées, nation flottante de métis qui passent chaque jour d'un pays dans un autre, emportent de chacun les usages qui leur conviennent, et cherchent à se faire un caractère par un système d'emprunts contradictoires".

How is the artist to know whether he is genius or eclectic, whether his "tempérament" is his own, or borrowed? The question is not as absurd as it sounds and it brings us close to Baudelaire's deepest anxiety in La Fanfarlo. Samuel Cramer checks on the genuineness of his own emotions by observing his physical reactions in the mirror or by exaggerating his expression of these emotions; and although this is not the gnôti séauton of the Salon de 1846 (an indispensable ingredient of Delacroix's "grands poèmes naïvement conçus"), Baudelaire does make a point of warning us that Samuel could also experience genuine deep feeling and that "en dépit de cette faculté comédienne [il] restait profondément original". He is at one and the same time eclectic and original, he has no "tempérament" except that appropriate to the role he may be playing, and yet "il était toujours le doux, le fantasque, le paresseux, le terrible, le savant, l'ignorant, le débraillé, le coquet Samuel Cramer, la romantique Manuela de Monteverde". Samuel has somehow to fit both roles so that he may represent what Baudelaire approves of in himself and what he wishes to reject. The fictional alter ego, by a failure of will, takes a wrong turning and is defeated as a man and as a poet; Baudelaire in real life must not make the same mistake.

The Delacroix figures, the true "génies" possessed of "naïveté" and able to ride the storm of individualism, are characterized by unity and concentration. Baudelaire is obsessed with unity in the critical writings of the 1840s, and not merely in its aesthetic manifestations. In the Salon de 1846 questions of social and political unity are made the launching-pad for his argument: republicanism, whether in art or politics ("les singes sont les républicains de l'art"), is destructive of sustained achievement; moreover, his sense of the interpenetration of the various elements in society leads him to hope that the bourgeois will recognize that he too needs art in order to re-establish his inner equilibrium, to find unity in his daily life. The long and expert analysis of the nature and role of colour in painting asserts that one of its main functions is to give a picture of harmony or unity. The artist, in pursuit of his unique vision of beauty, will nonetheless be linked with every other such individual pursuit; his vision is only a variant of the absolute, it is "le beau exprimé par le sentiment, la passion et la rêverie de chacun, c'est-à-dire la variété dans l'unité, ou les faces diverses de l'absolu". The approach of the critic, hoping to elucidate the artist's work, must be equally concentrated—"partiale, passionnée, politique". Throughout the Salon de 1846 unity and concentration are indispensable conditions of understanding and achievement.

In La Fanfarlo, Samuel Cramer, as we have seen, lacks this concentration; he has the fragmented consciousness of the actor. There are about him also suggestions of sexlessness, another symbol of energy that has not been properly focused; he is the "dieu de l'impuissance,—dieu moderne et hermaphrodite": he even signs his poems with a feminine pseudonym. The most striking symbol of his lack of unity is however his mixed blood: he is "le produit contradictoire d'un blême Allemand et d'une brune Chilienne". This mixture of North and South, Old World and New, introvert and sensualist, Christian and pagan, is insisted on at several important points in the story: when Samuel leaves his room to begin his overtures to Mme de Cosmelly he blows out two candles, one standing on a volume of Swedenborg, the other on a "livre honteux". Baudelaire's eulogy of the dance—the moment in the story where Samuel finally submits to the emotional domination of La Fanfarlo—asserts that "certaines organisations païennes" have always understood that dancing is the supreme art, but "Fanfarlo la catholique" can bring to it also "tout l'art des divinités plus modernes": "elle fut à la fois un caprice de Shakespeare et une bouffonnerie italienne". She reminds us at this moment of the "Rêve d'Eschyle éclos au climat des autans". Both La Fanfarlo and Samuel have therefore a kind of universal personality, but whereas in his case it is and remains polarized, "contradictoire", the dancer fuses the contrary elements in a higher and more potent unity, which acts as a sort of focused mirror-image for Samuel and draws him irresistibly on. He sees himself in an integrated and concentrated form, the eclectic who is also the genius.

La Fanfarlo herself is equally expert in every role she dances; she is "tour à tour décente, féerique, folle, enjouée"; but her expertise in so many parts does not—as is the case with Samuel—detract from the force and concentration of her personality. Her costumes and trappings are to her a "professional pose, not an attitude to life" says Sheila Booth in an unpublished thesis on "The art of Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo". The dancer's reactions to Samuel, despite the fact that she finds him "bizarre", are always immediate and unambiguous; she has no doubts, unlike the eclectic artist; her room, so evocative of pleasure for Samuel, is a harmonious extension of her personality. Samuel is enraptured to find that her tastes in food, as in furnishing, are identical with his, and "cette similitude de goûts les lia vivement". But although Samuel has experienced love for the first and only time in his life as a result of a unique appeal to both sides of his conflicting personality, he remains enslaved purely because of La Fanfarlo's capacity to enchant his senses, which is only one aspect of her appeal. Significantly, as they are about to make love, a Romantic "northern" storm rages outside, in contrast to the warm and intimate delights of her room; the Chattertons and Savages of the rue St-Jacques, evoked by Baudelaire in a delightful spirit of mockery (both of himself and of a certain romantic tradition), toil away in their garrets as Samuel by contrast decides on a short cut to happiness, pausing only (like Rastignac) to enjoy a sensation of victory over "la ville maudite". The two sides of Samuel's personality have here come apart and the idealistic half has been left "outside". Unity and concentration have disappeared. We find these two contrasting aspects described in the Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour of 1846: "Homme du Nord, ardent navigateur perdu dans les brouillards, chercheur d'aurores boréales plus belles que le soleil, infatigable soifier d'idéal, aimez les femmes froides . . . Homme du Midi, à qui la nature claire ne peut pas donner le goût des secrets et des mystères,—homme frivole,—de Bordeaux, de Marseille ou d'Italie,—que les femmes ardentes vous suffisent". Samuel has abandoned the impassioned search of the "homme du Nord" to the Chattertons and the Savages, he has relapsed into the state of an "homme frivole"—"abaissant son regard sur les diverses félicités qu'il avait à côté de lui, il se hâta d'en jouir". For Samuel, and for the kind of universal genius Baudelaire is postulating in this union of "North" and "South", this relapse represents aliegorically the failure of eclecticism to "courir sur les toits". Samuel's pursuit of beauty ultimately lacks integrity and strenuousness; he is once again "l'homme des belles oeuvres ratées", the mere eclectic whom Baudelaire fears to recognize in himself and whom he is concerned in La Fanfarlo to exorcize. The Delacroix of literature, the Balzac of poetry must be able, without abandoning any aspect of his genius, to concentrate and exert it in the direction of creativity.

What Samuel lacks, in Baudelaire's terms, is volonté, a concept that will remain for Baudelaire all his life a central preoccupation. In the Conseils aux jeunes littérateurs, volonté already occupies an important place: through a complicated image of moving circumferences Baudelaire here asserts the identification of "liberté" and "fatalité" and the capacity of the artist to defy circumstances and to deny the existence of "le guignon" by the exercise of his will. And we have already noticed at the end of the Salon de 1846 that one of the consequences of individualism in the modern world is a "fractionnement de la volonté humaine".

Without will-power to concentrate and direct the different and often warring elements of the artistic personality bereft of a controlling tradition, the energetic self-expression characteristic of "naïveté" is not possible. The eclectic or doubter lacks "volonté"; Samuel allows his vision of beauty to dwindle and himself to become the passive victim of one aspect (the sensual) of what was originally a complex phenomenon, in pursuit of which his whole personality was at first energetically engaged. And this initial commitment (or inspiration) is itself as important to major artistic achievement as is the will. The two together represent the problem that is at the core of La Fanfarlo and of the art criticism of the 1840s, namely the relationship between the artist and his material or model and the parallel relationship between the work of art and the spectator. In any age of individualism, when tradition has disappeared, this relationship between artist and material and between work of art and spectator—an infinite number of private channels for the communication of intense experience—becomes the only absolute, the only guarantee of artistic success. The sudden awareness of "l'unité profonde", that awareness "qui vous saisit l'âme", the tremor of intense excitement that Baudelaire will later attribute to the action of the imagination (whether felt by the artist for his material or by the spectator for the finished work) can alone prove the existence of "génie".

A footnote to the discussion of Horace Vernet in the Salon de 1846 explains, with a quotation from Hoffmann, that "la véritable mémoire", as opposed to Vernet's pedantic "mémoire d'almanach", consists in "une imagination très vive facile à s'émouvoir, et par conséquent susceptible d'évoquer à l'appui de chaque sensation les scènes du passé, en les douant, comme par enchantement, de la vie et du caractère propres à chacune d'elles". This form of memory has a specific function in the process of enjoying as well as creating a work of art. In the same Salon Baudelaire makes his famous statement that a painting in which colour has been properly handled, to create unity or "melody", will make an impact even if viewed from so far away that the subject of the painting is not clear: "S'il est mélodieux, il a déjà un sens, et il a déjà pris sa place dans le répertoire des souvenirs". Memory seems, therefore, to be the instantaneous recording by the imagination of an experience significant enough to make the recording mechanism work; the experience is recorded and perpetuated precisely because it stands apart from the fragmentary nature of most experience. The mechanism is the same for the artist confronted with nature or with his model and for the spectator observing the painting which the artist has made from this confrontation. Of Delacroix's work Baudelaire says: "cette peinture, qui procède surtout du souvenir, parle surtout au souvenir".

In the section of the same Salon called "De l'idéal et du modèle" Baudelaire discusses the artist's attitude to his model or subject-matter. He objects to the "idéalisation" of the model (in the traditional academic sense) because such a process is based on abstraction; equally, the opposite process, the slavish imitation of the model, blunts the impact of a painting because of its inclusion of irrelevant detail. The artist's job is rather to convey his own experience of the model in its full intensity, so that the experience may be shared by the spectator, and he does this by revealing nature's unconscious intentions in the model: "Il ne s'agit pas pour lui de copier mais d'interpréter dans une langue plus simple et plus lumineuse". This revelation is based on the artist's understanding of the innate harmony created by the constituent parts of his model: if every part seems inevitably implied by every other, then the model's essential personality is expressed: "Telle main veut tel pied; chaque épidemie engendre son poil. Chaque individu a donc son idéal". In this way the model remains itself, but through the agency of the artist—who is gifted, like the comédien, with a unique capacity to understand the personality of others, the nature of the non-moi—it becomes more intensely itself, it is "l'individu redressé par l'individu".

This is the process which we see in action in La Fanfarlo in the famous episode of "le rouge". By calling for the Columbine costume and the rouge in order to restore the completeness and intensity of his original feelings for La Fanfarlo, Samuel is recognizing that "chaque individu a . . . son idéal", he is "revealing" the quintessential La Fanfarlo (quintessential as far as he is concerned). Baudelaire prepares us carefully for this moment: "Quel est l'homme qui ne voudrait, même au prix de la moitié de ses jours, voir son rêve, son vrai rêve poser sans voile devant lui. . . ?" But his idol without clothes would be for Samuel too entirely herself—she would not be his creation, i.e. a self given meaning by the capacity of the artist to reveal that meaning. In restoring her to the appearance that she had at the moment when he was emotionally aroused by her, Samuel restores the primacy of his emotional reaction ("idéal") over her independent existence ("modéle"): he controls the real world, conferring beauty and significance upon it by the fusion of his capacity to feel and visualize intensely ("souvenir") with the exercise of his "volonté". In calling for the Columbine costume and the rouge in order to complete his personal vision of La Fanfarlo as he recalls her from his first experience of her, Samuel is making use of memory in the same way as the painter: the model makes an impact because of its capacity to be memorable to the artist; it is memorable in this way only because the artist is viewing it as "revealed" by his own inner vision; it is restored on the canvas—or in La Fanfarlo's room—because the artist has the unique power to restore and recreate his original vision.

There are other striking examples in the nouvelle of this faculty in action: it appears as possessiveness, containing also a hint of sadism, in the episode where Mme de Cosmelly is moved to tears and Samuel treats these as if they were his own poems: "le brutal et hypocrite comédien était fier de ces belles larmes; il les considérait comme son oeuvre et sa propriété littéraire"; and again, when he recreates the attraction she used to have for him as a girl, he does so by a gradual and conscious process of "recognition": "à force de la regarder et pour ainsi dire de la reconnaître, il avait retrouvé un à un tous les menus souvenirs qui se rattachaient à elle dans son imagination, il s'était raconté à lui-même, détail par détail, tout ce jeune roman qui, depuis, s'était perdu dans les préoccupations de sa vie et le dédale de ses passions". Samuel also makes use of the same phenomenon to help him in his attempts to seduce Mme de Cosmelly by carefully evoking the details and atmosphere of their childhood happiness near Lyon. But the most notable example is perhaps his long exposition of his theory of passion—on the face of it no more than the suitably conventional Romantic belief that all dreams must remain unfulfilled; but behind Baudelaire's irony at Samuel's (and his own) expense is as usual the serious voice of warning: every "rêve", he says, "quelque idéal qu'il soit", must end with "un poupard glouton suspendu au sein". At the very moment of ecstasy a voice whispers of the day when "l'idole" will have become an "objet". Man is then like a happy traveller in a beautiful landscape who finds that it has suddenly become a "désert d'ennui". But, says Samuel, there is an escape from this desert, which is a purely mental phenomenon created by the insistent, disillusioned voice of Reason. The escape is through hope, or optimism—the tone of the Conseils aux jeunes littérateurs—and for Mme de Cosmelly, he implies, it is through transferring her affections to him: "A ce funèbre avertissement, [the voice of Reason] toutes les âmes loyales s'écrieraient: Seigneur, enlevez-moi d'ici avec mon rêve, intact et pur: je veux rendre à la nature ma passion avec toute sa virginité, et porter ailleurs ma couronne inflétrie". The process involved here is none other than the preservation of the ideal in its original integrity, while the "modèle" that awakened it is rejected for another that can sustain it in its original form.

It is his failure to observe his own rule that brings Samuel to disaster. When his "rêve" no longer finds a perfect correspondence in his "modèle", La Fanfarlo, and he is often "seul dans son paradis, nul ne pouvant l'habiter avec lui", he does not carry his vision elsewhere and impose it once again on the real world, he remains bewitched by "ce contentement savoureux, cette rêverie sensuelle, qui vaut peut-être mieux que l'amour comme l'entend le vulgaire". But this "entente profonde de la vie sensuelle" is no longer aesthetic excitement, it is an aspect of "paresse" and fatal to creativity. One side of Samuel's personality, symbolized by his "Southern" sensuality, has been enslaved, and the other makes no protest. His "volonté" has been silenced; his punishment will be to find himself ultimately chained to a vision with "un poupard glouton suspendu au sein".

The interest of La Fanfarlo for Baudelaire's aesthetic theories can be seen as twofold: it illustrates his tendency, even at this early stage in his career, to see aesthetic, moral, psychological—even political—problems as inseparable; and it shows that his developing ideas about "l'idéal" and "le souvenir", however dependent in detail on Stendhal or Diderot or Delacroix's conversations with him (and on a longstanding aesthetic tradition) are enmeshed in his private anxieties about the extent and nature of his own talent and of the position of that talent in the world of contemporary literature. Samuel's "impuissance", when put to the test, may be compared to that failure of creative power which is the subject of so many of the spleen poems—indeed, the "royal solitaire" who is "seul dans son paradis" reminds us of "le roi d'un pays pluvieux, / Riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant très vieux" and of La Vie antérieure with its "secret douloureux qui me faisait languir". Samuel's ultimate fate is less desolate, more matter-of-fact, perhaps more appalling: "La Fanfarlo veut que son amant soit de l'Institut et elle intrigue au ministère pour qu'il ait la croix". However autobiographical La Fanfarlo may be, this final vision of a Cramer-Baudelaire contentedly and unconsciously degraded both as man and poet looks forward to a future that never happened. But Baudelaire has given himself the warning: if he is to become the Delacroix of poetry, to "courir sur les toits", he must avoid Samuel's "matérialisme", his idleness, his flagging will. "Il faut vouloir rêver et savoir rêver. Évocation de l'inspiration. Art magique. Se mettre tout de suite à écrire. Je raisonne trop."

Further Reading

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Aynesworth, Donald. "Humanity and Monstrosity in Le spleen de Paris: A Reading of 'Mademoiselle Bistouri.'" Romanic Review LXXIII, No. 2 (March 1982): 209-21.

Contends that the fragmentation, linguistic ambiguity, and eclecticism of Petits poèmes en prose, as evidenced in "Mademoiselle Bistouri," reflect the nature of life in the city.

Boyd, Greg. Introduction to La Fanfarlo, edited by Kendall E. Lappin, pp. 7-22. Berkeley, Calif.: Creative Arts Book Company, 1986.

Examines the autobiographical elements, literary influences, and aesthetic principles reflected in La Fanfarlo.

Carter, A. E. "Other Prose Works" and "Le spleen de Paris." In his Charles Baudelaire, pp. 44-6, pp. 109-14. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.

Brief examinations of La Fanfarlo and Petits poèmes en prose.

Chesters, Graham. "The Transformation of a Prose-Poem: Baudelaire's 'Crépuscule du soir.'" In Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Valéry: New Essays in Honour of Lloyd Austin, edited by Malcolm Bowie, Alison Fairlie, and Alison Finch, pp. 24-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Demonstrates that Baudelaire's revision of an earlier version of "Le crépuscule du soir" indicates that he consciously employed a highly experimental artistic approach when composing it.

Cohn, Robert Greer. "Baudelaire's Beleaguered Prose Poems." In Textual Analysis: Some Readers Reading, edited by Mary Ann Caws, pp. 112-20. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1986.

Epistemological critique of recent critical commentary on Petits poèmes en prose. Cohn maintains that informed, well-rounded, and impartial study of Petits poèmes en prose proves that many deconstructionist analyses of the prose poems are invalid.

De George, Fernande M. "The Structure of Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose." L'esprit créateur XIII, No. 2 (Summer 1973): 144-53.

Contests the view of Petits poèmes en prose as a haphazardly assembled group of prose pieces, asserting (with the aid of a schematic graph) that the collection evinces progression and symmetry.

Friedman, Geraldine. "Baudelaire's Theory of Practice: Ideology and Difference in 'Les yeux des pauvres.'" PMLA 104, No. 3 (May 1989): 317-28.

Explores the ideological implications of the disparity between the language used and the events related in "Les yeux des pauvres."

George, Albert J. "Baudelaire." In his Short Fiction in France, 1800-1850, pp. 205-08. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1964.

Argues that La Fanfarlo represents the last short fiction written before the emergence of the modern short story in France.

Hackett, C. A. "Baudelaire and Samuel Cramer." Australian Journal of French Studies VI, Nos. 2-3 (1969): 317-25.

Studies Samuel Cramer—the protagonist of La Fanfarlo—and Baudelaire's relationship to his fictional character.

Hamburger, Michael. Introduction to Twenty Prose Poems of Baudelaire, translated by Michael Hamburger, pp. vii-xii. London: Editions Poetry London, 1946.

Asserts that the prose poem genre suited Baudelaire as a moralist and as a sensualist/artist.

Heck, Francis S. "Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo: An Example of Romantic Irony." The French Review XLIX, No. 3 (February 1976): 328-36.

States that the irony pervading La Fanfarlo imbues the story with "a certain originality denied it by its Balzacian plot."

Hiddleston, J. A. '"Chacun son Spleen': Some Observations on Baudelaire's Prose Poems." The Modern Language Review 86, No. 1 (January 1991): 66-9.

Discusses the ordering and publication of the prose poems.

Howells, Bernard. "Baudelaire: Portrait of the Artist in 1846." French Studies 37, No. 4 (October 1983): 426-39.

Examines Baudelaire's aesthetic theory as manifested in La Fanfarlo and contemporaneous writings by him.

Johnson, Barbara. "Poetry and Its Double: Two 'Invitations au voyage.'" In her The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading, pp. 23-51. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

Compares Baudelaire's two versions of "Invitation au voyage"—the verse poem and the prose poem—in order to assess the merit of each as a poetic text.

Kaplan, Edward K. "Baudelaire's Portrait of the Poet as Widow." Symposium XXXIV, No. 3 (Fall 1980): 233-48.

Contends that the prose poems "Les foules," "Les veuves," and "Le vieux saltimbanque" and the verse poem "Le cygne" reveal Baudelaire's mature conception of the artist: an individual for whom loss, suffering, and sorrow are the source of creativity.

——. "Baudelaire's Neglected Masterpiece." In The Parisian Prowler (Le spleen de Paris / Petits poèmes en prose), translated by Edward K. Kaplan, pp. vii-xi. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Brief introduction to Baudelaire's prose poems.

Klein, Richard. '"Bénédiction'/'Perte d'auréole': Parables of Interpretation." Modern Language Notes 85 (1970): 515-28.

Maintains that Baudelaire's contrasting uses of symbolism in the verse poem "Bénédiction" and the prose poem "Perte d'auréole" hold the meanings of the two texts.

Mehlman, Jeffrey. "Baudelaire with Freud: Theory and Pain." Diacritics IV, No. 1 (Spring 1974): 7-13.

Postmodernist study applying the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud to Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose.

Raitt, A. W. "On Le spleen de Paris" Nineteenth-Century French Studies 18, Nos. 1-2 (Fall-Winter 1989-90): 150-64.

Speculates on the evolution of Petits poèmes en prose, extrapolating from Baudelaire's lists of projected prose poems as well as the list of the prose poems that comprised Petits poèmes en prose in his 1869 Collected Works.

Scarfe, Francis. Introduction to Baudelaire: 'The Poems in Prose, ' with 'La Fanfarlo, ' Volume II, edited and translated by Francis Scarfe, pp. 11-21. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.

Discusses historical and biographical circumstances surrounding the composition and publication of Petits poèmes en prose and La Fanfarlo.

Schofer, Peter. "You Cannot Kill a Cloud: Code and Context in 'L'étranger.'" In Modernity & Revolution in Late 19th Century France, edited by Barbara T. Cooper and Mary Donaldson-Evans, pp. 99-107. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Provides a comparative study of the prose poems "L'etranger" and "La soupe et les nuages" using theories of the critic Mikhail Bakhtin. Schofer asserts that interpretation of Baudelaire's prose poems varies depending on the context established by the sequence in which they are read.

Scott, David H. T. "Le spleen de Paris." In Baudelaire: 'La Fanfarlo' and 'Le spleen de Paris' by Barbara Wright and David H. T. Scott, pp. 37-92. London: Grant & Cutler, 1984.

Overview of Baudelaire's prose poems.

Shattuck, Roger. "Vibratory Organism: Baudelaire's First Prose Poem." In his The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature & the Arts, pp. 135-48. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984.

Asserts that Baudelaire's earliest prose poem is part of his Salon de 1856. According to Shattuck the text—which comprises two paragraphs at the beginning of the third chapter, "On Color"—is "quintessential Baudelaire": "The vocabulary and subtly circular style of the passage carry us to the edge of vertigo."

Swain, Virginia E. "The Legitimation Crisis: Event and Meaning in Baudelaire's 'Le vieux saltimbanque' and 'Une mort héroïque.'" Romanic Review LXXIII, No. 4 (November 1982): 452-62.

Examines "Le vieux saltimbanque" and "Une mort héroïque" as commentaries on the interpretation of literature and human experience.

Wing, Nathaniel. "The Poetics of Irony in Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo," Neophilologus LIX, No. 2 (April 1975): 165-89.

Finds that irony, in various forms, plays a crucial role in "the examination of the artist and the nature of artistic creation" in La Fanfarlo.

——. "On Certain Relations: Figures of Sexuality in Baudelaire." In his The Limits of Narrative: Essays on Baudelaire, Flaubert, Rimbaud, and Mallarmé, pp. 19-40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Deconstructionist study of Baudelaire's prose poems.

Wohlfarth, Irving. "Perte d'auréole': The Emergence of the Dandy." MLN 85, No. 4 (May 1970): 529-71.

Interprets "Perte d'auréole" as a metaphor equating the Romantic poet with the dandy, "a figurative, self-styled aristocrat who, for lack of public recognition, has, paradoxically, to confer acknowledgement on himself."

Additional coverage of Baudelaire's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: DISCovering Authors; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 6, 29; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 1; and World Literature Criticism.

J. A. Hiddleston (essay date 1983-84)

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SOURCE: "Baudelaire and the Poetry of Prose," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. XII, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall-Winter, 1983-84, pp. 124-27.

[Hiddleston is the author of Baudelaire and "Le spleen de Paris" (1987). In the following essay, he contends that Baudelaire's prose poems are poetical though they lack qualities traditionally associated with poetry, such as compact form and elevated language, sentiments, and subjects. ]

It is clear from the references to the Petits Poèmes en prose in his correspondence that Baudelaire intended them to complement Les Fleurs du mal and to provide a kind of companion volume. In 1862 he talks of the two works as "se faisant pendant réciproquement," and as late as 1866 he writes of the prose poems as being "encore Les Fleurs du mal, mais avec beaucoup plus de liberté, et de détail, et de raillerie" [Baudelaire, Correspondance, Pléiade edition, 1973]. In order to give expression to "toute l'amertume et toute la mauvaise humeur dont je suis plein," he constantly places the emphasis upon an intensification of that clash of opposites—Spleen/Ideal, God/Satan, "extase de la vie"/"horreur de la vie"—which characterizes Les Fleurs du mal. He will associate "l'effrayant avec le bouffon, et même la tendresse avec la haine." But the differences between the two volumes are more numerous and more profound than this intensification of ironic stridency and disharmony, firstly because, in spite of his constant fear of producing a mere plaquette, Baudelaire seems to have come to a different conception of what constitutes a collection of poetry. In Les Fleurs du mal the role of art is to record a spiritual journey, showing the dilemma of modern man, a prey to the tyranny of modern civilisation and, more particularly, to his own irremediably fallen nature. Because of its comprehensive view of the passions and human nature, Les Fleurs du mal presents a kind of synthesis of experience from the standpoint of an austere, unorthodox, vacillating and restricted Christianity. Although Baudelaire is at pains elsewhere to point to the simultaneous pull of the contradictory elements in man, and although the poems were clearly not written in the order in which they appear in the collection, by arranging them in that order he has given the impression of a development and a synthesis. [In Baudelaire and Freud, 1977] Leo Bersani has cast some doubt upon the validity of the "architecture" of Les Fleurs du mal, since "what is begun and what is ended is an experiment that might have resulted in a universe of meaning in which beginnings and endings would be irrelevant." There may well be much merit in such a view which stresses the relative and contingent aspects of Baudelaire's outlook and poetic experience. It remains that in Les Fleurs du mal the poet has made an act of faith in the power of the intellect to bring order into and synthesize the anarchy of experience from birth to death.

However, when we turn from Les Fleurs du mal to Petits Poèmes en prose, we find no such effort towards unity. We pass from synthesis to fragmentation, contradiction and uncertainty. In this respect the prose poems appear more disillusioned and pessimistic, since what remains after our reading of the fifty pieces is an impression of perpetual clash and of sentimental and moral anarchy. Fragmentation, discontinuity, external and internal chaos are the essential elements of this work, itself only a fragment, which is meant to depict the disharmony of modern man both by its content and by its form. Baudelaire's claim to Vigny that Les Fleurs du mal is not a mere album of poems but that it has a beginning and an end contrasts sharply with the "Dédicace" to Houssaye for the twenty poems published in La Presse in August and September 1862, in which he permits the director of the review to publish the poems in any order and to omit whichever ones he pleases:

Mon cher ami, je vous envoie un petit ouvrage dont on ne pourrait pas dire, sans injustice, qu'il n'a ni queue ni tête, puisque tout, au contraire, y est à la fois tête et queue, alternativement et réciproquement. Considérez, je vous prie, quelles admirables commodités cette combinaison nous offre à tous, à vous, à moi et au lecteur. Nous pouvons couper où nous voulons, moi ma rêverie, vous le manuserit, le lecteur sa lecture; car je ne suspends pas la volonté rétive de celui-ci au fil interminable d'une intrigue superflue.

There being no "plot," the dislocation of the "petit ouvrage" would appear to be intentional and there is no attempt to group the poems according to theme or "genre," or to give the impression of a development or intensification Of course, we have no clear idea how Baudelaire would have arranged the collection if he had completed it, bringing the number of poems possibly up to one hundred, the same as in the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal. The divisions—"Choses parisiennes," "Onéirocritie," "Symboles et moralités"—which can be found in the "Listes de projets" may correspond to those which he intended for the completed collection or they may simply have been for his own guidance. But as late as January 1866 when all but eight of the prose poems have been published, his intention still appears to be to produce a work in which the order would be random, as his letter to Sainte-Beuve indicates: "j'ai l'espoir de pouvoir montrer, un de ces jours, un nouveau Joseph Delorme accrochant sa pensée rapsodique à chaque accident de sa flânerie et tirant de chaque objet une morale désagréable" (my italics). At all events the collection as we have it provides an excellent example of the decadent style as defined by Bourget in his study on Baudelaire in Essais de psychologie contemporaine: "celui où l'unité du livre se décompose pour laisser la place à l'indépendance de la page . .." Indeed the Petits Poèmes en prose with their uncertain, hybrid and varied genre, and their emphasis upon fragmentation and discontinuity show many of the formal characteristics of decadent literature. The result is a complete lack of tension in comparison with Les Fleurs du mal. The sudden changes in tone and theme conform to no pattern, and the poet appears buffeted from one mood to another in a world that seems devoid of any transcendence or hope of transcendence or of any synthesizing factor.

A second difference is that in Petits Poèmes en prose the artist is increasingly identified with the fool, the buffoon and the saltimbanque, as in "Le Fou et la Vénus," "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" and "Une Mort héroique," whereas in Les Fleurs du mal the references are few and of little thematic consequence. The shift reflects possibly a sense of failure on the poet's part, a feeling of social defeat accentuated by increasing fears about the waning of his creative powers after 1861. Charles Mauron in Le Dernier Baudelaire has identified the triumph of the social self over the creative artist, to which may be added doubts about the nature and function of art and an inability to believe in the reality of higher truths and values than those degraded ones which constitute the reigning ideology. The fascinating paradox of "Une Mort héroique" is that the buffoon Fancioulle excells in the "drames féeriques dont l'objet est de représenter symboliquement le mystère de la vie," and that he is able to introduce the divine and the supernatural "jusque dans les plus extravagantes bouffonneries." We witness accordingly the curious double role of the artist which is at the same time to entertain as fool and to represent the mystery of life as do the greatest creators such as Hugo and Delacroix. However, although the intoxication of art is more suited than any other to veiling the terrors of the abyss, the artist is still only a buffoon, his art merely a "drame féerique" and the veiling of the abyss an illusion. Art is indeed fundamentally lacking in seriousness, even when it claims or is thought to represent the mystery of life; it is a lie, a Pascalian "divertissement" concealing from men the realities of their condition, and in the person of the cruel prince there is embodied a revolt against the naivety of the childlike buffoon-artist and also by implication against what Proust in another, disillusioned, context called the "magie illusoire de la littérature." As a result there is a constant degrading of many of the ideals put forward, admittedly not always unequivocally, in Les Fleurs du mal. In particular women, love and any notion of some possible communion between lovers are shown as aberrations. Women are selfish, savage, vulgar, cruel, that is when they are not mad or widows. Mothers are callous and devoid of maternal feeling. The voice of the poet's mistress, of his "folle petite bien-aimée," is raucous, hysterical, roughened by cheap spirits and prone to violent language, as is her fist to violent action. Even physical love is not seen as some search for the absolute in sensation, but as something resembling a surgical operation. In "Les Tentations" Eros is portrayed as having hanging from his belt phials of sinister liquids, gleaming knives and surgical instruments, and in "Mademoiselle Bistouri" Baudelaire's good-hearted whore, a vast sophistication of the romantic version, is out of her mind and professes a bizarre taste for doctors and surgeons, especially those with blood-stained aprons.

Finally, the language and the style of the prose poems have little of the refinement and nobility of Les Fleurs du mal: there is reference to spit, soot, excrement, rats, concubines, soup, kitchen utensils, hen-pecked husbands, "volailles piaillantes," "canaille" broken teeth and blacked eyes. Critics have noted that Baudelaire seems carefully to have sought "les cadences impaires et les harmonies rompues" [Daniel-Rops, in a 1934 edition of Petits poèmes en prose] and have detected even in the prose versions of the Fleurs a deliberate prosaic quality and neutrality of tone. The playing down of metaphor and suggestiveness, the frequency of dialogue, the emphasis upon time and narration as opposed to evocation and on truisms and clichés, such as "tuer le temps," "voir la vie en beau," "le crépuscule excite les fous," the deliberately exhausted puns (the devil admits to being "bon diable," the cruel prince who brings about the death of Fancioulle was trying out "une expérience physiologique d'un intérêt capital") all contribute to the creation of a predominantly prosaic style.

For these reasons and many more, it can be said that Baudelaire achieved in the prose poems something other than his comments in the Correspondance would indicate, something rather different from a companion volume to Les Fleurs du mal. Indeed there seems to be a discrepancy between intention and achievement, and one suspects not only that his conception of the prose poem evolved considerably from his first experiments in the 1840s, but also that he was not always totally in command of what he was doing and was not always sure of the direction he wished to take. It may well be that the difficulty of composition which he repeatedly mentions in his letters can in part be attributed to this uncertainty. It is clear from a letter of February 1861 and from the "Dédicace" that the point of departure for the prose poems was Aloysius Bertrand's Gaspard de la nuit. Baudelaire's original intention was to create something analogous and to apply to the description of modern life, or rather "d'une vie moderne et plus abstraite, le procédé qu'il avait appliqué à la peinture de la vie ancienne." In the event he is aware "que je faisais quelque chose . . . de singulièrement différent," calling his creation an accident "qui ne peut qu'humilier profondément un esprit qui regarde comme le plus grand honneur du poète d'accomplir juste ce qu'il a projeté de faire." Even when allowance is made for false modesty and a playful irony towards Bertrand, the sense of an aesthetic accident is not entirely dispelled. If anything it is strengthened when we compare his intention of creating

une prose poétique, musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s'adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l'âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience . . .

with what he actually achieves in the prose poems, where the emphasis falls increasingly upon disharmony rather than on the moments of lyricism, which in any case often appear to restrain or cut short a promised effusion.

What Baudelaire actually did achieve in the Petits Poèmes en prose is a puzzle to critics, as it was perhaps to the poet himself. Totally different from Bertrand and certainly from Chateaubriand and Flaubert with their rising and falling cadences, their swelling and expansive ternary sentences and the undulations of their reverie, Baudelaire has no real predecessors in the genre, nor has he any worthy followers. The prose poem in Rimbaud and Char for example, moves towards greater compression, the sudden illumination from the extraordinary image, the disruption of grammar, syntax and logical development, the short circuiting of meaning, whereas Baudelaire stresses the prosaic quality of his prose poems, so many of which are anecdotes, narrations of one kind or another, to such an extent that we wonder wherein lies the poetic element of many of the pieces. Why call them poems at all? Has Baudelaire perhaps failed in the impossible task of squaring the circle and making poetry out of the most naked and uncompromising prose?

Poe is of course relevant to a discussion of Baudelaire's prose poems, not only because "Le Mauvais Vitrier" for example shows something of Poe's imp of the perverse, but because Baudelaire was fascinated by Poe's short stories and admired them greatly. He liked them for their grotesque, macabre and morbid subject matter, concentrating on the horrors and infirmities of the mind; but he also liked them for their shortness for the same reasons no doubt as he preferred short poems to epic poems—not just because he was a "paresseux nerveux" temperamentally incapable of the prolonged piece, but because he thought the epic did not produce "cette excitation, .. . cet enlèvement de l'âme," and could not have unity and totality of effect, even though it might have unity of composition. Long poems are "la ressource de ceux qui sont incapables d'en faire de courts." Similarly, he prefers the short story to the novel because it has the immense advantage over the novel of vast proportions that its brevity adds to the intensity of effect. Like the short poem it produces the same unity of impression and totality of effect. Baudelaire's prose poems themselves and the use of the adjective petits in the title reflect this aesthetic conviction that the poetic quality is related to the shortness of the pieces, though not in any mechanical way as suggested by Suzanne Bernard in her admirable Le Poème en prose de Baudelaire à nos jours. If this were the case, the eleven lines of the "boutade" "Le Miroir" would be more "poetic" than the one hundred and thirty-one lines of "Mademoiselle Bistouri" or the one hundred and sixty lines of "Une Mort héroïque," which is clearly not so. Suzanne Bernard's criterion however contains the germ of the truth. The criterion of poetic excellence should not be the brevity, but the concentration and intensity of the piece, which with only the appearance of a paradox gives us a feeling of expansion, of a kind of "psychedelic" multiplicity, not unlike the sudden illumination in Rimbaud, but on the level of subject matter rather than image. As after reading "Mademoiselle Bistouri" or "Une Mort héroïque" we ponder the link between love and surgery, between prostitution and innocence, between madness and kindness, or as we ponder the identity of the cruel prince and the mime, and the links between art, buffoonery, violence and death, these stories fascinate us with a meaning or meanings which go far beyond their literal sense. They have something of the elliptic allegories of, say, Kafka, and before such stories and narrations we can adopt the same criterion as Baudelaire himself for judging the excellence of a painting:

Il m'arrivera souvent d'apprécier un tableau uniquement par la somme d'idées ou de rêveries qu'il apportera dans mon esprit.

Such pieces might be said to be as successful poetically as "La Chevelure" or "Parfum exotique," since the story they relate has a power and a "rayonnement" analogous to those of the images in Baudelaire's finest verse poems.

A second criterion of poetic excellence might be thought to be the extent to which the poet creates a violent and surreal world. It has been too often affirmed that Petits Poèmes en prose are marked by a realism of detail and description which provides a compelling evocation of the life of the modern capital. But very few of the poems are in fact descriptions of the real world and nothing more, and they tend to be among the least interesting in the collection, for example "Le Désespoir de la vieille" and "Le Chien et le flacon." Several are placed resolutely within a fantasy or dream world, such as "Les Dons des fées," "Les Tentations," "Chacun sa chimère," "L'Invitation au voyage," "Un Hémisphère dans une chevelure." But among the most compelling are those where Baudelaire mingles and fuses the real with the imaginary, so that the poems take on the properties of an hallucination in which "la profondeur de la vie" is revealed at its most intense and most disturbing. They are similar to such poems from Les Fleurs du mal as "Les Sept Vieillars" where the poet's baleful vision of the seven old men becomes an incomprehensible and nightmarish hallucination:

Vainement ma raison voulait prendre la barre;
La tempête en jouant déroutait ses efforts,
Et mon âme dansait, dansait, vieille gabarre
Sans mâts, sur une mer monstrueuse et sans bords!

On the very simplest level, for example, "Les Veuves" is almost a list of the various kinds of widow that one can see in the streets and gardens of Paris, until the evocation of the central figure, "un être dont la noblesse faisait un éclatant contraste avec toute la trivialité environnante." He describes her as "une femme grande, majestueuse, et si noble dans tout son air, queje n'ai pas souvenir d'avoir vu sa pareille. . . ." He describes her "parfum de hautaine vertu," and sad and gaunt face, until the figure becomes so detached from the base and trivial surroundings that it becomes a "Singulière vision" standing above the rest of humanity and endowed with a heightened significance. The moment in which the poet catches sight of her, as in "A une passante," seems to stand outside time, and this heightening of reality transforms the widow from a "chose vue" into an allegorical figure of loneliness and disproportion.

Often the passage from the real to the surreal in the prose poems is brought about through the heightening and intensification of the power and vitality of a street scene, as for example in the "explosion" of the New Year in "Un Plaisant":

C'était l'explosion du nouvel an: chaos de boue et de neige, traversé de mille carosses, étincelant de joujoux et de bonbons, grouillant de cupidités et de désespoirs, délire officiel d'une grande ville fait pour troubler le cerveau du solitaire le plus fort.

At the beginning of this anecdote we are plunged into a real world which threatens to return to chaos and where men appear to have gone mad. Similarly, but more acutely, in "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" we have the evocation of the vitality and stridency of the fair: "Partout s'étalait, se répandait, s'ébaudissait le peuple en vacances." There are the "baraques" which "piaillaient, beuglaient, hurlaient." "C'était un mélange de cris, de détonations de cuivre et d'explosions de fusées." We are told that "Tout n'était que lumière, poussière, cris, joie, tumulte." In this "real" world the mind is bombarded with many new and unusual happenings and sensations of all kinds, so that it takes on the terrifying unreality of a nightmare in which reason has lost its grip and is numbed and bewildered by the assault upon the senses. Against such a reality which has returned to chaos and is engulfed in madness, the figure of the Saltimbanque stands out with greater poignancy, like Awareness itself isolated amidst the unthinking absurdity and primitive clamour of the passions and the senses.

There are other transitions from the real to the surreal which are apparently more calm, as for example in "Le Crépuscule du soir":

Le jour tombe. Un grand apaisement se fait dans les pauvres esprits fatigués du labeur de la journée; et leurs pensées prennent maintenant les couleurs tendres et indécises du crépuscule.

Cependant du haut de la montagne arrive à mon balcon, à travers les nues transparentes du soir, un grand hurlement, composé d'une foule de cris discordants, que l'espace transforme en une lugubre harmonie, comme celle de la marée qui monte ou d'une tempête qui s'éveille.

The references to the peace of evening, to the mountain top and the transparent clouds prepare us for the relaxation and the vague-à-l'âme of a Lamartinian meditation, but gradually we find ourselves in another world where the complaint of the wretched is made audible, and where a "lugubre harmonie" is made out of what is discordant, a harmony which threatens to return to an even greater chaos than before, like the uneasy peace before the unleashing of a storm. We start in one mode of perception and end in another, where the abstract is made concrete and where harmony and discordance appear momentarily at least reconciled.

Such an example might be said to be half way between the discordant clamour and the outburst of vitality we have witnessed in the fair or the Paris street scene and that silent orgy of light and energy which is to be found in "Le Fou et la Vénus." We start in a real park, but immediately the heightened presence of light and indeed of all things gives to it the intensity it can have only in certain dreams or states of hallucination, when a sense of menace is present together with one of tranquillity:

Quelle admirable journée! Le vaste parc se pâme sous l'oeil brûlant du soleil, comme la jeunesse sous la domination de l'Amour.

L'extase universelle des choses ne s'exprime par aucun bruit; les eaux ellesmêmes sont comme endormies. Bien différentes des fêtes humaines, c'est ici une orgie silencieuse.

On dirait qu'une lumière toujours croissante fait de plus en plus étinceler les objets; que les fleurs excitées brûlent du désir de rivaliser avec l'azur du ciel par l'énergie de leurs couleurs, et que la chaleur, rendant visibles les parfums, les fait monter vers l'astre comme des fumées.

It is as if nature itself here had taken on the same fascinating quality and were endowed with the same intense presence as the visions of "La Chambre double" and Les Paradis artificiels, as if it had a life and a being of its own totally independent of human thought and action, and this feeling is made all the more powerful by the detachment of the figure of the Fool absorbed in his worship of the implacable and immortal goddess Venus. Such a hyperbolic description with its increasing intensity is at once ecstatic and disquieting, in much the same way as Hugo's descriptions fill us with fear before a numinous world where "tout est plein d'âmes."

Once again, as in "Le Vieux Saltimbanque," we feel the rational mind slowly losing its grip as the surreal invades the real. Such a vision with its suggestion of the elevation of all things towards the light and the spiritual world threatens to degenerate into a nightmare and instead of a beatific vision we have a terrifying glimpse, albeit momentary, of the horrific orgy of the natural world described by Sartre in La Nausée, of the hellish otherness of things which threaten to violate and engulf the mind. A similar disquiet at the exuberance of nature is evident in "Le Tir et le cimetière" where "le soleil ivre se vautrait tout de son long sur un tapis de fleurs magnifiques engraissées par la destruction." It is rendered all the more threatening by the parallel which is established between the clamour of nature and that of the unthinking public at the firing range.

In this connection it is instructive to notice the frequency and the particular use of the word "explosion" in some of the prose poems, signifying not so much an outburst of creative activity as the subjection of the poet to a sensory experience in which the controlling factors of reason and awareness and lost: in "Un Plaisant," "C'était l'explosion du nouvel an"; in "Le Désir de peindre" there is an "explosion dans les ténèbres" in the eye of his mistress, and in "Une Mort héroïque" the admiring crowd breaks out into "explosions de la joie et de l'admiration" which have the power and energy of continuous thunder. In all these explosions there is some threat which is more or less explicit, even in those which seem to reach a reconciliation between violence and tranquillity. In "Le Désir de peindre" for example we are given a sense of calm by the comparison of the light in his mistress's eyes with that of the moon, until we are told that it is not the white moon of idylls, but the moon which has been "arrachée du ciel, vaincue et révoltée, que les Sorcières thessaliennes contraignent durement à danser sur l'herbe terrifiée." The sense of calm is soon dispersed by the suggestion of some kind of cosmic disaster in which the world is given over to the forces of chaos and unreason.

Closely linked with these violent outbursts are those pieces which describe "les soubresauts de la conscience," these sudden changes of mood or feeling which always move in Petits Poèmes en prose from the serene, ecstatic and ideal towards anguish, torment and a debased reality. One thinks immediately of such pieces as "La Chambre double," "Le Confitéor de l'artiste" and "Le Gâteau," where the movement from one extreme to its opposite creates the impression of chaotic discontinuity. In "Le Confitéor..." the movement is all the more intense and striking for being unmotivated. No reason is given for the change from a serene contemplation of sea and sky, in which the poet identifies himself in a quasi-pantheistic fashion with the immensity of nature, to the violent and anguished outcry that "maintenant la profondeur du ciel me consterne; sa limpidité m'exaspère. L'insensibilité de la mer, l'immuabilité du spectacle, me révoltent." The fault is not as in "La Chambre double" with the intrusion of an importunate and philistine outside world: the fault lies within the poet himself whose nerves seem unable to tolerate the tension of the aesthetic experience. It is important to stress that in these "soubresauts de la conscience" the movement is always from ideal to spleen; the curve of the pieces never goes in the opposite direction, which again contributes to the poet's doubts about the status of art and of the artist, creating ultimately as in "Chacun sa Chimère" a sense of lassitude, despair and ultimately of indifference.

There are many forms of humour in the prose poems which would merit a sympathetic and detailed study. They range from the wilfully debilitated to the most original, to what André Breton called black humour, that extreme exaggeration of "le rire en pleurs." There are several examples of it in the collection, all related in one way or another to an outburst of violence, whether it be the controlled violence of the man in "Le Galant Tireur" who imagines the doll at the firing range is his wife, or that of the "désabusé" rake of "Portraits de maîtresses" who alludes in impeccable good taste and understatement to his murder of his mistress by drowning because she was too perfect, or that of the poet who instead of giving alms to the man who asks for help proceeds to beat him up. The best and most notorious example is without doubt "Le Mauvais Vitrier" which is also among the most perfect of the collection. From his sixth-floor garret the poet sees a poor "vitrier" whose piercing and discordant cry rises up to him through the muggy Paris atmosphere. He calls him up, and then gruffly dismisses him for not having rose coloured panes through which to see "la vie en beau." When the man goes back down to the street, the poet throws a flower-pot down at him, smashing all his panes and depriving him and his family of the proceeds of a day's labour.

Much has been written about this poem, which can be difficult to explain to those who prefer a literature of "bons sentiments." Perhaps it reflects Baudelaire's desire to mystify and his "plaisir aristocratique de déplaire," but what is significant and blackly humorous is the sudden change from contemplation and lethargy on the part of the poet to violent, hysterical and apparently unmotivated action. The cruelty stems from exasperation with the imperfect world of men and things taken to the extreme of a nightmarish paroxysm. In such moments, as in the painting of Goya whom he admired, and as in the poems of Lautréamont whom he prefigures, it is as if the poet took the side of the dark, ugly and arbitrary powers which seem to govern our world, and thereby he gives us a deeper insight into our condition, showing at the same time the inadequacies of a facile and unthinking humanism.

It is not clear from his writings on the essence of laughter and on French and foreign caricaturists how Baudelaire would have classified the kind of black humour he uses in "Le Mauvais Vitrier." On the one hand it has in an exaggerated form something of the diabolical laughter of Melmoth and the accompanying sense of original sin; on the other hand, paradoxically, it seems to have the violence, the "vertige de l'hyperbole" and "quelque chose de terrible et d'irrésistible" which Baudelaire recognises as the distinctive signs of the grotesque and the "comique absolu," though of course it has none of that essential sense of joy and innocence which distinguishes the latter from the "rire significatif." At all events violence, hallucination and chaos are all associated by Baudelaire with certain kinds of humour and caricature, and are all powerful ingredients of Petits Poèmes en prose, pointing to a world where order and reason have been replaced by anarchy, both in the moral and physical sphere; for in these prose poems men are not fundamentally rational creatures; they act without premeditation or against their own best interests; they light cigars beside barrels of gunpowder to tempt destiny; they boast of unworthy actions they have not committed and refuse to do a small service for a friend, yet they readily help the unworthy; they throw chickens at maîtres d'hôtel at the time of the full moon; they fall in love with those with whom they have nothing in common and kill their favourite buffoon or perfect mistress, to such an extent that one would be apt to attribute to Baudelaire the invention of the gratuitous act long before Gide thought of it. At the heart of human actions and emotions there is moral anarchy. In "Les Tentations" for example, the poet in his high-mindedness rejects in his dream the blandishments of Eros, Plutus and Fame, but in his waking life he ironically implores them to return so that he can succumb to them. Similarly, in "Le Joueur généreux" he rejects the devil's offer in return for his soul to be free from ennui; any wish will be granted. But the offer is rejected not out of any strength of mind or character, but out of suspicion and distrust and an inability to believe in his good fortune, and the poet finds himself praying to God to make the devil keep his word, a sure sign of moral, spiritual and theological chaos. Indeed all the prayers in the collection are, to say the least, unorthodox. In "A une heure du matin" in a prayer which is reminiscent of the Pharisee's prayer in Luke the poet asks God to grant him the power to produce some fine verses to prove to himself that he is not inferior to those whom he despises, a prayer which is hardly informed by Christian humility and charity; and the prayer at the end of "Mademoiselle Bistouri" which pleads in favour of such innocent monsters, is as much a challenge to the existence of divine providence and order, as an indication of submission and belief in its reality. The prayer borders on the blasphemous and points to a moral anarchy at the heart of the universe, elements of which are to be found in for example "Les Dons des Fées" where various gifts and talents are given to the most unsuitable people: the gift of money and riches to one who is already rich and has no sense of charity; the love of the beautiful and poetry to a "sombre gueux" with no means of exploiting it; the gift of pleasing to those incapable of understanding its value.

However, it may be justly asked why the violent, the gratuitous and the chaotic should be equated with the poetic. It seems that what Baudelaire achieved in many of Petits Poèmes en prose and may well have had in mind as a partially conceived intention was a kind of poetry of disharmony, an intoxication not with things having "l'expansion des choses infinies," but with what may be called an "ivresse de l'absurde," an ecstasy made not of a spiritual elevation in which all things flow together "Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, / Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté," but as Malraux said in a different context "une extase vers le bas," an ecstasy at the horrific and gratuitous presence of things and events, which refuse to submit to the analyses and categories of the mind and which seem to escape from the domain of prose and logical discourse. The highest flights of lyricism in Les Fleurs du mal point to another order of things, a vision of the one where contradiction is overcome, where time and separation no longer prevail, and where analysis is replaced by the perceptions of a superior faculty. The "lyricism" of many of the Petits Poèmes en prose is at the opposite pole, describing an ecstasis before the irrational in which mere juxtaposition has stunned and paralysed the mind into a sense of infernal timelessness.

Barbara Wright (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: An introduction to La Fanfarlo, in Baudelaire: "La Fanfarlo" and "Le spleen de Paris" by Barbara Wright and David H. T. Scott, Grant & Cutler Ltd., 1984, pp. 9-33.

[Wright is an educator specializing in French literature. In the following essay on La Fanfarlo, she discusses the structure of the novella and assesses the relationship between the narrator and the story told.]

Ambivalence surrounds virtually everything concerned with La Fanfarlo. First published in January 1847 in the periodical Bulletin de la Société des gens de lettres, the precise date of its composition is the source of disagreement among scholars. It was probably written some time between 1843 and the end of 1846.

The autobiographical links, likewise, are tantalisingly elusive. If Asselineau and Gautier were among the first of many authoritative commentators to reach unanimity on the striking resemblance, physical and otherwise, between Samuel Cramer and Baudelaire himself, the parallelism with Emile Deroy (1820-46) is none the less significant. Deroy's early portrait of Baudelaire is probably the best visual representation available of the quasi-fictitious Samuel Cramer. Furthermore, since Baudelaire did not become acquainted with Delacroix until March 1846, Emile Deroy is now thought to have been Baudelaire's aesthetic mentor in the period leading up to Le Salon de 1845; his possible influence on the artistic views expressed by Samuel Cramer is therefore far from negligible.

In 1842, Baudelaire first met Jeanne Duval, then an actress at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Antoine. She may thus be one of the possible sources of inspiration for the dancer in La Fanfarlo. So too may Marie Daubrun, an actress at the Théâtre Montmartre from autumn 1845, whose influence in this connection has been explored by Claude Pichois [in his editions of Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo and Oeuvres complètes and in an essay in Mercure de France, décembre, 1956]. Recent researches have shown, however, that Baudelaire may have written La Fanfarlo, along with Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour (1846), at least partially as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Félicité Baudelaire. Félicité Baudelaire was the wife of Baudelaire's half-brother, Alphonse, from whom he sought vengeance for having been 'betrayed' on several counts: having at first got on well with his half-brother, Baudelaire subsequently held the latter responsible for collusion with his hated stepfather, General Aupick, in having him sent abroad on a long journey (1841-42); for divulging confidences about his incipient syphilis; and for contributing towards his disinheritance. In the two years after attaining his majority, Baudelaire had spent about half the money bequeathed to him by his father. His family, seeking to have the balance held in trust for him, proceeded to have a 'conseil judiciaire' appointed in September 1844, with Maître Ancelle as the lawyer in charge. Baudelaire was humiliated by this experience, which, in the view of Michel Butor [Histoire extraordinaire: essai sur un rêve de Baudelaire, 1961], morally, at least, emasculated him. In 1845, having left everything to Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire attempted suicide.

Neither the author's name, nor even the title of the novella, is free of deliberate ambiguity. When published in 1847, La Fanfarlo was signed by Charles Defayis, 'Defayis' being the maiden name of Baudelaire's mother. And the title? Despite many suggestions, it still retains all the mystery of a conundrum. There are possible associations with a polka-dancer of the time, called Fanfarnou; or, more simply still, the name may derive from the substantive 'fanfare'; but what is perhaps most fascinating of all is the sound of the name, combining the feminine ending 'a' with the masculine ending 'o'. Typically, too, the title of the novella is not clarified until the tale is well advanced, a technique which Baudelaire will later use in the prose poem, 'Un Cheval de race'.

As Baudelaire himself said in relation to E. T. A. Hoffmann, Samuel Cramer, the protagonist in La Fanfarlo, is 'atteint d'un dualisme chronique'. This dual nature is highlighted, from the outset, by the fact that Samuel Cramer once wrote under a feminine pseudonym, Manuela de Monteverde, as Mérimée had done in Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul. Even though these names may be seen to have emanated from a single source, they nevertheless point to a fundamental duality within the protagonist.

However, this duality, this ambivalence, is, for the most part, a reflection of Baudelaire's conscious and deliberate intention: it is at the core of his early dramatic work, Idéolus (started in 1843, in association with Ernest Prarond), the plot of which has many parallels with La Fanfarlo. In a manner less impish than Gide's subsequent refusal to be pinned down to any one specific attitude if that were necessarily to preclude its opposite, Baudelaire's work involves a series of swings of the pendulum, encompassing, at one and the same time, attitudes and expressions which might often be seen as mutually exclusive. This is mirrored in his use of form, where he builds up patterns and expectations and then introduces shock tactics, concluding with some quite unexpected turn, after what might have been thought to prefigure a harmonious resolution of suspense.

Duality pervades La Fanfarlo, in which, thematically and structurally, the binary movement is predominant. For the purposes of this brief study, two sets of polar opposites will be distinguished, as areas of possible emphasis in further work on the subject, rather than as neat categories:

1. Duality within the double narrative sequence, the first sequence being that in which the protagonist, Samuel Cramer, presented as a latter-day knight-errant, ends by setting out on a mission for his belle dame sans merci, Mme de Cosmelly; the second sequence being that in which Samuel Cramer, in seeking to woo the dancer, La Fanfarlo, away from Mme de Cosmelly's husband, succeeds in falling in love with her himself, thus getting caught in a trap of his own making, since it was with the ulterior motive of obtaining a 'reward' from Mme de Cosmelly that Samuel Cramer had embarked on the venture in the first place.

2. Duality inherent in the narrator's attitude towards his discourse.

Between the first and second narrative sequences, there is a relationship of call and echo which heightens the effect of their juxtaposition, allowing for ironic interplay between the two, coupled with constant shifts in the point of view of the narrator.

The first narrative sequence involves an overt parody of first-generation Romanticism, while adopting many of the stances of Balzac as omniscient narrator and of Stendhal as ironic deflator.

Four encounters, in all, are involved in the development of Samuel Cramer's relationship with Mme de Cosmelly. From his studious attic, his typically elevated 'prison romantique' ('du haut de sa solitude'), Samuel had seen and admired Mme de Cosmelly, whom he remembered from his provincial days in Lyon. Leaving his bedside reading, which included some Swedenborg (often hailed as the 'link' between Balzac's 'langage des fleurs' and Baudelaire's later development of the aesthetics of 'correspondances'), Samuel attired himself elegantly, as Rastignac might have done before him, and set out to contrive an encounter with Mme de Cosmelly. This meeting takes place on neutral ground, in a public park. By contrast, in the second narrative sequence, Samuel will seek out La Fanfarlo in the intimacy of her back-stage dressing-room and, later, in her private apartment. With Mme de Cosmelly, he never progresses beyond the bench in the Luxembourg Gardens.

The first encounter with Mme de Cosmelly serves, therefore, to establish identity. Samuel, recalling how they had grown up together in Lyon, assembles 'tout ce jeune roman' which, in the hands of a more conventional author, might have been the pretext for the development of a subplot of some sort. Mme de Cosmelly, in consultation with her maid-servant, recognizes Samuel. This establishment of identities is again in contrast with the necessarily more oblique way in which Samuel will make himself known to the dancer, La Fanfarlo, by writing reviews of her performances in terms so scathing that her professional reputation requires her to find out more about one who is ostensibly so hostile towards her.

The second encounter is contrived by Mme de Cosmelly, who adopts the fairly standard ploy of leaving her book and her handkerchief on the bench, thus affording Samuel the pretext of returning these to her. Later, he will seek to develop his relationship with Mme de Cosmelly by offering her his collection of sonnets and by responding to her reaction to his work which we, as readers, know only indirectly. Again, in the intermediary section between the two principal narrative sequences, we learn how Samuel will offer sonnets to both Mme de Cosmelly and La Fanfarlo, confusing, ironically, the addressees.

The development takes place through oblique means in both narrative sequences. In the course of the second encounter with Mme de Cosmelly, Samuel launches into an attack on Walter Scott, the author of the novel left behind by Mme de Cosmelly. In his Conseils aux jeunes littérateurs (1846), Baudelaire distinguishes, in criticism, between two methods of slating: 'éreintage . . . par la ligne courbe, et par la ligne droite, qui est le plus court chemin'. Both the narrative sequences in La Fanfarlo contain such 'éreintage': the target is Scott, in the first instance (a sally not without its boomerang effect on his disciple, Balzac); in the second, it is La Fanfarlo herself. In terms of plot, the effect of both is similar, in that a pretext has been found for entering into a more personal phase in the separate relationships. There is, however, this difference that the 'writing', in the second narrative sequence, is unashamedly journalistic, whereas in the first it is pretentiously literary, with Samuel undertaking to offer Mme de Cosmelly his collection of sonnets, Les Orfraies, on the following day, the occasion of their third encounter.

The fourth and final encounter with Mme de Cosmelly centres, primarily, on her reaction to Les Orfraies. In Samuel's work, she criticizes many of the devices which were not merely characteristic of the period, but which will reappear in the second narrative sequence, in the context of La Fanfarlo. By contrast with Mme de Cosmelly, who, in the first narrative sequence, had been described in only the vaguest of terms ('ses traits . . . avaient la grâce profonde et décente de l'honnête femme'), La Fanfarlo is described with all the hyperbole so castigated earlier on. Yet, conversely, the force of this hyperbole is undercut, in terms of its ironic impact, by virtue of Mme de Cosmelly's previous condemnation. In language which is often 'mystique', as well as sensuous and exotic, La Fanfarlo, projected as the Dancer, is evoked in terms reminiscent of both 'des créatures bizarres' and 'des sultanes de bas lieu'. The scene in which, anticipating the balletdancers of Degas by over twenty years, La Fanfarlo, is leaning over to lace up her boots, is suggestive of a geometrical pattern, pin-pointed in terms both mathematical and anatomical: 'Tranchée perpendiculairement à l'endroit le plus large, cette jambe eût donné une espèce de triangle dont le sommet eût été sur le tibia, et dont la ligne arrondie du mollet eût fourni la base convexe'. Again, in her bent posture, 'sa tête, inclinée vers son pied . . . laissait deviner l'ornière des omoplates'. All of this constitutes an ironic echo of Mme de Cosmelly's earlier rejection of Samuel's 'descriptions d'anatomie'. Furthermore, Mme de Cosmelly deplores the poet's adulation of the feet and hands of his mistress when, according to strict bourgeois ethics, a woman should be knitting socks and mittens for her children's feet and hands; in the second narrative sequence, the narrator, with ironical detachment, gives an account of Samuel's behaviour when first received in the home of La Fanfarlo: 'Notre homme exprimait son admiration par des baisers muets qu'il lui appliquait avec ferveur sur les pieds et les mains'.

The observations by Mme de Cosmelly provoke a torrent of Romantic outpouring on the part of Samuel, punctuated at four points: the first, where Mme de Cosmelly seeks to deflect his attention to the springtime flowers in the park; the second, where she is unable to get in a word edgeways; the third, where Samuel is cut short by the realization of the hurt being caused to her by his rhetorical monologue; and the fourth, where she weeps and her tears lead to a double misunderstanding, with role-playing involved on both sides (her 'candide désolation' ironically underscoring the 'mission' with which she will shortly proceed to charge her gallant knight-errant, and his hypocritical pride at having been able to move her to tears, as he thought, seeing in the emotion of the percipient 'son œuvre et sa propriété littéraire'). The four set pieces, thus punctuated, are essentially displays of 'jargon romantique' and are followed by a fifth, in the hypocritically didactic vein characterized by the term 'patois séminariste'. Together, they form a marked contrast with the 'Qui, Madame', uttered by Samuel to La Fanfarlo in the second narrative sequence; his earlier outpourings to Mme de Cosmelly are here recalled in terms of one who had 'bavardé comme une pie romantique'.

It is, perhaps, not without significance that Baudelaire who, in the last analysis, is remembered primarily for his outstanding achievement in verse poetry, chose to have Samuel 'mettre en prose et . . . déclamer quelques mauvaises stances composées dans sa première manière'. His attempts seem deliberately pedestrian and contrast with the more poetic prose contained in parts of the second narrative sequence. In general terms, it is agreed that verse pre-dates prose in the creative imagination of Baudelaire; but equally it is clear that, from the outset of his literary career, he was concerned to make a distinction between these two forms. Overt reference to an alexandrine, in La Fanfarlo, would seem to be rejected, as though for fear of making the writing seem that much more suspect as prose. In the second narrative sequence, there is an instance where the poetry reworked has been variously identified as that of Ernest Prarond or of Baudelaire himself, and where the original alexandrine would appear to have been wilfully distorted, metrically, as well as in terms of semantic context:

Le ruisseau, lit funèbre où s'en vont les dégoûts (Original)
Le ruisseau, lit funèbre où s'en vont les billets doux (La Fanfarlo)

The change, by Baudelaire, from 'dégoûts' to 'billets doux', is also indicative of his overall concern with ironic deflation in La Fanfarlo. Born into and yet reacting against the tradition of luxuriously poetic prose, as evolved by Rousseau and Chateaubriand, the future author of Le Spleen de Paris was already wanting to mark his originality in this art-form in which he was so clearly indebted to his precursors.

Again, in these passages declaimed by Samuel, 'à qui la phrase et la période étaient venues', some of the central themes of Les Fleurs du Mal are paralleled—ironically. There is, for example, an analogy with the poet of 'Bénédiction' in the following imprecation ('Bénédiction' was first published in 1857, but the date of its original composition may go back to the period 1844-46): 'Malheur, trois fois malheur aux pères infirmes qui nous ont faits rachitiques et mal venus, prédestinés que nous sommes à n'enfanter que des morts-nés!' This is a reminder of the self-pitying introverts following in the wake of Chateaubriand's René and victims of the so-called 'mal du siècle'. Samuel differentiates his fellow-poets from ordinary mortals in the following terms: 'Ils vivent pour vivre, et nous, hélas! nous vivons pour savoir'. And yet the secret of Samuel's relative success in the second narrative sequence was precisely due to the fact that 'l'amour était chez lui moins une affaire des sens que du raisonnement'.

The first narrative sequence concludes with Mme de Cosmelly's account, in terms reminiscent of Balzac's Etudes de femme and Physiologie du mariage, or, indeed, Baudelaire's own Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour, of how, since they had moved to Paris from the provinces, she had lost the love of her husband to a dancer, here named, for the first time, as La Fanfarlo. This 'douleur de province' is simply told as 'une histoire banale, l'histoire de toutes les malheureuses,—un roman de province!' At the end of it all, thanks to the intervention of Samuel, whose eyes, it will be remembered, were 'brillants comme des gouttes de café', the reconciliation scene between husband and wife takes place after Mme de Cosmelly has prepared 'le meilleur thé du monde, dans une théière bien modeste et bien fêlée'. Interestingly, however, when Mme de Cosmelly has recourse to artifice in order to try to regain her husband's affection (and before she has met Samuel again in Paris), she tarts herself up, 'la mort dans le cœur', in a way which prefigures the 'accoutrement fantasque' of La Fanfarlo: 'Moi, la chaste épouse qu'il était allé chercher au fond d'un pauvre château, j'ai paradé devant lui avec des robes de fille'. La Fanfarlo's dancing costumes, made of 'étoffes . . . pailletées', are, to a small extent, anticipated in Mme de Cosmelly's admission to Samuel: 'J'ai pailleté mon désespoir avec des sourires étincelants. Hélas! il n'a rien vu'. And, more obviously, the next remark by Mme de Cosmelly prefigures Samuel's almost hysterical request, in the seduction scene, that La Fanfarlo's Columbine costume be fetched, calling after her servant, Flore: 'Eh! n'oubliez pas le rouge!': 'J'ai mis du rouge, Monsieur, j'ai mis du rouge!'. All to no avail, it would appear.

Between the two narrative sequences, there is thus continuity, cross-referencing and irony. Nowhere is this more evident than in the role-playing of all the protagonists, notably Samuel Cramer himself. Frequently characterized as a 'comédien', his play-acting in the first narrative sequence is mostly hypocritical. In the second, this is not so often the case, since he is described in less deprecatory terms. Endowed with some sense of originality (for La Fanfarlo, at any rate, he had 'l'attrait de la nouveauté'), he takes on what Nathaniel Wing [in The Poetics of Irony in Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo', Neophilologus LIX, No. 2 (April 1975)] has called 'the capacity to astonish': '. . . avec ce diable d'homme, le grand problème est toujours de savoir où le comédien commence'. This time, at least, Samuel was not 'ridicule'.

It is in this more positive projection (with La Fanfarlo's art as a pendant to that of Samuel) that, despite continuing elements of irony, the couple here become 'le poète et la danseuse'. Furthermore, far from the affected 'dandysme', which first offended Mme de Cosmelly in the gradual detachment of her husband, Samuel actually takes on the lifestyle of the dandy in the second narrative sequence, in terms which prefigure Baudelaire's later adumbrations on the subject in Le Peintre de la vie moderne (1863). He conducts his sensual life in the company of La Fanfarlo with the control of an actor or a poet. In short, the central difference in tone between the two narrative sequences is that, whereas, in the first, the predominant emphasis is on the parody of first-generation Romanticism, in the style of Gautier's Les Jeunes-France, in the second, there are elements of a continuing Romanticism which will pave the way for the later 'modernité' of Baudelaire, again as characterized in Le Peintre de la vie moderne: 'la beauté passagère, fugace, de la vie présente'.

Typically, of course, Baudelaire will not be content to take comfort in the predictable swing of this binary movement from the first narrative sequence to the second, with all the sub-sets of call and echo subsumed in that structure. He will end the novella with a pointe, intended to disturb, if not to assault the reader, as he will do in some of the later prose poems. 'Intelligence malhonnête', he concludes, adding a throw-away line which is, in fact, a punch-line, '—comme dit cet honnête M. Nisard'. In order to savour this boutade to the full, the reader needs to know that Désiré Nisard was a critic hostile to Romanticism and much scorned by Baudelaire, Gautier and others. So, this pungent last phrase of La Fanfarlo was in the nature of an 'in-joke'. The very fact that, in order to understand it, we need the benefit of critical apparatus, not merely to enrich but to ensure our comprehension of the ironic antiphrasis contained in 'cet honnête M. Nisard', serves to accentuate the distinction between the 'modern', in the sense of the ephemeral (as here) and elements of 'modernité', fleetingly beautiful and nevertheless lasting in their transience (as in certain parts of the second narrative sequence). Structurally, however, this ambiguous end anticipates analogous types of closure in Le Spleen de Paris. Also, as has been pointed out very pertinently by Nathaniel Wing, it implicates the reader, since 'it clearly sets up an uneasy alignment of the reader's views with a critic hostile to Romanticism'. The reader is left to pirouette in a state of uncertainty and ambiguity.

In the sense that the central duality, inherent in the double narrative sequence of La Fanfarlo, represents the deflation of the ideal by the real and, conversely, the defiant disdain of the world by the dandy whose ideal is encapsulated in the phrase, 'vivre et dormir devant un miroir', Baudelaire's novella has rightly been seen as exemplifying many of the themes of Romantic Irony. This irony in Samuel Cramer's relationship to external reality has a parallel in Baudelaire's relationship to his novella. Baudelaire uses a narrator, or pseudo-author to tell the tale. This narrator is, however, no passive mouth-piece: by means of his constantly shifting view, the dynamic of life is introduced into what would otherwise have been the simple recounting of a story and, in consequence, a further dimension is introduced into the work. Constantly distancing himself, in almost prophylactic self-irony, from 'le pauvre Samuel', the narrator will, at times, intervene to address the reader directly as 'vous'. At the beginning of the second paragraph of the novella, such reader-involvement is actively sought: 'Comment vous mettre au fait, et vous faire voir bien clair dans cette nature ténébreuse . . . ?' This narrative mode is picked up again later, when the pseudo-author mockingly warns the reader not to be taken in by Samuel, with the admonition '. . . gardez-vous de croire qu'il fût incapable de connaître les sentiments vrais'. Elsewhere, the narrator will intervene to express his agreement with the protagonist: 'Cramer haïssait profondément, et il avait, selon moi, parfaitement raison, les grandes lignes droites en matière d'appartements' (italics mine). Generally, however, the distinction between 'je' and 'il' is clearly evident. Furthermore, this 'je' is at times extended into the plural form, to give a presentation of Samuel as 'l'homme le plus faux . . . de nos amis', where the first-person plural has less of a distancing function than in the quasi-Stendhalian use of such locutions as 'notre homme', 'notre poète', 'notre jeune roué'. We are all implicated (protagonist, narrator, author and reader), when the role of 'nous' widens out from the specific to the general, as in the use of 'nous' when applied to the non-achievement of Samuel in Les Orfraies, 'recueil de sonnets, comme nous en avons tous fait et tous lu'. Yet, such authorial intrusions, intended to connote a critical attitude and a clearer sense of focus, are in no sense as rigorously objective as might at first appear, since the attitude of the narrator is coloured by his realization of the limitations of the protagonist. Ever conscious of the victim's confident unawareness, the ironical observer is never completely detached.

Just as, in the relationship between the first and the second narrative sequences, it was possible to establish a pattern of call and echo, a similar interplay may be detected between the narrative and the general discourse of the narrator. No doubt the most celebrated exemplification of this duality is the contrast between the narrator's initial description of Samuel and the ironically undercutting effect of the later descriptions of Samuel from the point of view of La Fanfarlo: from being 'pur et noble', Samuel's forehead now appears 'trop haut'; the nose, which was earlier described as 'taquin et railleur', has been diminished to become a 'nez de priseur'; above all, the 'chevelure prétentieusement raphaélesque' is now simply undisciplined ('cheveux en forêt vierge'). The regression, as C. A. Hackett suggests [in 'Baudelaire and Samuel Cramer', Australian Journal of French Studies VI, Nos. 2-3 (1969)], is further accentuated by the fact that the second of the two portraits has only three of the six features mentioned in the first one. Finally, the last nail in the coffin comes when La Fanfarlo, despite these features, which Samuel had no doubt seen as his glory, 'le trouva presque bien' (italics mine). The puncturing effect of this 'presque' (echoing two earlier though somewhat less devastating uses of the same effect) may be compared with a similar technique adopted by Flaubert in Madame Bovary, where the coach 'ressembla presque à un tilbury' (italics mine). The ironical presentation of a superficially flattering portrait is thus further heightened, to the power of two, on its second appearance: the initial portrait had, after all, introduced the reader to Samuel, in terms of 'cette moitié de génie dont le ciel l'a doué', notable among all the 'demi-grands hommes' in Paris at the time.

A further instance of such regression in repetition may be seen in the 'doublet' of Samuel, as he emerges from meeting Mme de Cosmelly again in the Luxembourg Gardens and the subsequent account of how he fared later in life. Having launched on his tirade against Walter Scott, 'l'ennuyeux écrivain', Samuel is ironically typed as belonging to 'la classe des gens absorbants': we are told that travelling salesmen are to 'poètes absorbants' as 'la réclame' is to 'la prédication', with this difference, that 'le vice de ces derniers est tout à fait désintéressé'. Of the four 'livres de science' eventually written by Samuel, his volume on the four Evangelists takes up the theme of 'la prédication', while another, 'un mémoire sur un nouveau système d'annonces', echoes 'la réclame'.

Call and echo between the narrator's discourse and the narrative sequence, as such, are manifest in the account by Mme de Cosmelly of the favourable reports which attracted her to her future husband ('on citait de lui les traits les plus beaux: un bras cassé en duel pour un ami un peu poltron qui lui avait confié l'honneur de sa sœur, des sommes énormes prêtées à d'anciens camarades sans fortune') and the ironical prefiguration of this in the narrator's description of the unpredictability of Samuel's behaviour: 'Il eût vendu ses chemises pour un homme qu'il connaissait à peine .. . Il se fût battu en duel pour un auteur ou un artiste mort depuis deux siècles'. Again, the narrator's initial account of Samuel in terms of a 'dieu moderne et hermaphrodite' is echoed in the androgynous description of La Fanfarlo's leg. Like Samuel, she too has long hair. Similarly, the presentation of La Fanfarlo as 'tout à tour décente, féerique, folle, enjouée' constitutes a union of incompatibles directly comparable to that indicated, at the outset, by the narrator in relation to Samuel.

All of these repetitions, ranging from internal contradictions (as in the case of the alternative descriptions of Samuel) to variations on a theme (as in the androgynous parallels between Samuel and the Dancer), indicate a double level in the structure of La Fanfarlo, one of which relates to the world inside the double narrative sequence and the other to the world outside, the world of the narrator. For the reader, placed at a third point, outside this double helix, the effect of such conscious reordering of existing elements is essentially two-fold: firstly, these subtle changes of focus can produce rapier-like thrusts of irony, mirroring the non-achievement of the protagonist in both art and life; secondly, by the identification of certain constant elements, coupled with an awareness of the inherent paradox and contradiction endemic to human affairs, the reader becomes conscious of a harmony of opposites, between identification (static) and contradiction (dynamic), which lies at the heart of artistic illusion as presented by Baudelaire. Of the many literary avatars mentioned specifically in La Fanfarlo, perhaps Sterne and Diderot are the most significant in this connection. Coming after Sterne's anti-autobiography, Tristram Shandy (1760-67) and Diderot's anti-novel, Jacques le fataliste (1773), there is a case for viewing Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo as an anti-novella, at the end of what Albert George has described [in Short Fiction in France: 1800-1850, 1964] as the 'seed time of short narrative' in French literature.

Indeed, La Fanfarlo subsumes a hidden roll-call of such literary avatars, each placed to produce maximum effect. Plagiarism is, of course, a noteworthy characteristic of Samuel: 'après une lecture passionnée d'un beau livre, sa conclusion involontaire était: voilà qui est assez beau pour être de moi! et de là à penser: c'est donc de moi,—il n'y a que l'espace d'un tiret'. But plagiarism, coupled with irony, can provide the pretext for conscious innovation. Delacroix, in Le Salon de 1846, is, after all, portrayed as 'un des rares hommes qui restent originaux après avoir puisé à toutes les vraies sources'. Later, in Le Salon de 1859, Baudelaire will declare: 'l'imitation est le vertige des esprits souples et brillants, et souvent même une preuve de supériorité'.

By common agreement [among critics], Balzac is the major source of literary inspiration in La Fanfarlo: 'C'est Balzac traduit en Baudelaire par Baudelaire' [Yves Florenne, in his edition of La Fanfarlo, 1969]. The debt to La Fille aux yeux d'or is indicated by Baudelaire in a footnote and the thematic resemblance to Béatrix is virtually textual. Beyond the multiple superficial parallels between a Rubempré or a Rastignac and Samuel Cramer in this 'terrible vie parisienne' (where even Mme de Cosmelly's address, 'dans une des rues les plus aristocratiques du faubourg Saint-Germain' shows the Balzacian imprint), themes are echoed, not merely to show the connection, but also to indicate points of difference. The most thinlyveiled quotation without quotation-marks in La Fanfarlo is the reference to Rastignac's 'coup d'oeil de vainqueur sur la ville maudite' at the end of Le Père Goriot, but with the ironical difference that Samuel does not muse over his triumph from a distance, but hastens to enjoy 'les diverses félicités qu'il avait à côté de lui'. Baudelaire rushes to the end of his narrative in a temporal acceleration which is not without counterpart in the world of Balzac. Conversely, however, as Jean Prévost[ Baudelaire: Essai sur l'inspiration et la création poétiques, 1953] and Claude Pichois [in his edition of La Fanfarlo] have indicated, Baudelaire leaves obvious gaps in his narrative, notably in relation to the breaking-off of the liaison between La Fanfarlo and M. de Cosmelly, which Balzac would not have omitted. Likewise, Baudelaire does little to inform the reader about the material and financial situation of the Cosmelly couple or about how Samuel came to have his newspaper articles published, whereas Balzac would have revelled in such details. Indeed, from many points of view, La Fanfarlo could be said to represent a reversal of Balzacian values, in the sense that this arrival of a provincial young man in Paris ends in a bourgeois degradation of a kind which anticipates Flaubert as much as it echoes Balzac.

It would be tedious, and beyond the terms of reference of this short study, to go into all the literary quotations contained in La Fanfarlo, from Marivaux, Laclos, Hoffmann, Musset, Pétrus Borei and Gautier, to the tradition of Tartuffe, with its repercussions on the theme of hypocrisy as treated by Stendhal. Virtually all of these echoes have been adopted and adapted by Baudelaire, with open-ended irony. Just as the identification of La Fanfarlo proceeds through metamorphoses in various national cultures, so Samuel is situated among his literary precursors in autobiographical or semi-autobiographical fiction. Imitation can give rise to parody, as happened with the gradual deflation of the stereotype of ill-fated Romantic genius. In Mme de Cosmelly, we have 'la discrète et vertueuse épouse' of the nineteenth-century personal novel. The difficulties involved in the attainment of Samuel's original ambition are almost visualized in the phrase which tells us that she was 'plus escarpée qu'elle n'en avait l'air', suggesting the hard climb up from the typically Romantic 'abîme'. She sees that she may have lost her husband's love by showing him 'trop d'amour', a theme common in the personal novel since La Princesse de Clèves, though here used by Baudelaire with ironic effect. Whatever Samuel's intentions may be, Mme de Cosmelly, as the reader can easily see, in advance of Samuel, will want to maintain their relationship on a footing of 'amitié' and 'choses platoniques'. For his part, Samuel presents a parodying pastiche of his counterparts in the tradition of the personal novel, in that he is a conscious victim of paralyzing self-analysis and of his own 'impuissance'.

The reworking of these literary themes constitutes a homage to a collective tradition and a flouting of this same tradition as an anachronistic irrelevance. Nowhere is this more evident than in the passage where the narrator feigns withdrawal from the narrative and, inspired by a quotation from Diderot, taunts the reader with being too incredulous, seeking for verisimilitude where it is clear that intrigue, as such, is of quite secondary importance.

From the macrocontext to the microcontext, the same holds true, in relation to fossilized phrases, maxims and clichés. The impudent epigraph, Aura sacra fames (in a foreign language, like 'Any where out of the world' in Le Spleen de Paris,) signifies, ostensibly, the cursed lust for gold. In context, however, it is cheeky in the extreme, since it indicates that the gratuitous gesture of literary creativity has degenerated, in the case of Samuel, into the moneymaking cultivation of functional practical writing on unmentionable subjects. Even the celebrated condemnation, 'dans le temps où nous avions le jugement si court et les cheveux si longs', has now been shown to have its origin in a popular proverb, 'La femme est un animal à cheveux longs et à idées courtes', although its full ironical force in Baudelaire's novella comes from its contextual situation.

Maxims are half-hidden in La Fanfarlo, to an extent which only emerges fully after a parallel reading of the approximately contemporaneous Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour (1846), and in the light of Balzac's Physiologie du manage (1829) and some of the later prose poems, such as 'Portraits de maîtresses'. La Fanfarlo, for instance, is described as 'une danseuse aussi bête que belle', in a doublet of the maxim, 'La bêtise est souvent l'ornement de la beauté'. Again, the agoraphobie 'calèche basse et bien fermée', which transports Samuel and La Fanfarlo to her house, where the small, low-ceilinged bedroom provides an idyllic 'réduit amoureux', is subsumed in a maxim-like generalization: 'Les sentiments intimes ne se recueillent à loisir que dans un espace très étroit'. Conversely, the national stereotypes (with shades of Montesquieu, Mme de Staël and Stendhal), of which Samuel is presented as being 'le produit contradictoire', emerge clearly, in the Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour, as the 'Homme du Nord', enjoined to love 'femmes froides' and the 'Homme du Midi', more suited to 'les femmes ardentes'.

The element of duality already indicated in relation to the double narrative sequence and, subsequently, in relation to the ambiguity inherent in the narrator's discourse and the narrative as an entity in itself, is most evident of all in the two dimensions which may be perceived in Baudelaire's use of language in La Fanfarlo: the outward form of the language, on the one hand and, on the other, the inner meaning which it subtends. Sometimes this 'double register' is conveyed by syntactical devices, such as the use of an adjective in anteposition, forming part of a chiasmus designed to produce a subtle contrast: 'féconde en desseins difficiles et en risibles avortements'. Elsewhere, irony is expressed obliquely, but all the more effectively, through the medium of imagery: parodying the analogous collection of sonnets by Rubempré in illusions perdues (Les Marguerites) and Baudelaire's own projected antecedents to Les Fleurs du Mal (Les Lesbiennes, later to become Les Limbes,) Samuel entitles his collection Les Orfraies, referring, in the osprey, to a species of birds of prey, 'vilains oiseaux'; the osprey here represents a negative form of bird or 'anti-oiseau' [see Michael Riffaterre, La production du texte, 1979] and the abortive inspiration thus suggested is further reinforced by the juxtaposition with a correspondingly negative term, 'mortnés', in this context of non-achievement.

By far the most effective device for the ironizing of empty rhetoric is, however, as Michael Riffaterre has pertinently pointed out [in Essais de stylistique structurale, 1971], Baudelaire's use of the cliché. Here, the 'double register' works quite devastatingly to show identity, in the shape of a well-worn cliché, coupled with contrast, in the sudden change or adaptation of one of the terms of the cliché. One of the examples selected by Michael Riffaterre for analysis in this connection is the hyperbolic reference to Samuel's 'voix tonnante', in calling after Flore not to forget La Fanfarlo's rouge, when fetching her costume. This fossilized cliché takes its effect from the incongruity of an excessively booming voice in the restricted confines of the dancer's small and low bedroom. Here, then, it is the context which renews the impact of the cliché. Elsewhere, the simple addition of 'romantique' to the wellworn expression, 'bavarder comme une pie', produces the requisite shock. The combination of cliché and metaphor is evident in the phrase, 'autres linges sales de la vie privée'. Most frequently, however, it is the ironical intrusion of a phrase, hardened by use, into a context in which it would normally be considered alien, which constitutes the central innovative effect of Baudelaire's use of the cliché. Thus, the juxtaposition of 'paroles mielleuses' and the deflatory 'etc' permits of a widening of the semantic field.

If, then, we take the reworking of a proverb (e.g. 'dans le temps où nous avions le jugement si court et les cheveux si longs'), a self-quotation, or a direct quotation (as already discussed in relation to Balzac and others), this 'double register', at the level of the microcontext, may be seen to produce an effect analogous to the principle of juxtaposition and discontinuity already established at the level of the macrocontext. 'Il faut remarquer', writes Baudelaire, in De l'essence du rire, 'que chaque terme de chaque classification peut se compléter et se nuancer par l'adjonction d'un terme d'une autre, comme la loi grammaticale nous enseigne à modifier le substantif par l'adjectif. One final example may serve to illustrate this point. 'Il n'est pas de rêve', Samuel tells Mme de Cosmelly, 'quelque idéal qu'il soit, qu'on ne retrouve avec un poupard glouton suspendu au sein'. This image is one which involves cross-referencing within La Fanfarlo (Samuel thinks of pregnancy as 'une maladie d'araignée', where the spider connotes imprisonment as well as enlargement) and self-quotation. It also, as Michael Riffaterre has pointed out [in La production du texte] constitutes a binary combination of polar opposites, in that 'poupard glouton' suggests a negative version of the stereotype of motherhood. The Romantic irony of the entire novella may be seen, in concentrated form, in the functioning of this combination of contradictory elements, rendered dynamic, not by any notation of external reality, nor yet again by any injection of strength from the plot (from which it is, strictly speaking, extraneous), but simply by its negativity, suggesting much of the rich, ironic potential of the authorial persona of Baudelaire.

In the light of the multiple dualities already discussed, the three apparently self-contained sections in the second narrative sequence would need to be up-graded from the status of digressions, which 'ruined the economy of the tale', in the words of Albert George, to a position of prime importance in any assessment of the originality and achievement of Baudelaire in La Fanfarlo. These three sections, on dance, the culinary arts and architecture respectively, constitute a mosaic-type pattern.

These ostensibly parenthetical passages contribute to the narrative obliquely, as Nathaniel Wing has shown with great subtlety. They do so on two levels. Firstly, Samuel, in his seduction of La Fanfarlo, was able to cultivate the detachment necessary to the Dandy and the true Artist. La Fanfarlo, for her part, transcends physical attractiveness and appeals to Samuel through a multiplicity of identities and aesthetic values, in the history of pantomime and the commedia dell'arte (Colombine, Zéphyrine etc.). 'Un battement perpétuel', in the words of Jean Starobinski, 'enlève le corps dans une signification fictive et le renvoie de cette signification à la présence physique littérale' [Portrait de l'artiste en saltimbanque, 1970]. The Dancer is identified in the context of her culture ('un caprice de Shakespeare et une bouffonnerie italienne'), just as the Poet is situated in the context of his literary tradition. As Nathaniel Wing has put it, 'the consonance of the lovers' sentiments is only possible because they have renounced the myth of presence'. La Fanfarlo prefigures the section 'La Femme' in Le Peintre de la vie moderne, in that, amid the magic, glitter and fantasy of the theatre, 'la femme et. . . la robe' constitute 'une toilette indivisible'. Her make-up (a further prefiguration of 'Eloge du maquillage') combines with her spangled costume to form part of her attraction for Samuel, just as the connivance of the glance, in 'a une passante', is inseparable from the swirl of the dress. Furthermore, her aesthetic control of movement and form is comparable to the blend of 'volupté' and 'connaissance', so central to artistic achievement, in the view of Baudelaire. The reference to the 'grands peuples voluptueux et savants', in the context of architecture, is thus in keeping with the combination of passion and order in the sequence as a whole. The culinary arts, we are told, require a vigorous understanding of the chemical properties of matter, consciously selected with a view to inducing a sense of well-being or voluptuousness. La Fanfarlo has so far transcended mastery of technique as a ballet-dancer that she has become 'sublime dans son art, autant comédienne par les jambes que danseuse par les yeux'. When once she loses this domination, the charm is broken: La Fanfarlo becomes a high-class tart ('une espèce de lorette ministérielle') and gets fat. 'La femme est le contraire du Dandy', Baudelaire will comment later, in Mon Cæur mis à nu. 'Donc elle doit faire horreur'. A similar fate awaits Samuel when he becomes the victim of his own passion, loses his sense of artistic detachment and drops, in consequence, from the status of Poet-Dandy: 'Il avait souvent singé la passion; il fut contraint de la connaître; . . . ce fut . . . l'amour maladif des courtisanes'. Baudelaire's interest in dance anticipates subsequent developments in the work of Mallarmé and Valéry, coupled with manifestations of the Salome figure in the work of Flaubert, Gustave Moreau, Huysmans and Wilde.

The second level on which these parenthetical passages advance the narrative obliquely lies in the extent to which La Fanfarlo, the Dancer, may be seen as a disguised selfprojection of Samuel, the Poet. Not only does she present an emblem with a double aspect (aesthetic, as well as physical; controlled, as well as seductive); she also presents a manifestation of the age-old distinction between self and anti-self, face and mask, which was to be of such fascination for the mirror-contemplating Samuel. Musset's Fantasio embodies just such a disguised self-representation. In the case of Baudelaire, however, the effect is almost one of mise en abyme in that Samuel, already semiautobiographical, here gives a projection of the Dancer as the consummate artist he himself vainly hopes to become, a projection given heightened irony by the narrator's distinctly anti-establishment thrusts in the closing paragraphs of the novella. In the transition from mythological goddesses to a real ballerina; in the metamorphosis of a genre scene to 'ce ravissant taudis, qui tenait à la fois du mauvais lieu et du sanctuaire', with echoes, besides, of Delacroix's Femmes d'Alger, as described by Baudelaire in Le Salon de 1846; in the shift of emphasis from a non-genius, an anti-hero, to an ideal of beauty explicable in terms of 'modernité', or the encapsulation of the ephemeral; in all of these ways, Baudelaire is introducing a new dimension into his novella and is producing an effect which is strikingly original. Far from giving a direct narrative account of the relationship between the Poet and the Dancer, he suggests this evolution obliquely through a discussion of the consonance of their views (corresponding closely, of course, with his own). The parallel sets develop in almost geometrical progression, with the truffle acting as an intensifier: 'la truffe . . . a l'effet de plusieurs zéros après un chiffre'.

The Poet/Dancer sequence of La Fanfarlo is written in poetic prose. It aims at combining the unexpected and the predictable in a metrical prose best typified by the description of the Dancer's movements, 'pleins d'une cadence précise'. In general terms, however, rhythm is seen by Baudelaire as incompatible with prose writing, 'un obstacle insurmontable à ce développement minutieux de pensées et d'expressions qui a pour objet la vérité'. These aesthetic considerations may well have been a major factor in the non-fulfilment of Baudelaire's early ambition, as expressed by him in a letter to his mother in 1847, to become a successful novelist, and repeated in 1858, after the publication of Les Fleurs du Mal. The 'multitude de tons', which he admired in relation to Poe's short stories, coupled with the unity of effect which he saw as ideal for that art form, were well exemplified by Baudelaire in La Fanfarlo. But this work is an anti-novella in a context more particularized than that of literary history: it did nothing to discourage Baudelaire from including contes in Le Spleen de Paris; yet, by his evident lack of interest in plot and sequential analysis, it may well have convinced the poet that his qualities were not those which he deemed appropriate for a successful novelist. On the other hand, the sequences in the novella which, superficially, appear to be only tangential to the story-line, are those in which Baudelaire's achievement is most noteworthy, in terms of suggestive art. The 'entente profonde', between the Poet and the Dancer, is expressed 'dans chaque regard et dans chaque parole', a typically Baudelairean communion of 'l'esprit' and 'les sens'. Their conversation is characterized as being 'tantôt brutale comme un chiffre, tantôt délicate et parfumée comme une fleur ou un sachet', a combination of the precise and the subtly evocative. Perhaps the most lasting impression of La Fanfarlo is just such a tension between the message and the medium through which it is conveyed. All the various dualities then converge in the ultimate communion between the author, in his multiple transformations, and the reader, whose response is actively sought. Where such a symbiosis can be achieved, the highest value of creative art, as posited by Baudelaire, has been attained.

Vivien L. Rubin (essay date 1985-86)

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SOURCE: "Two Prose Poems by Baudelaire: 'Le vieux saltimbanque' and 'Une mort héroïque,'" in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. XIV, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall-Winter, 1985-86, pp. 51-60.

[In the following essay, Rubin suggests that in the prose poems "Le vieux saltimbanque" and "Une mort héroïque" Baudelaire defends the role of the artist and the power of art. ]

In "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" and "Une Mort héroïque," we read of the failure or death of two clown figures whom Baudelaire proposes as symbols of the poet. Two critics in particular, Jean Starobinski and Ross Chambers, have written illuminating essays on the idea of the poet as actor and clown in Baudelaire and, along with other commentators, they both see these poems as expressing the failure of the artist and, as Starobinski puts it [in "Sur quelques répondants allégoriques du poète," Revue d'histoire litteraire de la France, 67 (avril-juin 1967)], "la conscience de la mort et l'impuissance de l'art." Chambers, for his part, asserts [in "L'art sublime du comédien," Saggie e ricerche di Letteratura Francesa 11 (1971)] that the function of Baudelaire's "comédiens" is to show that "tout artiste, même le plus accompli, est voué à la catastrophe du sifflet." Without denying the pessimism evident here, I should like to propose a shift in perspective, and to suggest that in these two poems Baudelaire in fact defends, with however devious a tenacity, the validity of the role of the artist and affirms once again the power of art, even in the face of suffering and death.

The setting for "Le Vieux Saltimbanque" is a fairground on a public holiday and the narrator recounts how, as he was inspecting the stalls, his attention was caught by the sight of the miserable stand of a wretched saltimbanque at the very end of the line of booths. The saltimbanque is clearly an outcast, a pariah, and so is bound to arouse, if not the sympathy, at least the curiosity of the poet-narrator. And indeed the narrator is profoundly moved by the sight of the decrepit figure and by the speaking, albeit enigmatic, look that he bends on the crowd. The narrator has just made up his mind to make a discreet donation when he is swept away by a sudden rush of people. Looking back and trying to understand the reason for the emotion that had overcome him, he tells himself: "Je viens de voir l'image du vieil homme de lettres qui a survécu à la génération dont il fut le brillant amuseur; du vieux poète sans amis, sans famille, sans enfants, dégradé par sa misère et par l'ingratitude publique, et dans la baraque de qui le monde oublieux ne veut plus entrer!"

[In his edition of Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose ] Henri Lemaître has commented that the fair is given a special dimension through the use of such expressions as "ces solennités," "ces époques solennelles," "ce jubilé populaire." The nature of this solemn occasion, however, is particularly significant, for it represents, on one level, a ritual celebration through which the power of art is made manifest. When the narrator recalls the smell of frying, it is to comment that it was "comme l'encens de cette fête," while performers are compared to princesses, to fairies, to gods. These performers, who are themselves metamorphosed by the power of their art, in turn transform. And although the power of art is not limitless—it is only an "armistice," after all, that is concluded with "les puissances malfaisantes de la vie"—yet, under its spell, pain and toil are forgotten and innocence is come again: "il me semble que le peuple oublie tout, la douleur et le travail; il devient pareil aux enfants."

Alas, the miserable saltimbanque has quite lost the alchemist's touch. In the rest of the fair, all is light, agility, horizontality—conditions that define what Henri Leyreloup calls the "réalité antérieure où l'art était possible" ["Baudelaire, Portrait du poète en saltimbanque," Revue de Pacifique 2 (1976)]. But the saltimbanque himself is the image of physical decrepitude, immobility, silence, while the two smoking, guttering candles that light up his repulsive booth complete the image of the fall from grace, of exile to the outer darkness. Excluded from participation in the fair as either magical performer or enthralled spectator, he is doubly excluded from the realm of art and the ideal, where the dross of everyday life falls away and man and his surroundings become, however fleetingly, transfigured.

But if the fair represents, among other things, "la fête de l'art," as Chambers puts it, it is not surprising, given Baudelaire's constant sense of opposition, that it also has negative aspects. Hannelore Zaubitzer's suggestion that the fair represents the vanity of mortal fame seems inadequate, for if on one level the fair represents the transforming power of art, on another it represents a debased art, a tainted ideal and the world of the prostituted artist [Zaubitzer, "Clownmetaphern bei Baudelaire, Mallarmé und Michaux," Die Neueren Sprachen 15 (1966)]. Understood in this way, the all-pervading smell of frying takes on a more strongly ironic tone, and the "frenetic" explosion of vitality gives us a painful sense of the crude, undisciplined dissipation of animal spirits. We become aware of the emphasis on excess, almost on distortion, on the material and the physical: the performers "piaillaient, beuglaient, hurlaient," "les queues-rouges et les Jocrisses convulsaient les traits de leurs visages basanés, racornis par le vent, la pluie et le soleil," "les Hercules, fiers de l'énormité de leurs membres, sans front et sans crâne, comme les orangoutangs, se prélassaient majestueusement. . . ." Here, the performers, far from incarnating the ideal, resemble more closely animals in a menagerie. The theme of the prostitution of the artist is thus already prepared well before the closing lines: we see the saltimbanque excluded from a celebration in which we are uncomfortably aware of quite unspiritualized matter, of false glitter, of plebeian smells. And this is the fair in which he himself had been wont to hawk his wares.

The fair is, indeed, in some respects painfully like the market place. Certainly, the situation here is not that evoked in, for instance, "La Muse vénale," where the poet's muse, "saltimbanque à jeun," is forced to "étaler (ses) appas / Et (son) rire trempé de pleurs qu'on ne voit pas." In the fair, there is no suggestion of exploitation but rather one of beneficent reciprocity, with both performers and public "également joyeux." Yet the idea of buying and selling, already to some extent inseparable from the idea of the fair, is stressed by the narrator when he comments, "les uns dépensaient, les autres gagnaient," and again, "partout la joie, le gain, la débauche"—thus underlining the commercial element in the exchange between performer and public. And this sense of the fair as the world of the prostituted artist is reinforced when the narrator explains to himself the reasons for his emotion at the sight of the old man. For when the narrator compares the saltimbanque to a "vieil homme de lettres," he insists on the analogy in somewhat denigrating terms, identifying the showman as he does with a mere "brillant amuseur." Similarly, comparing the showman to an old, friendless poet with the words "dans la baraque de qui le monde oublieux ne veut plus entrer," he suggests the venality of the poet figure and stresses the showman-charlatan element of the poet that the old saltimbanque brings to mind.

Even the suggestion of a brilliant past for the poet-showman reinforces our sense of the somewhat pejorative nuances of the image. We need only remember Baudelaire's comment in the article on Gautier: "Pour devenir tout à fait populaire, ne faut-il pas mériter de l'être, c'està-dire, ne faut-il pas, par un petit côté secret, un presque rien qui fait tache, se montrer un peu populacier?" In "Le Vieux Saltimbanque," the old showman is endowed with a significance beyond his immediate presence, but the images of writer and poet that he conjures up in the mind of the narrator are proportionately reduced in dignity and virtue and represent compromised, flawed figures.

If Baudelaire reduced the poet to hawker and showman, rather than simply elevating the saltimbanque to the dignity of poet, as did Banville for example, it is not merely to dramatize the unhappy lot of the poet-saltimbanque victim, but to comment on the nature of the fate that has overtaken him. Baudelaire stresses the physical decrepitude of the old man, "voûté, caduc, décrépit, une ruine d'homme." But it is not simply age that has defeated the saltimbanque, nor is it just the fickleness of the public: the fate of the old showman is that which overcomes the artist who has trod not the austere paths of Art, but the glittering road to Success. He symbolizes the poet whose dependence on his public results in artistic death when the public's approval is withdrawn—for then there is nothing left for him and he is simply a broken old man. More horrifying for the narrator, and for Baudelaire, than the poverty of this figure, or his loss of popularity, is surely his loss of will that, we can only feel, results at least in part from the loss of his public. The narrator describes the immobility, the inertness of the showman as he leans against one of the poles of his hut. Contrary to Starobinski's belief that "Il continue à s'offrir en spectacle, dans le fol espoir de trouver un public à qui se prostituer," the narrator is explicit that the showman stood at the very edge of the fairground, "comme si, honteux, il s'était exilé lui-même." He insists, "il avait renoncé, il avait abdiqué. Sa destinée était faite." For the poet of the Journaux intimes, who reminds himself:

Plus on veut, mieux on veut.
Plus on travaille et plus on veut travailler. Plus on
produit, plus on devient fécond,

the "failure" of this figure lies especially in this abdication. The fate of the old saltimbanque is poignant because he is reduced to repellant poverty; it is tragic because, having lost his will and so necessarily his power to act—but not his consciousness of exclusion—he can no longer, through his art, attain those moments of ideal vision that constitute a truce with "les puissances malfaisantes de la vie."

In this, as in other of the prose poems, the narrator's is an essential voice. [In La dernier Baudelaire, 1966] Charles Mauron has shown that the narrator in the Petits Poèmes en Prose is often attracted to, but then refuses contact with, a character who has caught his attention. In this case, the feelings aroused are stronger than usual, as Starobinski has observed, but his movement of withdrawal is decisive. The narrator has tears in his eyes, but we are told explicitly that they do not fall, and although he feels the hand of hysteria at his throat, he preserves his role of observer, for he is carried away by the crowd before he has performed the action that would have associated him, however tenuously, more directly with the fallen saltimbanque. The distance that the narrator puts between himself and the saltimbanque is of course a symbolic distance and this symbolic distance is reinforced by the very precise and yet strikingly limited explanation that, we saw, he gives of the "vision" that he had just seen. Starobinski merely comments that Baudelaire explains the sense of the vision rather narrowly, "de façcon nette mais un peu étroite," and does not speculate on possible reasons for this. Chambers, on the other hand, specifically rejects the possibility that these identifications have any limiting force: "On peut prétendre sans doute que ce saltimbanque n'avait jamais été qu'un mauvais artiste, un 'brillant amuseur' . . . ; mais ce serait se méprendre sur l'intention de Baudelaire." Yet the narrator's explanation, which can be felt to be narrow, but which includes two separate images and takes five lines of text, is detailed and specific, and enables the narrator, after the initial shock of sympathetic recognition, to separate himself from the showman. After an initial moment of horrified recognition of weaknesses and failures that fill him with panic and fear, the narrator, melting back into the brilliance and activity of the crowd, clearly reasserts his difference: he proposes the saltimbanque as a figure of failure and defeat and refuses to identify with him.

In "Une Mort héroïque," it is the brilliant buffoon, Fancioulle, who represents the creative artist: actor of consummate skill, he demonstrates the power of art to create an ideal world more compelling than reality. In the poem, the artist-poet figure confronts three different publics: the unpromising audience, "blasé, frivole," of the court, the powerful Prince, his master, and finally the narrator himself. Again, one of the themes will be that of the relationship between the artist and his public. And, once again, the artist is not an independent agent: he is one whose job it is, like that of the buffoon in Le Fou et la Vénuti, to "faire rire (le roi) quand l'Ennui et le Remords (l')obsèdent." In this case, the buffoon is represented as having made, apparently futile, efforts to free himself from dependence, by joining in a conspiracy against the tyrannical Prince. Starobinski, for one, understands Baudelaire as condemning Fancioulle for this revolt: "Il s'agit d'une transgression de l'ordre établi," declares Starobinski, before continuing, "Cet ordre établi fût-il injuste et despotique, la transgression prend valeur de sacrilège car elle ne s'élève pas seulement contre l'autorité, mais contre l'amitié." But Baudelaire's comment in Mon Cœur mis à nu: "de la vraie grandeur des parias," reminds us that for Baudelaire, Fancioulle's error is more likely to have been that, by identifying himself with the disaffected nobles, he was in effect attempting to escape from the isolation of the pariah, which Baudelaire saw as one of the "titres de gloire" of the comédien. Is the buffoon guilty of treason against friendship, as Starobinski suggests? When we are told, in an opening that is saturated with irony, that Fancioulle was "presque un des amis du Prince," this too is surely to be taken ironically. As we read on, it becomes apparent that friendship is not a relationship that could, in any degree, have interested the Prince. But, by entering the conspiracy, Fancioulle was endeavoring to reject the ambiguous, marginal nature of his connections with society. One result is that, when he attempts to enter more completely into society, he becomes liable to its laws, and he is condemned: "Les seigneurs en question furent arrêtés, ainsi que Fancioulle, et voués à une mort certaine."

The act of rebellion, although it seems at first to deliver Fancioulle more completely into the hands of the Prince, in fact effectively releases him from bondage. Paradoxically, it is the certainty of death which frees the mime. For, contrary to Starobinski's belief that the Prince "promet à Fancioulle la vie sauve à la condition que celui-ci joue à la perfection"( Portrait de l'artiste en saltimbanque, 1970) one of his principal and best roles, nothing is less certain. The narrator specifically notes that he himself was not misled by the rumors of clemency that had started to circulate and that he had surmised that the Prince had wanted to see what effect a sentence of death would have on the artist's performance: "De la part d'un homme aussi naturellement et volontairement excentrique, tout était possible, même la vertu, même la clémence. . . . Mais pour ceux qui, comme moi, avaient pu pénétrer plus avant dans les profondeurs de cette âme curieuse et malade, il était infiniment plus probable que le Prince voulait juger de la valeur des talents scéniques d'un homme condamné à mort." In my view, Chambers also forces the text and in doing so oversimplifies the dilemma proposed by Baudelaire when, arguing along the same lines as Starobinski, he writes: "Seulement, l'art vrai est peut-être ce qui nous sauve de la mort? C'est ce que l'expérience du prince, imposant à Fancioulle de mériter le pardon par l'excellence de son jeu, va tenter de découvrir" ("L'Art sublime du comédien," Saggie e ricerche di letteratura Francesa 11, 1971) The difference in readings is an important one: buoyed by the hope of pardon, a disciplined, or even a merely desperate, artist might be able, after all, to rise to the occasion. But faced with the certainty of death, will despair and loss of will immobilize the actor, as it immobilizes the old saltimbanque? Fancioulle, on the day of the final performance, knowing that he is about to pay the supreme penalty, owes the Prince nothing and has nothing further to hope or to fear from him. The paradox is that Fancioulle is now in an ideal situation for an artist in that he has a public, but his relationship with it is not in any degree degrading, since he is neither asking nor receiving anything from it (except its appreciative participation) in return for his performance. Fancioulle is seen by the narrator in terms of the martyred, and so by definition, the now innocent artist. Far from acting well in order to earn his reprieve, and thereby falling to an even greater degree into the power of the Prince, the mime has not now recovered, but has at last achieved, freedom. It is this, no doubt, which enables him to give a performance such as, the narrator implies, Fancioulle had never before given: "Fancioulle fut ce soir-là une parfaite idéalisation qu'il était impossible de ne nas supposer vivante, possible, réelle."

Two opposing aesthetic principles confront each other in the persons of Fancioulle and the Prince. On the one hand, the sustained efforts of the actor result in a superb act of creation; on the other, a moment's "inspiration" results in an act of destruction. When we remember Baudelaire's comments on the need for sustained creative effort, it might seem perverse of him to choose the art of mime to represent the power of art if, that is, we accepted Starobinski's comment that "la décision du Prince est d'improvisation, comme l'art de Fancioulle" (Portrait, my emphasis). In fact, the improvisory nature of the Prince's art establishes another distinction between the two, for although in the art of mime improvisation plays a part, it is a limited part—certainly this is true of the pantomimes which Baudelaire would have seen in the mid-nineteenth century. It depends, rather, on experience, on a repertoire of gestures and developments, rehearsed, modified, refined, and then applied to a stock range of situations. In "Une Mort héroïque," moreover, the narrator is explicit that Fancioulle was performing in one of his most wellknown roles. Again, as Chambers reminds us, the actor represents the artist who has understood that inspiration "n'est que la récompense de l'exercice quotidien"(Les Martyrs ridicules.) The achievement of such an artist is not the absurdly impossible one of preserving either himself or us from death. The immortality which poets bestow is never a fleshly one. The achievement of such an artist is that he is able to create both for himself and for others that expansion of the spirit, that state of "enivrement" which Baudelaire so often extolled and which has the power to lift us for a while out of time and the contingent: "Fancioulle me prouvait, d'une manière péremptoire, irréfutable, que l'ivresse de l'art est plus apte que tout autre à voiler les terreurs du gouffre; que le génie peut jouer la comédie au bord de la tombe avec une joie qui l'empêche de voir la tombe, perdu comme il est dans un paradis excluant toute idée de tombe et de destruction."

But the fact that Baudelaire specifies that Fancioulle was a mime actor who excelled above all "dans les rôles muets ou peu chargés de paroles," has another, more profound significance. For when Fancioulle gives his unparalleled performance, he is not interpreting another's text: he himself is the poet, the creator and, extraordinary feat, he himself becomes the work of art that he creates: "Fancioulle fut, ce soir-là, une parfaite idéalisation, qu'il était impossible de ne pas supposer vivante, possible, réelle." Having at first attemped to identify too closely with society, Fancioulle now tips the balance in the other direction and succumbs to the temptation that stands at the other pole to the one which had destroyed the old showman in "Le Vieux Saltimbanque": leaving the real world, Fancioulle now identifies too completely with art. Total identification with art is inevitably the end of life. And when the real world, in the form of the whistle, interrupts and so destroys the creation with which he has identified, which he himself incarnates, he is himself necessarily also destroyed, for he and his creation are one and the same.

Opposed to Fancioulle is that other artist, the Prince himself. "Amoureux passionné des beaux-arts," "véritable artiste lui-même," the Prince is at once the incarnation of Ennui and its victim. He has his own art, we are told, "(l'art) de terrifier les cœurs et d'engourdir les esprits," the very art of Ennui itself. At the same time, Ennui is his greatest enemy and he has recourse to perverse stratagems to ward it off. He is to be numbered with those who seek to reach "d'un seul coup" intense aesthetic and spiritual pleasure. When the Prince is frustrated in his expectations and sees that, contrary to all reason, Fancioulle, taking his audience with him, is able to enter a world from which all thought of death is banished, he is not, as eternal victim of Ennui, able to enter fully into that world with the rest. On the other hand, he does not remain a mere spectator. Artist that he is, he has an "inspiration" and orders his page to blow a whistle. Ceasing to be a spectator, he adds his own inimitable touch to the scenario, as a result of which the creative artist's vision and the artist himself are destroyed.

Fancioulle dies, but in my view it is a mistake to believe that the narrator's affirmation of the power of art is mere irony and that it is negated by the death of the mime. The death of the mime was never in doubt and, within the fiction, he is already dead when the narrator recalls the power of the actor's last performance and describes the "indestructible" halo above the actor's head. If art were not powerful indeed, Fancioulle would not die as he does. As it is, he dies, not as a conspirator, but as an actor; he dies not the degraded death of a forgotten saltimbanque whom the Muses have abandoned, but the heroic death of the supreme artist. Nor does the death of the artist negate the affirmation that art which springs from our yearning for beauty and which is the result of a constant striving for perfection can perform an amazing feat: by creating intense emotion it can bring such intoxication and joy that it banishes for a moment the thought of death in the very presence of death itself. And even if, as we saw in "Le Vieux Saltimbanque," the intoxication of art is transitory, yet it can be renewed. Fancioulle's performance lives on in the memory of the narrator and still retains its power to move to tears. The nature and the cause of the emotion felt by the narrator in this poem are not the same as for that which he experienced in "Le Vieux Saltimbanque," for it is at the climax of the poem, when he is recalling not the death, but the supreme achievement of the actor, that he writes: "des larmes d'une émotion toujours présente me montent aux yeux pendant que je cherche à vous décrire cette inoubliable soirée."

Once again, associated with the narrator's ability to identify with the other, is the affirmation of his difference. At the time of the performance, he preserves his detachment sufficiently to observe actor and Prince alike. And although his eyes are filling with tears, we are told, as he recalls that unforgettable evening, the characteristically deliberate tone, the ironic style and punning conceits are expressions of the symbolic distance that separates the narrator from the symbolic events which he records. The narrator was not the old showman, nor is he either Fancioulle or the Prince.

These two poems may be seen in part as exempla in which Baudelaire exposes not so much the failure of art as the failings of the artist. They are also brilliant illustrations of the affirmation that the "poète actif et fécond" can "à sa guise être lui-même et autrui" ("Les Foules"). In both, the narrator is an essential element: unlike the old showman or Fancioulle or the Prince, he has succeeded in maintaining that precarious equilibrium that, it seems, is a necessary condition of art in life and of the artist in the world. It is the narrator who holds in balance the Baudelairian polarities of intoxication as opposed to continual self-awareness, of "prostitution" and "concentration," of "surnaturalisme" and "ironie." The narrator identifies imaginatively with figures who represent temptations and dangers that beset the artist, but he also demonstrates conclusively that he himself has not succumbed, nor suffered their fate.

Moreover, Baudelaire here affirms the continuity of art, regardless of the fate of the individual. The old showman has lost all creative powers but the fair continues and performers and spectators alike can depend upon its regular return. Fancioulle achieves immortality, moving from the "memory" of the narrator into the text of the poem. The narrator, himself a poet figure, is perceived as having transformed his consciousness of the frailties of man, of the poignant, even tragic aspects of the artist's condition and, yes, even of the limitations of art, into poetry. Baudelaire, through the narrator, rejects inertia and despair and affirms the possibility of life and art, by the very act of composing these meditations on the role of art and the condition of the artist and by being seen to record, "ma plume tremble," this time in more enduring form, the affirmation of the power of art that Fancioulle's performance represented.

J. A. Hiddleston (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: '"Une morale désagréable,'" in Baudelaire and "Le spleen de Paris," Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1987, pp. 33-61.

[In the following excerpt, Hiddleston argues that Le spleen de Paris is a pessimistic work refuting the presence of moral order and divine providence in the world.]

It was Baudelaire's stated intention in Le spleen de Paris to emphasize the random and accidental aspects of his thought and inspiration and to draw, or to give the impression of drawing, from his observation of Paris street scenes through the disillusioned eyes of a man afflicted by the ennui of a vast modern capital, an unpleasant moral lesson. His intention . . . was to show another Joseph Delorme, without the languor and the elegant melancholy, but with the added qualities of irony, bitterness, and modernity, 'accrochant sa pensée rapsodique à chaque accident de sa flânerie et tirant de chaque objet une morale désagréable' [Baudelaire, Correspondance, edited by Claude Pinchois, 1973], an intention which, though enunciated as late as 1866, becomes increasingly obvious in the various alternative titles he envisaged for the collection: Poèmes nocturnes, La Lueur et la fumée, Le Promeneur solitaire, Le Rôdeur parisien, Le Flâneur des deux rives. There is, consequently, in many of the prose poems, which bear witness to that fascination with crowds and urban life which Baudelaire admired in Hugo, Poe, and Constantin Guys, a strong sense of the fortuitous or accidental, the feeling that the poet just happens to be there and, by a chance turn of his random wandering through the capital, is vouchsafed, in the observation of an apparently trivial occurrence, a glimpse into a more significant and deeper reality. It is as if, through the encounter with the trivial, some secret truth is revealed, so that if the poet often appears in the role of a voyeur, his voyeurism is not limited to the petty trivialities which normally remain unnoticed, but gives on to a deeper understanding of things. It is a voyeurism which might be thought of as the moral equivalent of that most poetic of all faculties, 'voyance'. Since 'la vie parisienne est féconde en sujets poétiques et merveilleux', and since 'le merveilleux nous enveloppe et nous abreuve comme l'atmosphère' [Oeuvres complètes], the result is that the 'choses vues' tend to take on the power and significance of symbolic or allegorical figures. One of the finest examples is 'Les Veuves' which, on the very simplest level, appears little more than a list of the various types of widow that can be seen in the streets or gardens of Paris, until the evocation of the central figure, 'un être dont la noblesse faisait un éclatant contraste avec toute la trivialité environnante'. He describes the 'parfum de hautaine vertu' and the sad, gaunt face of this 'femme grande, majestueuse, et si noble dans tout son air, que je n'ai pas souvenir d'avoir vu sa pareille . . . ' until the figure becomes so detached from the base and ignoble surroundings that it becomes a 'Singulière vision' standing above the rest of humanity and endowed with a heightened significance. The moment in which the poet catches sight of her seems, as in 'A une passante', to stand outside time, and this heightening of reality transforms the widow from a 'chose vue' into an allegorical figure of loneliness and disproportion. Or take the mountebank in 'Le Vieux Saltimbanque' who is not just a sad old man whose act has ceased to draw the public; he has become the incarnation of the once successful writer whose message is no longer acceptable or of interest to a public bent on the most strident and mindless 'divertissements'.

But not all such 'choses vues' are as successful. There can, as in 'Un plaisant', be a gap which is difficult to overcome between the description, in this case the splendidly vigorous and chaotic 'explosion' of the New Year, and the moral significance which the poet wishes to attach to it. The 'beau monsieur' who wishes the donkey a happy new year in the middle of the street somehow fails to be elevated to a representative figure of the spirit of France. Whereas the correlation between the mountebank and the poet was immediately perceptible and rich in possible associations and resonances, that between the 'magnifique imbécile' and 'tout l'esprit de la France' seems poor, and indeed seems to detract from the vivid street scene, a veritable 'croquis parisien' worthy of Constantin Guys, having such an immediate appeal to the reader's imagination and memory as to be able to stand on its own without its spurious and redundant crutches. The moral lesson—that France is composed of vain and useless imbeciles who scoff at the humble and useful who are themselves driven by gross, barbarous, and cruel taskmasters—is unlikely to impress itself on the mind as a great and profound truth. Perhaps because the gesture of the fine gentleman bowing before the donkey is too bizarre and extravagant, and because 'l'esprit de la France' is too vague and general as a concept, 'Un plaisant' remains an anecdote, and we are uncomfortably aware of the poet striving to graft on to this 'accident de sa flânerie' a disagreeable message, which does not manage to rise much above the snide or gratuitously cynical remark.

The impact of a piece such as 'Le Désespoir de la vieille', which relates the despair of an old woman who smilingly approaches a baby and is rebuffed by vigorous infant squallings, may at first seem exceedingly meagre and banal, until we glimpse behind it the literary or cultural commonplace which it upsets. It is a banality to link infancy to old age, and the poem obediently shows us the old woman and the infant, defenceless and frail, without teeth and without hair. There is in the commonplace a sense of recurrence which is not without comfort, a sense of a return not only to innocence when the aged have been removed from action, but also perhaps a sense of a return to origins and a circular view of time in which there is a suggestion of the identity of beginning and end. It is this veiled presence of a cultural commonplace together with the strongly visual properties of the piece which no doubt prompted René Jasinski to describe it [in A travers le XIXe siècle, 1975] as a 'scène familière, qui confine au tableau de genre', and it could well be this also which caused the organizers of the Baudelaire exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1957—unconvincingly according to Kopp [in his edition of Petits poèms en prose, 1969]—to state that the Daumier drawing 'La Vieille Femme et l'enfant' was 'en rapport' with Baudelaire's prose poem. But the organizers were right, only it is a relationship of contrast rather than similarity, since Daumier's drawing shows a serene old woman looking thoughtfully into the face of a placid baby. Baudelaire panders to the poncif in the first part of the poem, whose force and 'rayonnement' stem from the sudden 'soubresaut' caused in the mind of the reader who is expecting a reassuring moral message, but is left with a 'morale désagréable' and a poignant sense of solitude and despair.

Commonplaces, platitudes, and 'idées reçues', which fascinated Baudelaire every bit as much as Flaubert, abound in the prose poems, where they serve the purpose of pointing an unpleasant moral lesson in a wilfully prosaic and debilitated style. Superficially and taken out of context, nothing could appear more pedestrian than such statements as 'le crépuscule excite les fous', 'il ne faut pas manger tout son bien en un jour', 'il y a si peu d'amusements qui ne soient pas coupables', 'la pensée est incommunicable' [see 'Le Crépuscule du soir', 'La Femme sauvage et la petite-maîtresse', 'Le Joujou du pauvre', and 'Les Yeux des pauvres', respectively]. At first glance, they appear to have the same deflating and prosaic effect as when the poet reminds us in 'Le Chien et le flacon', with the studied uncertainty of the man of taste who wishes to appear ignorant of such lowly matters, that the wagging of a dog's tail is a sign corresponding to smiling or laughing in human beings. But the function of such platitudes is sometimes more complex than may at first appear. For example, the irony of 'il ne faut pas manger tout son bien en un jour' in 'Le Femme sauvage et la petitemaîtresse' springs not just from the discrepancy between the mock reasonableness of the husband and the frenzied appetite of the savage wife devouring live rabbits and chickens; it points rather to a total rift between the accepted wisdom of conventional morality and the realities of human nature and passion which they are not able to modify or control. It uncovers the savagery which hides behind the front of decency and reasonableness, with the implication that civilized behaviour is nothing more than controlled rapacity.

On other occasions Baudelaire shows his impatience and distaste for the kind of platitudes which stem from a lax, superficial and sentimental humanitarianism. In 'Les Yeux des pauvres', for example, he ironically quotes the platitude, put forward by such excellent moralists as the writers of popular songs, affirming that 'le plaisir rend l'âme bonne et amollit le coeur', which goes blatantly counter to the events of the anecdote and, of course, to Baudelaire's own view of the corrupting power of pleasure. The irony is clear, since the poet's mistress, far from being moved by the sight of the poor man and his children staring at them as they enjoy the pleasure of the brightly lit new café, finds them insufferable and asks that they be sent away. But even so, the reader cannot find refuge or solace in a sceptical view of human nature, for the irony extends to the poet himself, who confesses that his heart has been moved; he has been 'attendri par cette famille d'yeux', an expression which indicates at one and the same time concern for the poor, an embarrassed self-consciousness, and a humorous detachment which appears to deny the sympathetic élan. Though he is ashamed 'de nos verres et de nos carafes, plus grands que notre soif, his attitude towards the family of eyes remains ambivalent; he sympathizes with their feeling of exclusion and is moved by the wonder of the youngest, whose eyes were 'trop fascinés pour exprimer autre chose qu'une joie stupide et profonde', and yet, at the same time, he is aware of the vulgarity of the place, the décor of which, with its Hebes and Ganymedes, expresses 'toute l'histoire et toute la mythologie mises au service de la goinfrerie'. His attitude is, to say the least, complex, being composed of irritation with his mistress, distaste for his surroundings, pity for the poor, which in turn is mingled with embarrassment and the aristocratic aloofness of the dandy who is aware that all men, even the poor, belong to fallen humanity, and are equally likely to be corrupted by pleasure. Towards the end of the poem the poet turns his gaze towards his mistress in the hope of seeing his thoughts reflected in her eyes, but with typical imperturbability she asks him to get the waiter to move the man and his children away, and the poet concludes with the grating cliché: 'Tant il est difficile de s'entendre, mon cher ange, et tant la pensée est incommunicable, même entre gens qui s'aiment'. Without the ironic repetition of 'tant' and the reference to his exasperating mistress as 'mon cher ange', the sentence is the kind of unadorned 'idée reçue' which the poet's mistress would appreciate and possibly utter in moments of feeling misunderstood. But irony is apparent also, since the platitude is raised to the dignity of an article of faith—at least implicitly—by those very people who are so lacking in awareness as to be insensitive to the thoughts, needs, and feelings of other people, by those, in short, who have never made a sustained effort to communicate with other people and who, through lack of imagination, are unable to get out of themselves. The 'idée reçue' belongs to the collective wisdom of those who have never thought beyond themselves and whose unassailable self-sufficiency has shielded them from the real problems of being a human being and, above all, from the awareness of that fundamental void which constitutes our inner loneliness.

At the same time the platitude is appropriated by the poet who has lived out these realities to the full and has sought in vain the Romantic ideal of a spiritual union with the loved one, and whose idealism, like that of Constant's Adolphe or of Nerval, has been misdirected into the fatal and pathetic confusion of love and religion, seen as the ultimate resolution of the contradictions and divisions which beset human beings.

In the light of this, the attitude of the poet towards the poor becomes clear. Just as he has misdirected his idealism into love, erroneously seeing mystery and the promise of happiness in her eyes, 'habités par le Caprice et inspirés par la Lune', so also have the poor mistaken the ostentatious vulgarity of the palace of gluttony as a manifestation of beauty. Both are mistaken, and both are outcasts. In the poor the poet sees a mirror image of himself, but with his illusions still intact; hence the ambivalence of his attitude, made of both sympathy and impatience, endowing the poem with the same moral uncertainty as we find in 'Une mort héroïque' and 'Le Mauvais Vitrier'.

However, there are statements of truth which are even more discreet and whose irony is so delicate as to have a similar effect to the one intended by Flaubert, that the reader does not know 'si on se fout de lui, oui ou non' [Correspondance]. For example, the opening sentence of 'Le Joujou du pauvre' might, on first reading, appear perfectly innocent and banal: 'Je veux donner l'idée d'un divertissement innocent. Il y a si peu d'amusements qui ne soient pas coupables!' An uninitiated reader coming upon the piece for the first time in an anthology, or separated from the rest of Baudelaire's work, might well take the statement about amusements at face value and expect to be told of some harmless pastime by some middle-aged author with a benignly tolerant view of human nature. But the reader who has been alerted to Baudelaire's Jansenistic view of the passions, and who has picked up a remote resonance from Pascal's famous passage on 'divertissement', will immediately recognize the irony concealed in the exclamation mark and in the falsely regretful intensifying 'si peu d'amusements'. The author, and his reader, seem to sigh as if dismissing with resignation and regret another little temptation to which they would gladly have given in.

But clearly the full irony of these sentences can only emerge when we learn the true nature of the innocent diversion which takes the form of an experiment. The reader is invited to fill his pockets, before going out to idle in the streets, with all sorts of 'petites inventions à un sol' and to distribute them to the poor children who cross his way. Nothing could appear more innocent; indeed, the action appears charitable, since the children, all agog, are unable to believe in their good fortune. But then we are told that they snatch at the present and run away 'comme font les chats qui vont manger loin de vous le morceau que vous leur avez donné, ayant appris à se défier de l'homme'. The violence of the gesture, the furtive flight away from any companions to play with the toy in solitude as an animal will eat its prey, all point to a natural, spontaneous, primitive animality in children, closer to fallen nature than to redeemed humanity. By concentrating on the scene with the rat, dwelling on the idea of the innocent 'divertissement', and by omitting the long introduction to the much earlier Morale du joujou on which the prose poem is based and which deals with the way toys reflect and develop the child's innate aesthetic sense, Baudelaire has, as Zimmerman has suggested [in his edition of Petits poèmes en prose], made the two pieces irreconcilable, and instead of a 'morale agréable' which would see children in a favourable light, he has drawn an unpleasant moral which emphasizes their animality and their greater proximity to original sin.

In the light of all this, what are we to make of the innocent pastime? What innocence can there be in an experiment which rejoices in revealing the baseness and animality of mankind? It reveals the guilty nature of man, from which the poet-narrator is not immune, since he provokes such reactions, and rejoices and finds pleasure in the spectacle of evil. The innocent pastime is, in fact, as guilty as the mad cackle of the villain in melodrama which Baudelaire mentions in De l'essence du rire, since it measures the distance that man has fallen from perfection.

Similarly, one suspects that there is more than a little pulling of the reader's leg in the words whispered in the disturbing 'Assommons les pauvres!' by the poet's demon of action who bears some resemblance to the imp of the perverse and to the 'démons malicieux' of 'Le Mauvais Vitrier'. 'Celui-là seul est l'égal d'un autre, qui le prouve, et celui-là seul est digne de la liberté, qui sait la conquérir' appears less as some kind of liberating maxim, which some commentators have suggested, than as a political doctrine reduced to the status of an 'idée reçue' and endowed with the punch and the brutality of a slogan. One would need to subscribe to the social and economic views of the self-made man or to believe that Baudelaire was some kind of precursor of Nietzsche not to suspect some trace of irony in the passage, though it is true that the anarchist Camille Pissarro appears to have taken it uncritically when he used it as an epigraph to his drawing 'Le Mendiant' in Turpitudes sociales. The beggar is seen holding out his hat for alms, his back turned to a shop window stocked with rich food: which prompts the comment from Pissarro in a letter: 'ce parias [sic] n'a pas l'énergie de prendre de force les plantureuses victuailles exposées a [sic] la vitrine derrière lui, il aime mieux mourrir [sic] de faim! étrange!!' Pissarro seems, like some other commentators since, to have fallen into the trap of taking seriously the injunction to beat up the poor to increase their self-reliance, instead of interpreting the piece, like 'Le Reniement de saint Pierre', as an ironical denunciation of the inhumanity of modern society, in which only the strongest and most fortunate can survive, and where it is futile to expect charity. It may well be that, in spite of his view that Proudhon was merely 'un bon bougre' and not a dandy, Baudelaire continued to be marked by his social views right down to the time of writing 'Assommons les pauvres!' and that Proudhon's 'mutualisme' is the hidden intertext behind the suppressed last sentence of the manuscript of the poem, 'Qu'en distu, Citoyen Proudhon?'; but from there it is a long way to go to claim, as Dolf Oehler does, that the poem should be read as an incitement to class struggle and revolutionary violence. As Wolfgang Drost says, 'The irony which to such a high degree pervades "Assommons les pauvres!" gives a key to his attitude towards Revolution, an attitude which is one of considerable detachment', ['Baudelaire between Marx, Sade, and Satan,' in Baudelaire, Mallarmé,Valéry: New Essays in Honour of Lloyd Austin, 1982]. Whatever the exact nature of Baudelaire's political views in 1848 and 1866, I'd suggest that the poem can no more be read as a plea for violence than 'Le Reniement de saint Pierre' can be said to show his scorn for those for whom 'l'action n'est pas la soeur du rêve' [Lois Boe Hyslop, French Studies XXX, No. 3]. Interpretations of these poems which do not take sufficient account of the poet's irony and his desire to mystify run the grave risk of being naively literal. The convulsive violence of the piece, and the picture of the beggar holding out his hat for alms 'avec un de ces regards inoubliables qui culbuteraient les trônes, si l'esprit remuait la matière', like that of Christ 'monté sur une douce ânesse', seem to indicate that the key to both pieces should be found not 'dans l'intertexte de Proudhon', but in a veiled and ironic reference to that part of the Sermon on the Mount which proclaims the blessedness of the meek, 'for they shall inherit the earth'.

Baudelaire's use of the popular saying is clearly linked to his preoccupation with the commonplace and the 'idée reçue'. Sometimes the saying is merely incidental, its function being simply to produce a clash of linguistic register, as, for example, with 'chercher midi à quatorze heures' in 'La Fausse Monnaie'. Sometimes the saying lies hidden below the surface of the text, as with 'la corde du pendu' in 'La Corde' and 'les auréoles changent souvent de tête' in 'Perte d'auréole'; and at other times Baudelaire will revitalize expressions such as 'la vie en beau', 'marchand de nuages', and 'tuer le temps', in order to give an insight into the complex situation of the poet and his relationship to his art, showing his ability to exploit the secret depths, the 'profondeur immense de pensée dans les locutions vulgaires, trous creusés par des générations de fourmis' [Oeuvres complètes]. Even as early as in 1857 in 'L'Invitation au voyage', a more conventionally 'lyrical' poem in which Baudelaire still seems uncertain about what he wished to achieve in the genre, the popular saying or expression has a role to play, its function in the exclamation 'Moi, j'ai trouvé ma tulipe noire et mon dahlia bleu!' being able to provide an ironic 'soubresaut' by juxtaposing the researches of the alchemists of horticulture and the poet's discovery of the geographical counterpart to the soul of his mistress, with the result that the reader hesitates in his interpretation and reaction between dignifying the search for an unusual flower and degrading the spiritual quest of the poet. Is the poet's dream of the perfect correspondence between his mistress and an ideal country as gratuitous and trivial as the search for an unnatural tulip or dahlia, or can the search for the unnatural flower be seen as another manifestation of man's search for the impossible, a spiritual quest revealing the superiority of the mind and of art over nature? It is no doubt because it provides him with such fruitful ambiguities that Baudelaire finds 'rien de plus beau que le lieu commun' [Correspondance] and that he uses it with increasing frequency in the prose poems of the sixties.

In 'Le Tir et le cimetière' he plays with the popular expression 'mettre dans le but', giving it a double meaning, both to hit the mark and die, by alluding to the dead as those who 'depuis longtemps ont mis dans le But, dans le seul vrai but de la détestable vie'. Zimmerman has suggested a parallel between the prose poem and 'La Mort des artistes' whose first quatrain reads as follows:

Combien faut-il de fois secouer mes grelots
Et baiser ton front bas, morne caricature?
Pour piquer dans le but, de mystique nature,
Combien, ô mon carquois, perdre de javelots?

But the 'but' of the sonnet is the elusive image of poetic beauty and the figure is dignified by the comparison of the poet to a hunter with his bow and arrows, with the result that any sense of a discrepancy between tenor and vehicle, and any consequent dissonance, is rapidly muted; whereas in the prose poem the effect of the figure is doubly discordant because of the macabrely comic intrusion of a popular expression into the prosopopeia of the dead ('Maudites soient vos cibles [ . . . ] Maudites soient vos ambitions, maudits soient vos calculs', etc.), and the grim appropriateness of human beings practising shooting and the art of killing beside the sanctuary of death (cf. 'Un cabaret folâtre'). Furthermore, the play upon words operates a curious reversal of the figure, and with it a whole associated vocabulary which deals with men's aims and the achievement of their ends of happiness and freedom—so that 'mettre dans le But' ceases to mean to practise the art of shooting or achieving one's ambitions, but rather to aim at killing oneself, to bring about one's own death as the only aim in life. The idea that death ends everything and is the only meaning of life is a banality; but the idea, stemming from the renovation of the figure, that death is the sole purpose of life which all men are enthusiastically pursuing even when they think themselves free and defending or enhancing their lives, reaches greater depths of originality and gloom. And indeed the figure seems to carry further, moral and social, overtones with the implication that by shooting at the range and by studying the art of killing the activities of men involve a positive hostility towards others, so that the negative image of the human condition is doubled by an equally negative image of society.

'Chacun sa chimère' has the overtones and the form of a proverb or popular saying such as 'chacun son goût', or 'chacun son beau'. It also has something of the captions which great caricaturists like Daumier or Goya used for their drawings, and indeed it has been very convincingly suggested that in writing this piece Baudelaire had in mind the capricho by Goya entitled 'Tu que no puedes', which depicts Spaniards carrying on their backs asses with faintly human expressions. As Jean Prévost has pointed out [in Baudelaire, 1953], the moral message is clear and simple: Spain is groaning under the oppression of fools. Prévost is also right to say that in this poem Baudelaire 'entrevoit devant ce dessin une vérité humaine et immense: chacun de nous porte sa Chimère, sans même la voir', though it is a pity that his analysis of the figure stops at this point. Baudelaire's insight implies that men are totally in the grip of a huge 'chimère' of which they know nothing and which drives them along independently of their will. Whereas Vigny's poem 'Les Destinées', to which 'Chacun sa chimère' has been compared, sees men in the grip of fate and of predestination, Baudelaire makes of the chimera something resembling the dictates of the unconscious mind. Furthermore, it is clear that there is nowhere to go in this bleak and desolate landscape which has been compared to Dante's limbo, and that there can be no possible realization of the vain ideals which push men along and give unfailing hope to those who have 'la physionomie résignée de ceux qui sont condamnés à espérer toujours'. Baudelaire's view of mankind in this prose poem is similar to Beckett's in Waiting for Godot or to Gisors's in La Condition humaine, where it is stated that 'sans doute, au plus profond, Gisors était-il espoir comme il était angoisse, espoir de rien, attente'. The moral of the piece is made even more melancholy in the final paragraph in which the poet seeks in vain to understand the mystery of this nightmarish vision, but stops short, overwhelmed by indifference which weighs on him even more heavily than the 'Chimères' on their victims. The moral is more pessimistic and unpleasant than in 'L'Invitation au voyage' where it is proclaimed triumphantly and with only the merest suspicion of irony that 'chaque homme porte en lui sa dose d'opium naturel'; men are deluded and their lives are dictated by chimeras which give them hope in a hopeless world; without such illusions and false hope, man is perhaps free, but it is a freedom to do and to believe in nothing.

Baudelaire's use of the expression 'tuer le temps' in 'Le Galant Tireur' has been very ingeniously, and somewhat punningly, analysed by Barbara Johnson [in Défigurations du langage poétique, 1978] in order, primarily, to show the mechanics of figurai language. I should like to add some comments which might help to elucidate the poem within the specific context of the poet's preoccupation with a 'morale désagréable'. It would be useful to quote the whole of the poem.

Comme la voiture traversait le bois, il la fit arrêter dans le voisinage d'un tir, disant qu'il lui serait agréable de tirer quelques balles pour tuer le Temps. Tuer ce monstre-là, n'est-ce pas l'occupation la plus ordinaire et la plus légitime de chacun?—Et il offrit galamment la main à sa chère, délicieuse et exécrable femme, à cette mystérieuse femme à laquelle il doit tant de plaisirs, tant de douleurs, et peut-être aussi une grande partie de son génie.

Plusieurs balles frappèrent loin du but proposé; l'une d'elles s'enfonça même dans le plafond; et comme la charmante créature riait follement, se moquant de la maladresse de son époux, celui-ci se tourna brusquement vers elle, et lui dit: 'Observez cette poupée, là-bas, à droite, qui porte le nez en l'air et qui a la mine si hautaine. Eh bien! cher ange, je me figure que c'est vous.' Et il ferma les yeux et il lâcha la détente. La poupée fut nettement décapitée.

Alors s'inclinant vers sa chère, sa délicieuse, son exécrable femme, son inévitable et impitoyable Muse, et lui baisant respectueusement la main, il ajouta: 'Ah! mon cher ange, combien je vous remercie de mon adresse!'

As Barbara Johnson says, the two figures of killing Time and decapitating the doll are closely related. In everyday existence one kills time in order to escape from boredom and, as the poem wryly indicates, what could be more natural or legitimate? But Baudelaire italicizes kill and capitalizes Time to renovate and resuscitate a dead metaphor which has itself been killed by time and usage (Johnson), and to indicate also that the desire to kill time stems not so much from the common boredom which affects all men and which is no doubt the principal raison d'être of firing ranges, but from the apprehension that time is the enemy of man, that it is the stuff of our imperfection, making it impossible for us ever to achieve that god-like completion and unity of being to which we aspire, and perpetually reminding us that our state is one of dispersion, fragmentation, and becoming. To kill Time we would need more than a firing range, we would need a fundamental transformation of the relationship of consciousness with the world resulting in the impossible synthesis of 'en-soi' and 'pour-soi' which Sartre speculates on in L'Être et le néant; but the figure is appropriate because the violence involved in the anecdote hints at a kind of paroxysm of frustration as the bullets are fired 'loin du but proposé'. The implication would seem to be that, though he cannot kill time with a capital T, for his wife, who cannot understand his intentions and who finds his antics amusing, time with a small t is effectively killed. At this point the poet substitutes mentally his wife for the doll and there ensues a ritual killing in effigy which gives an extremely macabre tone to what was at first an innocent firing range. The killing in effigy exemplifies the relationship between love and violence which Baudelaire treats elsewhere in 'Mademoiselle Bistouri', 'Les Tentations', and 'A celle qui est trop gaie', and critics have suggested convincingly that there may be a link between 'Le Galant Tireur' and the anecdote of the hunter in Journaux intimes dealing with the 'liaison intime de la férocité et de l'amour'. But more than that, the shooting in effigy points to the problematical relationship between the poet and art, symbolized by his wife as muse. She is both execrable and delightful. He owes to her a great deal of his genius, not so much because she elevates his thoughts towards higher things, but because the discrepancy between her physical attractions, and the accompanying associations which they give rise to, and her spiritual and intellectual nullity so irritates him that, shutting his eyes as if inspired, he aims correctly and decapitates the doll. This bitter little piece can be seen as a symbol of artistic creation in which the poet's muse inspires him to perfection, but only through a ritual whereby he imagines he is killing the very thing which inspires him. The opposites of creation and destruction are overcome in an ironic paradox in which the poet's spurious romantic angel causes a kind of 'salut à rebours' by projecting him into a hell of incompatibility, irritation, and violence. The bullet hits its mark, and at the same time the imperfections of the muse are transformed in the perfection of the poet's skill. The moral lesson is doubly paradoxical; the conscious attempt to kill Time is a vain frenzy, and what would a poet do without a muse to inspire him but fall prey to Time and ennui which cannot be killed? But to kill the wife-muse fictitiously is to accede to the 'ivresse de l'art' which at least momentarily gives the illusion of having killed Time and, at the same time, renders the muse's imperfection an instrument of artistic perfection.

The poem is clearly closely linked to 'Portraits de maîtresses' by the use of the expression 'tuer le temps', by the killing (this time real) of the mistress, and by the contradictions in the notion of perfection. The poem involves the reminiscences of four middle-aged dandies of the extraordinary mistresses they had known. The most bizarre and interesting story is that of the fourth dandy who tells how he had to get rid of his mistress for the paradoxical reason that she was perfect; 'incapable de commettre une erreur de sentiment ou de calcul', she had 'une sérénité désolante de caractère; un dévouement sans comédie et sans emphase; une douceur sans faiblesse; une énergie sans violence'. With a cold and invincible will, she had barred the way to all his caprices, so that in his frustration he admired her with a heart full of hatred, in the end drowning her one evening in a pond in a lonely wood. The story momentarily intrigues and surprises the cynical companions until, at last, new bottles are brought and they resume their drinking 'pour tuer le Temps qui a la vie si dure, et accélérer la Vie qui coule si lentement'. The contrasts between the dead-pan narration of the remorseless drowning (euphemistically referred to as 'une action rigoureuse') and their normal drinking habits, and secondly, between the ease with which she is disposed of as if by magic and the 'grands moyens' of alcoholic poisoning which have to be used to kill the much more resilient Time, are, of course, highly amusing and ironic, and there is something positively grating and sick in the use of the popular saying within the context of a real killing which is accepted so readily. The saying maintains its triteness which is pushed to the point of vulgarity and bad taste, and at the same time the reader, shocked at the author's evident 'plaisir aristocratique de déplaire' [Oeuvres complètes], is aware of its many wider resonances and subtleties. As in 'Le Galant Tireur' the popular saying is revitalized, with the result that a real killing replaces the metaphorical killing of time in order precisely to kill Time and deliver from ennui; for, as Robert Kopp says in his edition, 'la raison de l'assassinat disparaît, elle devient métaphysique', since it is based upon the absolute incompatibility between moral beauty and life, or, as Baudelaire himself puts it in the Salon of 1846: 'Les poètes, les artistes et toute la race humaine seraient bien malheureux, si l'idéal, cette absurdité, cette impossibilitié, était trouvé. Qu'est-ce que chacun ferait désormais de son pauvre moi,—de sa ligne brisée?' The moral of the two pieces taken together is that we need imperfection in order to aspire towards a perfection which will remain perfect provided it is never realized. In their contrasting and opposite ways the two stories go to the heart of Baudelaire's aesthetics and, implicitly, of his strangely incomplete and agnostic Christianity, since they depict men with aspirations to which nothing in this world can correspond and which nothing can fulfil.

Baudelaire's use of the aphorism and of the moral maxim is even more subtle and complex than his use of the commonplace and popular saying. He seems to have been intrigued by the possibilities of the genre from a very early stage in his career, and a brief survey of his practice in other writings would help to elucidate its various functions in the prose poems. The Choix de maximes consolantes sur l'amour, which he sent as a rather cruel joke to the bewildered and prudish wife of his half-brother Alphonse, is a useful starting-point. Its opening sentence, 'Quiconque écrit des maximes aime charger son caractère;—les jeunes se griment,—les vieux s'adonisent', provides, assuredly, an arresting 'entrée en matière', not so much for its pithiness or sententiousness, as for its manifest unreliability. A maxim which calls in question the motives of creators of maxims (who, according to a more orthodox view, might be thought to have a greater degree of self-knowledge than most men), does not attract immediate confidence and belief, having something of the self-defeating qualities of the notice which states that 'all notices on this board are false'. The reader is left wondering whether such a maxim has not itself been contaminated by the inauthenticity of its progenitor which it unashamedly proclaims, so that the maxim and the ensuing piece it presides over appear, as they were no doubt intended to, as a kind of 'spoof designed to amuse, and possibly to mystify, the reader by a display of literary pyrotechnics. The undisguised pastiche of Stendhal's De l'amour, and, above all, the flippant and ironic tone evident in the inflated sententiousness of the 'maximes particulières sur des questions délicates' and in the 'patois séminariste', dealing with the problem of freedom in theology and in love, enable the young Baudelaire, as in La Fanfarlo, to put forward some of his principal ideas concerning physiognomy, Nature, the union of opposites, moral and physical beauty and ugliness in women, and to detach himself at the same time and take no responsibility for them. Nathaniel Wing's very pertinent remarks on La Fanfarlo ["The Poetics of Irony in Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo" Neophilologus LIX, No. 2 (April 1975)] are also relevant to the Choix de maximes; for what is at issue is style as well as thematic substance, the somewhat oblique criticism falling not just upon a certain Romantic bric-àbrac, but on Romantic rhetoric as well. Consequently, the sententious utterances of the piece appear both as commonplaces which are to be condemned for their banality, and as truths rendered problematic by the self-conscious posturing of a young writer both claiming and rejecting, in default of a style of his own, a wisdom beyond the reach, and possibly even the conviction, of his years.

At the opposite pole to this decidedly ambivalent attitude, and as evidence of the poet's enduring preoccupation with binary opposites, we find in the section of the Journaux intimes entitled 'Hygiène' the grave injunctions and moral principles which he strives to adopt in order to improve the conduct of his life and to make it more purposeful and creative: 'Plus on travaille, mieux on travaille, et plus on veut travailler. Plus on produit, plus on devient fécond.' Or take the following rule which is also a 'cri du coeur': 'Faire tous les matins ma prière à Dieu, réservoir de toute force et de toute justice, à mon père, à Mariette et à Poe, comme intercesseurs'. This belief in the almost magical power of prayer is also present in a maxim which, were it not for the poignant circumstances, might be thought to be invalidated by the solemnity and the unsophistication of a 'bon sentiment', unworthy of the great poet: 'L'homme qui fait sa prière le soir est un capitaine qui pose des sentinelles. Il peut dormir.' His aim in these private notations is to establish a 'sagesse abrégée' based on the triple foundation of 'Toilette, prière, travail', in order to correct the anarchy of his life and to pinpoint some uncertainties in the midst of doubt and chaos. It is ironic that in striving for regeneration he should use the same turn of phrase as he used, damningly, to praise the moral and psychological over-simplifications of Hugo whom he pictured 'appuyé sur une sagesse abrégée, faite de quelques axiomes irréfutables', in much the same way as the characters of Les Misérables were to appear to him all of a piece, reduced to one or two invariable character traits.

However, the flippancy of the 'maximes consolantes', which seem to indicate some doubts about the validity of writing maxims, and the simple moral injunctions of 'Hygiène' did not prevent Baudelaire from taking the genre seriously and from being an excellent practitioner of it, as other parts of the Journaux intimes testify. But what is not altogether clear is the status of the various maxims and sentences in the Journaux. It is most likely that the ones we find in 'Mon Coeur mis à nu' would have lost much of their sententiousness and their fragmentary appearance within the elaboration of the autobiography itself, in much the same way as Pascal's Pensées would have been transformed in the completed apology. The famous 'De la vaporisation et de la centralisation du Moi. Tout est là' (is it a maxim or merely a note?) might well have lost some of its mystery, which has prompted so much ingenious interpretation, once inserted into a particular context, biographical, psychological, aesthetic, or moral. And what are we to make of the 'fusée' enigmatically couched in the form of a question: 'Se livrer à Satan, qu'est-ce que c'est?' Would Baudelaire have published it along with other similar mind-expanding utterances and maxims, would it have become part of a chapter on his own life and his view of the senses, or would it have become an exploration of the moral and theological meaninglessness of the notion of giving oneself knowingly to the Devil? Whatever the many possible answers to such speculations may be, what is clear is the wide variety of the genre to be found in the Journaux and the section entitled 'Aphorismes' in the two-volume Pléiade Oeuvres complètes. They range from the highly serious utterances on psychology, aesthetics, and theology to such frivolous 'boutades' as 'Si un poète demandait à l'État le droit d'avoir quelques bourgeois dans son écurie, on serait fort étonné, tandis que si un bourgeois demandait du poète rôti, on le trouverait tout naturel.' The humour arises here not least from the incongruity of the perfect balance of the form and the triviality of the content. One can find strident vulgarities about women alongside bizarre definitions such as the one recorded in Asselineau's carnet to the effect that 'Un chat est un vampire sucré', enhanced in surreality by the alternative reading 'vampire sacré', which seems to forbid one to speculate in public about the kind of fantasy which can produce such exquisitely decadent thoughts about the domestic cat.

However, it is in Le spleen de Pans that we find the highest incidence of maxims and commonplaces in Baudelaire's works—predictably, at least at first sight, since such utterances would appear to belong primarily to the domain of prose and to be out of place in lyric poetry; and indeed, if we discount such metaphors as 'La Haine est un ivrogne au fond d'une taverne' in 'Le Tonneau de la Haine', Les Fleurs du Mal provides few examples of sententiousness. Some of the prose poems amalgamate and elaborate notations from the Journaux intimes. For example, the famous comments on love, religion, art, and prostitution—'L'amour, c'est le goût de la prostitution. [ . . . ] Qu'est-ce que l'art? Prostitution.' 'L'être le plus prostitué, c'est l'être par excellence, c'est Dieu'—are fused and developed in 'Les Foules', culminating in the splendid 'fusée' and article of faith: 'Ce que les hommes nomment amour est bien petit, bien restreint et bien faible, comparé à cette ineffable orgie, à cette sainte prostitution de l'âme qui se donne tout entière, poésie et charité, à l'imprévu qui se montre, à l'inconnu qui passe.' And the bizarre comparison of love to surgery, 'Il y a dans l'acte de l'amour une grande ressemblance avec la torture, ou avec une opération chirurgicale', which is suggested in 'Les Tentations', where Eros appears with sinister phials and surgical instruments hanging from the snake which serves as a living belt round his middle, is exemplified and dramatized in 'Mademoiselle Bistouri', which also takes up the theme of prostitution. The sententiousness disappears in the anecdote, which sets the abstractions of the maxim in a real person and a real place. And this concretization of an arresting though somewhat cryptic maxim, paradoxically, has the effect of an increase of suggestiveness, as the reader is led to reflect not just on the sadomasochistic elements already present in the original sentence and the reversal of the usual associations of love with pleasure and tenderness, but on the implication that the paradox of love, involving, as it would seem, both tenderness and cruelty, could not be lived out by any sane person, and that sensuality and intellect must be totally dissociated before one can enter what Proust called 'le monde inhumain du plaisir', that domain of the perverse ot of the 'monstres innocents' who are out of their minds.

Baudelaire's interest in the great 'moralistes' of the past is witnessed in the frequent mention in his works and correspondence of Bossuet, Buffon, Chamfort, Fénelon, Joubert, La Bruyère, La Fontaine, Pascal, and Vauvenargues; but it is significant that it is in the prose poems that he makes the most specific references and quotes, or rather misquotes, them. Buffon has a glancing reference in 'Les Bons Chiens', Vauvenargues's 'Sur les misères cachées' is present in the introduction to 'Les Veuves', and La Bruyère and Pascal figure directly in 'Le Solitude', whose first sentence, 'Un gazetier philanthrope me dit que la solitude est mauvaise pour l'homme', contains, possibly, a muffled echo of le père Souël's words at the end of René: 'La solitude est mauvaise à celui qui n'y vit pas avec Dieu.' Such references have, no doubt, the familiar function of giving authority to the speculations of a learned, but still relatively unknown, writer, and the misquotations from La Bruyère and Pascal could be explained by a desire for concision and terseness within the necessary economy of the 'petit poème en prose', though it should be noted that Baudelaire took the misquotation from La Bruyère from Poe's The Man of the Crowd. But one wonders why he should add to the misquotation of the passage in the Pensées concerning man's inability to remain within the four walls of his room 'dit un autre sage, Pascal, je crois', and how to interpret the patronizing and falsely uncertain attribution of what is, after all, one of Pascal's most famous thoughts, a commonplace recognizable by any schoolboy; unless Baudelaire wishes both to embrace and to play down the wisdom of the great man and, in a collection which praises the virtues of both solitude and of the 'bain de multitude', to cast doubt upon the validity of such acknowledged truths which, before the complexities of real life, appear as glib and facile as an 'idée reçue'.

Such uncertainties are of course deliberate and intended to mystify the reader, or at least some readers. One of the most interesting examples is 'La Corde', where the narrator remains deluded even at the end of his narration, which is supposed to record the circumstances in which he lost his illusions. In this highly complex and bitter piece Baudelaire's comment about the makers of maxims in the Choix de maximes . . . seems very appropriate; for the narrator's recourse to such resounding truths as 'Les illusions sont aussi innombrables peutêtre que les rapports des hommes entre eux', 'Il est aussi difficile de supposer une mère sans amour maternel qu'une lumière sans chaleur', and 'Les douleurs les plus terribles sont les douleurs muettes', is accompanied by a pomposity of tone betraying a desire to 'se grimer' and to appear full of experience and sagacity. Many critics have followed the narrator in the belief that the story shows that even so fundamental an instinct as maternal love can be corrupted by the love of money, and nothing more. But such an interpretation smacks of the 'idée reçue' and is, in any case, . . . rendered suspect by the narrator's self-satisfaction, glibness, and insensitivity to the real needs and feelings of the boy, whom he treats more as an object than as a human being. It is Baudelaire's skilful use of maxims and commonplaces which helps to direct the reader's attention away from the superficial meaning of the poem about the nature of mother love towards its deeper implications about the nature and validity of art itself.

The prose poems abound in maxims of Baudelaire's own coining which would not have disgraced his great predecessors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among his greatest 'trouvailles' are what I should like to call his 'aphorismes-abîmes' which either introduce or conclude a poem, and form its substance. I am thinking of such statements as 'L'étude du beau est un duel où l'artiste crie de frayeur avant d'être vaincu', the one concerning 'sainte prostitution', or 'Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit'. Such aphorisms contain a great depth of philosophical, artistic, or moral truth and have the power to impress themselves on the memory and fascinate the mind with their many ramifications. Take, for example, the statement which concludes and sums up 'La Fausse Monnaie': 'le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise'. The anecdote concerns a friend of the poet who astonishes a grateful beggar by the generous gift of a coin of unexpected value. But the coin is false and the poet eventually understands that his friend 'avait voulu faire à la fois la charité et une bonne affaire; gagner quarante sols et le coeur de Dieu; emporter le paradis économiquement; enfin attraper gratis un brevet d'homme charitable', and the poet concludes the piece with the statement that the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity. At first sight the statement might appear to go counter to common sense which would tend to excuse an evil act if the intention was not evil. Most people would wish to distinguish subjective from objective guilt, and would accept that stupidity would be a mitigating factor, since it involves a degree of innocence and inability to assess the evil and its consequences. The anecdote, which has the appearance of an amusing real experience, gives on to a profound view of human nature, since the poet's stupid friend appears beyond redemption, having no awareness or knowledge of his evil. The curse upon Adam and Eve, as they were driven from the garden of Eden, was that they would be like gods knowing good and evil, and this knowledge, as Pascal reminds us, is both our grandeur and our 'misère', since, though it cuts us off from paradise, it gives us the means of a possible salvation, the spiritual life which might bring us back to God. Baudelaire was of course well aware of Pascal's lesson, which no doubt presided over his impatience with the pastoral innocence of George Sand's creations and his admiration for Madame de Merteuil in Les Liaisons dangereuses. He was well aware that 'la conscience dans le Mal' is the sign and proof of our humanity. The 'étourderie' of the poet's friend is worse than culpable; it makes of him a sub-man, a curious hybrid creature, a moral and metaphysical accident, deprived at once of the innocence of man before the Fall and of the intelligence which would explain his presence in time and the fallen world, and dignify him as a man. He is a kind of monster at large in a limbo between a paradise he does not know he has lost and a hell which he fails to recognize. The vice is irreparable because unconscious, and Baudelaire's condemnation of the man is final.

It is interesting that the poet should entertain the passing thought that his friend's action might be excused by a desire to see which of many possible outcomes might result from giving to the beggar apparently so large a sum. Would it lead to prison, or to the foundation of a great fortune? Such curiosity would relate the friend to Gide's curious waiter in Prométhé mal enchaîné whose fascination with bizarre situations leads him to set at the same table people who appear totally different or incompatible. Spurred on by such an idea, the poet's imagination 'allait son train, prêtant des ailes à l'esprit de mon ami et tirant toutes les déductions possibles de toutes les hypothèses possibles'. It is easy to see how such an idea would explain his friend's action, but it is hard to see how it would justify it. A passage from L'École païenne of 1852 which, as Kopp has pointed out, contains the germ of the prose poem, is illuminating in this context:

Le goût immodéré de la forme pousse à des désordres monstrueux et inconnus. Absorbées par la passion féroce du beau, du drôle, du joli, du pittoresque, car il y a des degrés, les notions du juste et du vrai disparaissent. La passion frénétique de l'art est un chancre qui dévore le reste; et, comme l'absence nette du juste et du vrai dans l'art équivaut à l'absence d'art, l'homme entier s'évanouit; la spécialisation excessive d'une faculté aboutit au néant. [. . . ] La folie de l'art est égale à l'abus de l'esprit. La création d'une de ces deux suprématies engendre la sottise, la dureté du coeur et une immensité d'orgueil et d'égoïsme. Je me rappelle avoir entendu dire à un artiste farceur qui avait reçu une pièce de monnaie fausse: Je la garde pour un pauvre. Le misérable prenait un infernal plaisir à voler le pauvre et à jouir en même temps des bénéfices d'une réputation de charité.

The passage establishes a parallel between the art for art's sake school and the spurious generosity of the 'artiste farceur'. Just as the art for art's sake writers are forgetful of the notions of justice and truth in their search for what is beautiful, picturesque, or strange, so also is the 'farceur' forgetful of his own basic humanity and that of the poor man. While suppressing the analogy with the artists of the pagan school, Baudelaire in 'La Fausse Monnaie' has kept an element of the original analogy which is its psychological and moral interest. The friend's need for newness and drôlerie is put forward as a possible explanation of his conduct, only to be dismissed and replaced by the explanation that he was seeking a cheap way to heaven and that he has committed the act out of sheer stupidity alone. The moral message is thus all the stronger for being undiluted, although one should point out that the poet's attitude towards sententiousness is not without ambiguity, as is evidenced in the way his naively proffered 'bon sentiment'—'après le plaisir d'être étonné, il n'en est pas de plus grand que celui de causer une surprise'—is appropriated by his fraudulently generous friend.

The second 'aphorisme-abîme' I should like to discuss is one which is not entirely original. As Margaret Gilman has pointed out [in 'Baudelaire and Emerson', Romanic Review XXXIV, No. 3 (October 1943)], the arresting opening sentence of 'Any where out of this world', 'Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit', appears to have been directly inspired by Emerson's statement in the final chapter of The Conduct of Life that 'Like sick men in hospitals, we change only from bed to bed'. Baudelaire's interest in Emerson is well known, and it is generally agreed that we are undoubtedly in the presence here of a more or less certain source. However, there can, I think, be no question of his deliberately misquoting Emerson as he had with La Bruyère and Pascal in order to create an ambiguous tone. Even although the Emerson sentence does not appear in Baudelaire's list from The Conduct of Life, it is very unlikely that in the prose poem he was quoting from memory. What he has done is to improve on Emerson's idea and to give it a power and, above all, a universality and a permanence which are absent in the original. Emerson's comparison of our actions to those of sick men in hospitals changing beds appears weak when set against Baudelaire's metaphor in which life is said to be a hospital, thus emphasizing the permanence of the state and increasing the pessimism which informs what has now become a striking maxim.

Once again we find ourselves in presence of a maxim which contains a whole philosophy, an 'aphorismeabîme'. Nothing could be further from the attitude of some eighteenth-century rationalists who would affirm after Voltaire in one of his more confident moods that 'L'homme paraît être à sa place dans la nature', and that, consequently, there is a kind of 'correspondance' between man's desire for order and rationality and the order of the universe. According to such a view, to affirm that somehow man and the world are not compatible or that they were not 'made' for each other, would be as foolish as to suggest that the fish is not at home in the water. The preoccupation of the Romantics with Plato and certain aspects of Christianity was responsible for the decline, at least among writers, in such a belief, which was replaced by an attitude which emphasized the discrepancy between man and his world and which lived out a sense of a tragic distance between them, which Voltaire certainly knew, but did not choose to celebrate or to magnify. Indeed, for some writers the more a man felt separated not just from society, but from the world, the greater the sense of exile and the greater his superiority. The superior man is not he in whom the faculties work together to produce balance, happiness, and sanity, but rather he whose sense of exile, imbalance, and inner turmoil cause him to embrace madness as opposed to sanity, and alienation and illness as opposed to integration and health. Hence the prestige of the Werthers and Renés, and of the 'femme fatale' and her male counterpart. It is clear that Baudelaire's maxim participates in such a view, but with none of the languid yearning and elegant other-worldliness of René. The illness which is life is no longer the affliction of a spiritual élite, but of all mankind, and the idealism and the elegance have been replaced by a realism which sees life as a hospital in which all mankind, though incurably ill, is possessed of the foolish notion that one might be cured by changing position. And, of course, the figure of a hospital leads the mind to the immediate paradox that the only cure for life is death. The normal associations of life—health, abundance, happiness, fulfilment, hope, renewal—are all illusory. 'Vivre est un mal'; life is illness, restriction, imprisonment, stunting, negation, with not even the notion of a window, as in Mallarmé's poem ['Les Fenêtres'], to give some sense of hope; and the cure lies in extinction.

Baudelaire's often ironic remodelling of the popular saying is such as to deprive it of any reassuring qualities it may have had, and to point to an unstable and chaotic world where there is little in the way of certainty in human values, actions, or motives. Similarly, his own, on occasion, highly original maxims and aphorisms bear witness to his desire to avoid a literature of 'bons sentiments', such as he detested in George Sand and in Victor Hugo's novels; and, like the popular saying, they articulate not stable truths and essences, but the sudden, and often provisional and contradictory illuminations of the 'pensée rapsodique'. Thus, in order to give expression to his 'morale désagréable', he deliberately cultivates paradox and statements which, at first sight at least, go counter to common sense and experience. They often have a palpably refutable quality until the mind of the reader, fascinated by their explosive force, comes to an understanding of a wider and deeper reality. By juxtaposing two contradictory areas of experience, such maxims have a power to inflame the mind in the same way as the most daring and successful similes and metaphors, and they take on some of the dynamite and the brilliance of the 'fusée'. There is something profoundly shocking, causing a violent 'soubresaut de la conscience', in these 'comparaisons énormes' where life is compared to a hospital, and poetic creation to a prostitution which is said to be holy. It is precisely the widening of the gap between tenor and vehicle, and the stridency of the juxtaposition which create an emotional charge which is more violent and jarring than anything produced in Les Fleurs du Mal, where, of course, the regular metres and the harmony of rhyme and rhythm domesticate the inherent wildness of some of the images. It was perhaps because of this aspect of Baudelaire's maxims and commonplaces that André Breton thought him 'surréaliste dans la morale' ['Premier Manifeste', Les Manifestes du Surréalisme]. On the most superficial level, one can interpret their high incidence and wide variety in the prose poems as proof of Baudelaire's desire to mingle the genres and to create a new art form by adding to the 'ondulations de la rêverie' the 'soubresauts' of the most uncompromising prose. But their concision, suggestiveness, irony, paradoxicality, and intellectual radiance which give them the power of the most successful poetic images, together with the number of ideas and reveries they arouse in the mind of the reader bear witness to the fulfilment of his desire to be 'toujours poète, même en prose'.

The moral lesson which Baudelaire draws in the prose poems is predominantly pessimistic, and the world he evokes is one in which order and reason have been replaced by anarchy in both the moral and the physical spheres; for in these poems men are not fundamentally rational creatures; they act without premeditation, or against their own best interests; they light cigars beside barrels of gunpowder to tempt destiny; they boast of unworthy actions they have not committed and refuse to do a small service for a friend, yet they readily help the unworthy; they throw chickens at maîtres d'hôtel at the time of the full moon. They fall in love with those with whom they have nothing in common and kill their favourite buffoon or perfect mistress, to such an extent that one would be apt to attribute to Baudelaire the invention of the gratuitous act long before Gide thought of it. It may well be that the function of gratuitous acts in Baudelaire's own life is, as Sartre would have it, a means whereby the dandy tries to 'transformer [ . . . ] sa vie en destin' [Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire, 1947] and to make himself the victim rather than the perpetrator of events. Such mysteries can be left to the competence of psychoanalysts, since, if one examines the universe which is created in and by the poems themselves, one will see clearly that their function is to show the moral anarchy which lies at the heart of all human actions and emotions. In 'Les Tentations', for example, the poet in his high-mindedness rejects in his dream the blandishments of Eros, Plutus, and Fame, but in his waking life he ironically implores them to return so that he can succumb to them. Similarly, in 'Le Joueur généreux' he rejects the Devil's offer that, in return for his soul, he should be free from ennui; any wish will be granted. But the offer is rejected not out of any strength of mind or character, but out of suspicion, distrust, and an inability to believe in his good fortune; and the poet finds himself praying to God to make the Devil keep his word, a sure sign of moral, spiritual, and theological chaos. Indeed, all the prayers in the collection are, to say the least, unorthodox. In 'A une heure du matin' the poet prays to God to grant him the power to produce some fine verses to prove to himself that he is not inferior to those whom he despises, a prayer which is hardly informed by Christian humility and charity. Indeed, it has more than a trace of the Pharisee's prayer in Luke: 'God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican'—which is refused in favour of that of the humble and truly repentant publican. It is not at all difficult to accept with Zimmerman that the prayer is not authentic, since there is a contradiction in praying to God for confirmation that one is superior to those one scorns, and Zimmerman goes on to quote Georges Blin's excellent Le Sadisme de Baudelaire which he thinks casts light on 'A une heure du matin': 'Ce que Baudelaire souhaite [ . . . ] c'est un Dieu que l'on puisse prier sans avoir besoin de se sacrifier à lui, et même, à la limite, sans qu'il soit nécessaire de croire en son existence.' However much this statement illuminates Baudelaire's attitude to prayer in general, it does not perhaps fully account for the complexities of this particular instance. It would be useful to quote the prayer in full:

Âmes de ceux que j'ai aimés, âmes de ceux que j'ai chantés, fortifiez-moi, soutenez-moi, éloignez de moi le mensonge et les vapeurs corruptrices du monde, et vous, Seigneur mon Dieu! accordez-moi la grâce de produire quelques beaux vers qui me prouvent à moimême que je ne suis pas le dernier des hommes, que je ne suis pas inférieur à ceux que je méprise!

The similarities with, and the differences from, the Pharisee's prayer are immediately obvious. The Pharisee's is one of profound self-satisfaction, whereas the poet's comes from the depths of despair and self-hatred. Henri Lemaître, wrongly according to Zimmerman, judges the prayer to be authentic by placing it in the context of Baudelaire's views on the redemptive power of art which are evident in 'Bénédiction' and have influenced so much of modern poetry right down to Eliot. But Zimmerman and Lemaître are not very far apart, and their disagreement can be overcome and resolved if the analysis of the poem is carried one step further. The prayer starts as an apparently genuine cry 'de profundis' after one of the poet's habitual 'examens de conscience', and is reminiscent of the one already quoted from 'Hygiène' in which he resolves to pray every morning to God, with his old family maid and Poe as intercessors, to give him strength to fulfil his duty. But what gives the prayer its force, and also makes it typical of the prose poems, is the sudden 'soubresaut' at the end in which he wishes to be superior to those he despises. The noble plea to God and intercessors to lift him out of his distress through the grace of artistic creation contrasts brutally with the narrow outlook which disrupts and subverts the prayer at the end and calls in doubt not only the authenticity of the spiritual exercise itself, but also, most palpably, the ideal which in Les Fleurs du Mal survived all the other disasters, the redemptive power of art. The final irony makes our reading of the piece, to say the least, problematic, since it calls in question the 'examen de conscience' which the poem is meant to celebrate, and yet by a curious detour the prose poem itself might be taken as an example of the kind of artistic creation which precisely proves the poet's superiority, though plainly it is not in the 'beaux vers' the prayer asks for. Indeed, the piece is written in the most wilfully prosaic style, and the poet's apparent inability to create even a few lines of fine verse indicates that he is damned to remain with the banal vulgarities he despises, without the consolation of a glimpse into a higher reality which might be accorded by a lyrical outburst, however brief. The 'morale désagréable' which emerges casts doubt upon that superiority which, even if attained, would be seen as morally indefensible, and we are left with the uncomfortable picture of the poet trapped within a hell of imperfection in which the light of 'la conscience dans le Mal' shines much more dimly than in 'L'Irrémédiable', since it illumines less a means of salvation than the satanic pride and arrogance which damned Lucifer himself. If Satan could pray, his prayer might not differ much from this one which is uttered in the depths of the night.

The sense of moral uncertainty is strong in 'Mademoiselle Bistouri' which also ends with a prayer which is ambiguous. The story, whose macabre content fixes on the fantasies of a deranged mind presenting an obvious parallel with Poe, concerns the poet's encounter during his promenade in Paris with a bizarre lady of pleasure, who presents a vast sophistication of the Romantic commonplace of the goodhearted whore. She insists in spite of his irritated protests that he must be a doctor until, succumbing to his sense of mystery and his love of the bizarre, he accompanies her to her lodging where she regales him with mulled wine and cigars in front of a brightly burning fire. It is then that gradually he learns of her curious obsession with sex and surgery, which gives her her nickname and which leads her to fantasize that her favourite interne should visit her 'avec sa trousse et son tablier, même avec un peu de sang dessus'. Like the poet, the reader is unable to explain the mystery of motive and to reconcile the coexistence in the same person of so much gentleness and such a violent and sick imagination. Her tenderness is evident in her actions and in her speech, and her innocence emerges from her astonishment that one of the doctors had been so cruel as to denounce to the government those wounded insurrectionists whom he had treated at the hospital: 'Comment est-ce possible qu'un si bel homme ait si peu de cœur?' The question is reminiscent of the angel of pity's tremulous half-question half-statement to Satan in Vigny's 'Eloa': 'Puisque vous êtes beau, vous êtes bon, sans doute', as if beauty, truth, and goodness were indissoluble. But Mademoiselle Bistouri's question has wider implications, bristling with paradoxes which concern both the doctor and herself. How indeed can a man whose life is dedicated to healing hand over the patient he has cared for to his executioners? Is it mere heartlessness, made possible by a complete disjoining of professional and humanitarian conscience from the sense of social duty which, in turn, is based upon a certain, reactionary, notion of what society should be like? How can two such conflicting values coexist in the same man? Baudelaire does not explore these problems, which he is content to raise here in the context of the medical profession, and he leaves the reader to speculate on possible explanations. But what is even more interesting is that the question bends back on Mademoiselle Bistouri herself. How can such a gentle person be so preoccupied with surgery and its attendant physical violence? Her admiration for one of the doctors—'En voilà un homme qui aime couper, tailler et rogner!'—is expressed in terms one might expect from an enthusiastic and dedicated sadist. How are we to understand the links between madness and kindness, between prostitution and innocence, between sex and surgery? The implication is of course that in eroticism one partner appears to 'operate' upon the other, the resulting 'sadism' of which has been analysed in their various very differing ways by Sade, Laclos, Malraux, and Sartre, to name but a few. We have already drawn attention to the famous scene at Monjouvain in which Proust shows how the very sensitive can enter the inhuman world of pleasure only by putting themselves imaginatively into the skin of evil people; so that the tension between the inhuman violence of sex and the sensitivity of the 'âme tendre' is temporarily overcome by the suppression of the sensibility. The solution of this conflict in 'Mademoiselle Bistouri' is more radical and permanent, since it is provided by her insanity, the loss of reason enabling her gentleness and her erotic and sado-masochistic fantasies to coexist. 'Peux-tu te souvenir de l'époque et de l'occasion où est née en toi cette passion si particulière?' asks the poet whose tone has switched from detached curiosity and surly impatience to pity; but she has no recollection, and we are left to speculate on the possible trauma which could have produced such an innocent monster.

Like the prayer in 'A une heure du matin', the one which ends 'Mademoiselle Bistouri' is ambiguous, being both a cry of distress and a veiled indictment of the justice of an omniscient God:

La vie fourmille de monstres innocents.—Seigneur, mon Dieu! vous, le Créateur, vous, le Maître; vous qui avez fait la Loi et la Liberté; vous, le souverain qui laissez faire, vous, le juge qui pardonnez; vous qui êtes plein de motifs et de causes, et qui avez peut-être mis dans mon esprit le goût de l' horreur pour convertir mon cœur, comme la guérison au bout d'une lame; Seigneur, ayez pitié, ayez pitié des fous et des folles! O Créateur! peut-il exister des monstres aux yeux de Celui-là seul qui sait pourquoi ils existent, comment ils se sont faits et comment ils auraient pu ne pas se faire?

The prayer is curiously problematic not just for the hidden challenge to God's goodness implicit in the affirmation of her innocence, but because of the mixture of register in the vocabulary and style. The serious apostrophe to God the Creator appears somewhat diminished by the use of the expression 'le Maître' which has colloquial overtones, and even more by the addition of the phrases about the God who has made Law and Liberty and who is full of motives and causes. These phrases seem to be in contradiction with each other, since Liberty, with its ironical capital L, seems hardly compatible with the motives and causes which, perhaps unknown to us, direct our actions according to God's inscrutable plan ('qui avez peut-être mis dans mon esprit le goût de l'horreur pour convertir mon cœur'). What freedom can the 'monstre innocent' who is Mademoiselle Bistouri enjoy in her madness? What Law has she transgressed to merit such a punishment? The poet seems to be stating categorically that God knows why such monsters exist, how they have made themselves like that, and how they could have chosen not to have made themselves like that, drawing attention to their freedom of choice by italicizing the verbs, as if men were responsible for their lives and destinies. But the story has posited the innocence of the girl, who, in any case, has no recollection of how and why her strange obsession began, so that if she is being punished it is without knowledge of her sin or of the Law that is punishing her. Madness, which Baudelaire greatly feared towards the end of his life as his malady progressed ('Maintenant j'ai toujours le vertige, et aujourd'hui 23 janvier 1862, j'ai subi un singulier avertissement, j'ai senti passer sur moi le vent de Vaile de l'imbécillité'), is the ultimate scandal, since it places the chaos of the world within man himself and at the same time, worse than stupidity, which after all may be temporary or sporadic, extinguishes the only light which lends human beings any dignity. The prayer which seems to plead in favour of innocent monsters is as much a challenge to the existence of divine providence and order, as an indication of submission and belief in their reality; it borders on the blasphemous, and like, for example, the much less sombre 'Les Dons des fées', where various gifts are given to the most unsuitable people (the gift of money and riches to one who is already rich and has no sense of charity, the love of the beautiful and poetry to a 'sombre gueux' with no means of exploiting it, the priceless gift of pleasing to those incapable of understanding its value), it points not to providence but to a moral anarchy at the heart of the universe.

Jonathan Monroe (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: "Baudelaire's Poor: The Petitis poèmes en prose and the Social Reinscription of the Lyric," in A Poverty of Objects: The Prose Poem and the Politics of Genre, Cornell, 1987, pp. 93-124.

[Monroe is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he maintains that economic and social concerns motivated Baudelaire's use of the prose poem.]

The principal force behind the modern prose poem was a writer already accomplished, before coming to the genre, not only in the verse lyric but in critical prose as well. Clearly, this combination is significant both for the genre's emergence and for its subsequent development. As his own commitment to critical activities indicates, Baudelaire was acutely aware of the importance of the question of the relationship between author and reader and of the de facto impotence of a work of art without an audience. Yet however much Baudelaire was, as Walter Benjamin has said, his own impresario, he remained badly placed on the literary market during his lifetime. Although it was possible for such novelists as Eugène Sue and Alexandre Dumas to earn fortunes through their writing, by the mid-1850s conditions for the reception of lyric poetry were already considerably less favorable.

Although poets have long since grown all too accustomed to an extremely limited audience, the rapidly growing size of the reading public in the mid-nineteenth century, evidenced by the success of the serial novel (or roman feuilleton), must have held out prospects to the poet which seemed continually to be snatched from his hand by the writer of prose. Seeing the success of a writer such as Victor Hugo, for whom he had great respect, Baudelaire was far from averse to taking advantage of the possibilities. In the Salon of 1848 he writes, already with some irony: " . . . the bourgeois .. . is quite respectable; you've got to please those at whose expense you want to live." Baudelaire's attitude toward the bourgeois public—his brother, the "hypocrite reader"—was one of growing disdain over the years, a consequence perhaps in part of his having tried and failed to gain the broad audience he desired. Although the achievement of a collection such as Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose (Le spleen de Paris) is not, of course, reducible in any way to a mere function of his economic situation as a writer/producer in "the age of high capitalism," Baudelaire's correspondence indicates clearly the extent to which his efforts in the genre are bound up with financial concerns and market strategy. The contract Baudelaire signed on January 13, 1863, giving Pierre-Jules Hetzel the rights to reprint the Fleurs du mal and to publish the Petits poèmes en prose for the first time in their entirety brought Baudelaire 600 francs in advance for each of the two works, a total of only 1,200 francs. In a letter to Hetzel two months later (March 20, 1863) referring to the "great importance" he attributed to the unfinished prose collection, Baudelaire writes: "I believe that, thanks to my nerves, I won't be ready before the 10th or 15th of April. But I can guarantee you a singular book that will be easy to sell" (un livre singulier et facile à vendre).

In a previous letter to Madame Aupick dated March 29, 1862, Baudelaire's impatience at not having finished the collection is again expressed in financial terms: "The Poèmes en prose will also go to La Presse. A thousand francs! but, alas! it's not FINISHED." Since in the twentieth century most "serious" poets have become accustomed to publishing the bulk of their work prior to book publication in so-called little magazines with only minimal circulation, it is worth recalling the important role in the history of printed media played by the journal that was destined to be the first to publish texts later collected in the Petits poèmes en prose. La presse, which published the first twenty of Baudelaire's prose poems over the course of three issues (August 26, August 27, and September 24, 1862), was not merely or even primarily a literary journal but, rather, a daily newspaper founded in 1836 by Emile de Girardin and Moïse Millaud. As Richard Terdiman has pointed out in his illuminating discussion of the rise of newspaper culture in nineteenth-century France, La presse was at the vanguard of the discursive/publishing innovations that led to the deliberate depoliticization and commercialization of the daily newspaper and its establishment as "an authentic mass medium," [Discourse/Counter-Discourse]. Seen in the context of Baudelaire's literary production, the circulation figures Terdiman has assembled reveal to what extent the period that immediately concerns us here, that of Baudelaire's work in the prose poem, was a period as well of an unprecedented massification of the written word. By July 1863, roughly a year after La presse published Baudelaire's first prose poems—including the celebrated preface to Arsène Houssaye, the daily's literary editor—the circulation of another Millaud daily, Le petit journal, had attained a circulation of 38,000. By 1869, the year of the first publication of the Petits poèmes en prose in its entirety (following Baudelaire's death two years earlier), the circulation of Le petit journal had jumped to more than 300,000, a figure over five times that of all Paris papers in 1830.

Although Baudelaire initially entertained hopes that the prose poetry of Le spleen de Paris would find a broader public than did the verse poetry of Fleurs du mal, it soon became clear that prose poetry could not compete with the novel either. In the same letter to Madame Aupick, Baudelaire goes on to speak admiringly of Flaubert's "next novel" and the coming publication of Hugo's Misérables in ten volumes as "one more reason" for his Petits poèmes en prose not to be rushed onto the marketplace. A letter to Auguste Poulet-Malassis of December 13, 1862, confirms Baudelaire's suspicion that the competition would be too great: "As for Salammbô, great, great success. One two thousand volume edition bought up in two days." If the Petits poèmes en prose had been completed, with all of the one hundred prose poems Baudelaire had planned for it, it would itself have approximated a medium-length novel more closely than the fifty-poem collection that has been left to us. In the end, although the collection remained unfinished, Baudelaire continued to hope against hope even as late as 1865 that the singular, easily saleable book he had promised Hetzel three years earlier would bring him the financial success that had eluded him: "Now, supposing that of these last fifty there were twenty which were unintelligible or repulsive to the newspaper's public, there will still be plenty of material to be able to ask a good price" (letter to Julien Lemer, October 13, 1865).

In the dedicatory preface to Houssaye, Baudelaire shows himself as, among other things, a salesman of his own literary wares. As our first and principal access to the work, the preface provides a vantage point from which to consider the relations of the author/producer not only to his publisher/middleman but also to the reader/consumer. The importance of the latter is suggested in the preface by its designation of the work not as an organic unity but as "neither head nor tail, both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally" (ni queue ni tête . . . à la fois tête et queue, alternativement et réciproquement). Considering the emphasis in literary studies on the role of the reader over the last decade, it is surprising that a passage such as the following, and prose poem collections generally, should have attracted so little attention:

Considérez, je vous prie, quelles admirables commodités cette combinaison nous offre à tous, à vous, à moi et au lecteur. Nous pouvons couper où nous voulons, moi ma rêverie, vous le manuscrit, le lecteur sa lecture, car je ne suspends pas la volonté rétive de celui-ci au fil interminable d'une intrigue superflue.

[I beg you to consider how admirably convenient this combination is for all of us, for you, for me, and for the reader. We can cut wherever we please, I my dreaming, you your manuscript, the reader his reading; for I do not keep the reader's restive mind hanging in suspense on the threads of an interminable and superfluous plot.]

The fragmented, antiorganic composition of Baudelaire's collection attested to here exemplifies that phenomenon of "ordered disorganization" which is a characteristic feature, as Terdiman remarks, of both the newspaper and the department store. Similarly, individual prose poems—which Baudelaire hoped, as we recall, would be "easily saleable"—bear a strong and, as seems likely, more than incidental resemblance in their form to newspaper "articles" and "faits divers." It is in the newspaper after all that, in Terdiman's words, "page space was measurable in money . . . the column itself became readable as a machine to make money." Accordingly, in Baudelaire's preface, the potential reader is clearly envisaged, though certainly not without irony, as a consumer, the texts themselves as products—convenient commodities—to be consumed with as little annoyance as possible.

The author thus emerges not only as a producer of literary wares but also as his own agent, the work of art not as a pure end in itself but as a means for acquiring both an audience and an income. There may never have been a letter or, for that matter, any piece of writing that contained, between the opening "Mon cher ami" and the closing "Votre bien affectionné" more "deep duplicity" [so termed by Walter Benjamin, in his Charles Baudelaire, 1973] and calculation than Baudelaire's preface to a new genre. Examples of such duplicity abound: the "whole serpent" Baudelaire dares to dedicate to Houssaye in the hope that some of what he refers to as its "fragments" (tronçons) will be sufficiently alive to "please," "amuse," and also no doubt to disturb the reader—both Houssaye and the broader public accessible to him through La presse; the statement raising up Aloysius Bertrand's ghost only to banish it into the shadow of his own accomplishment; the concealment of false modesty under the aegis of integrity in Baudelaire's reference to his own work as a mere "accident which anyone else would glory in" (accident dont tout autre que moi s'enorgueillirait sans doute). Finally, this duplicity manifests itself in Baudelaire's not terribly subtle attempt to flatter Houssaye by intimating that, no less than Bertrand, Houssaye was—in his efforts to "translate in a song the Glazier's strident cry . . . and to express in a lyric prose all the dismal suggestions this cry sends up through the fog of the street to the highest garrets"—Baudelaire's true "mysterious and brilliant model," that same Houssaye who authored the prose poem, "La chanson du vitrier," so acidly parodied by Baudelaire's own "Le mauvais vitrier." Following this letter of introduction, it is less a wonder that a number of the later Petits poèmes en prose were not published before Baudelaire's death than that most of them were—and by Houssaye!

Around 1850, Roland Barthes has said, "Literature begins to be confronted with the problem of its own justification: writing starts looking for alibis." In what has become one of its most celebrated passages, Baudelaire's preface (1861-62) refers to "a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough [assez heurtée] to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses [mouvements lyriques] of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes [soubresauts] of conscience?" Musicality, the impulses of the soul, dreams, even meditative consciousness—these are the traditional stock-in-trade of Romantic poetry, and especially of the subjective verse lyric. In the Petits poèmes en prose, certainly, these have an important role, yet more in a position of negation than affirmation, a negation beneath the weight of the "huge cities" (villes énormes) and the "medley of their innumerable interrelations" (croisement de leurs innombrables rapports). Speaking of the "lyrical impulses of the soul" is Baudelaire's alibi for presenting the individual not as self-sufficient or transcendent but, rather, as radically situated in the social matrix.

Nowhere is there a clearer presentation of the situatedness of the authorial "I" than in the prose poem, "A une heure du matin" ("One O'Clock in the Morning"). The demands Baudelaire makes of his prose poetry, that it be supple and tough enough to adapt itself to the undulations of dream and the jolts of consciousness, are those required not by the lyrical soul in splendid isolation but by the individual in society. For the writer, this society includes, most immediately, other writers and potential publishers. Thus, strategically placed after the parodic demolition of Houssaye's "La chanson du vitrier" ("The Song of the Glazier") in Baudelaire's own "Le mauvais vitrier" ("The Bad Glazier"), "A une heure du matin" begins with the double exclamation: "At last! Alone!" (Enfin! seul!). That five more exclamations follow before the text begins to recapitulate the day's events in the third paragraph suggests how long it takes the speaker to recover from the encounters about to be listed. How absorbed the speaker is by the social life of his big-city environment is indicated by the text's initial pronoun, which is not the conventional lyric's first-person singular, je, but the impersonal third person, On (serving in this case in its everyday sense as an alternative for the first person plural). On is then followed in the second sentence by the other collective first person plural form, nous; only after "the tyranny of the human face has disappeared" does the first je of the poem appear, followed by the more intimate first-person privacy of moi-même (myself). The first paragraph thus presents a shift from the impersonal and the collective to the private and personal, a shift expressed, significantly, in terms of private ownership, the desire to "possess silence, if not rest" (nous posséderons le silence, sinon le repos; my emphasis).

Having arrived home at his solitary room, immediately the speaker double-locks the door: "It seems to me that this turn of the key increases my solitude and strengthens the barricades that currently separate me from the world" (Il me semble que ce tour de clef augmentera ma solitude et fortifiera les barricades qui me séparent actuellement du monde.) Ironically resonant with the revolution of 1848 in "barricades," this willed separation is undermined by the memories of the day which succeed each other relentlessly in the third paragraph. Following the exclamations, "Horrible life! Horrible city!" the text returns to the impersonal, this time in the form of a sequence of past infinitives: "avoir vu . . . avoir disputé . . . avoir salué . . . avoir distribué . . . être monté . . . avoir fait ma cour . . . m'être vanté . . . avoir nié . . . avoir refusé . . . et donné" (to have seen . . . to have disagreed . . . to have greeted . . . to have distributed . . . to have gone up to . . . to have made my rounds . . . to have boasted . . . to have denied . . . to have refused . . . and given). The effect of this sequence is of a confessional, a kind of litany or mea culpa in which the speaker recounts his business, his daily bread. The figures he encounters belong for the most part to his professional milieu, "several men of letters . . . the editor of a review . . . a theatrical director," but include also "twenty or more persons, of whom fifteen were unknown to me . . . a dancer[ une sauteuse] who asked me to design her a costume for Venustre . . . a friend . . . and . . . a perfect rouge." In fact, this second list of acquaintances, encounters, friends, and enemies also belongs to the speaker/writer's professional circle, for as the paragraph and its conclusion suggest, the circle continues round indefinitely: "Ugh! is there no end to it?"( ouf! est-ce bien fini?. )

For the writer, as for every member of a competitive society concerned with getting ahead (or even staying in the same place), no stone can be left unturned. That the speaker turns in the last paragraph—unhappy, in his words, with everyone, including himself—to the consolations of religion ("Seigneur mon Dieu!") would but be in keeping with the ideology of his class were it not for his implicit demystification of that same religious idelogy: " . . . je voudrais bien me racheter . . ." (I long to redeem myself). The verb racheter, with its specifically Christian connotation, "to redeem," should be understood here also in its economic sense, "to buy back," which echoes the verb "to possess"( nous posséderons) in the first paragraph. The speaker would like to buy himself back, to be in possession of himself, not to be subjected to the laws of the marketplace. Yet no matter how much he pleads to the "souls" of "those [he] has loved and celebrated in song"( ceux que j'ai aimé . . . ceux que j'ai chantés) he will not be able to shut himself off from that market and continue to live. Even his double-lock will not keep the "contaminating fumes"( vapeurs corruptrices) of the social world from seeping into his most private room or from fixing even his most lyrical self in its matrix.

Knowing this, the speaker prays to God for a strange kind of grace. Dieu emerges here as a substitute for the poetic muse, the inspiration that is to allow the speaker to "produce" something ("some beautiful verses") which will set him above his kind, not for the liberation of forgiveness, of self and others, but to prove to himself that he is not "the lowest of men"( le dernier des hommes), "inferior to those [he] scorns"( inférieur à ceux que je méprise.) Although the desire these lines express not to be inferior does not necessarily imply a need to feel superior to others, the speaker's admitted scorn for those with whom he compares himself strongly suggests such an interpretation. If we are inclined to interpret the speaker's prayer as a desire to be no more than equal to others, then his invocation to God may strike us as sincere and even selfeffacing. The fact, however, that the speaker desires not only to redeem himself but also to "boost [his] own pride at the expense of others"( m'enorgueillir un peu,) may well lead us to interpret his appeal to God, though not his desire to produce beautiful poetry, as at least partially ironic. Christian grace is not given because one has or has not earned it. It is, rather, a gift that may be accorded to even the most unworthy. Thus, an ironic reading seems called for especially by the speaker's desire to prove his own worth, and above all to himself ("qui me prouvent à moi-même",) rather than to a Christian God who would require no such proof, whether through the creation of beautiful poetry or through any other means. In any case, poetry is here inseparable from what Hegel calls "the world of daily life and of prose." With its sober, forceful indication of the extent to which poets are themselves, like anyone else, trapped in this world of prose and hence no longer able to maintain "that appearance of autonomous and complete vitality and freedom which is the very foundation of beauty," "A une heure du matin" offers itself as a paradigmatic text for the Petits poèmes en prose as a whole. Although the individual in such a world may desire to see himself as, in Hegel's words, "a sealed unity," he finds himself comprehensible, like the speaker in "A une heure du matin," only through his relationships to other people, on whom he is wholly dependent.

Academic critics have traditionally slighted Baudelaire's prose poetry in favor of the verse poetry of the Fleurs du mal. Even so profound and radical a critic as Benjamin managed to all but ignore the Petits poèmes en prose in his important studies of Baudelaire's work. It is almost as if Baudelaire criticism has been suffering from a kind of aestheticist repression of that very "world of prose" which Baudelaire thematized in his later work, not just as a pendant or ornament to the Fleurs du mal, but to "brush against the grain" of the earlier poems. [In Défigurations du langage poétique] Barbara Johnson has noted that, although critics have largely neglected Baudelaire's prose poetry, poets have consistently considered it among his most interesting work. Only relatively recently has the surprising lack of attention given to the Petits poèmes en prose in Baudelaire criticism begun to see some redress. In the 1970s in particular, there seems finally to have emerged a broader consensus that the more revolutionary Baudelaire is not necessarily to be found in his verse poetry. Now more than ever before it is possible to speak credibly of what Johnson has called the "second Baudelairean revolution" as equally enduring.

Exemplifying on a small scale the dialogical, heteroglossic, mixed mode of discourse Mikhail Bakhtin associates with the novel and prose forms generally, the prose poem in Baudelaire's hands demonstrates the kind of "self critique of the literary language of the era" Bakhtin has said is carried out not at the level of abstraction but through images of language which are "inseparable from images of various world views and from the living beings who are their agents—people who think, talk, and act in a setting that is social and historically concrete." Far more extensively and concretely than the dialogical struggles enacted in Novalis's and especially in Schlegel's texts, those in Baudelaire's prose poems incorporate discourses other than the predominantly literary and philosophical. This broadening of the dialogical from a virtually exclusive focus on struggles within high culture to include a concern with struggles between high and low culture is crucial to the social reinscription of the lyric that the prose poem advances as it emerges with Baudelaire. In the remainder of this [essay], I will bring together three prose poems that have not previously been examined in detail in close relation to one another despite several worthwhile studies of them in isolation. The three poems I will consider are those that deal most explicitly with the poor: "Le joujou du pauvre" ("The Poor Child's Toy"), "Les yeux des pauvres" ("The Eyes of the Poor"), and "Assommons les pauvres!" ("Let's Beat Down the Poor!"). Though Baudelaire's treatment of the poor in the Petits poèmes en prose is not at all limited to these three texts, they offer an especially useful interpretive constellation. Much of their pathos, like that of Baudelaire's prose poetry and the prose poem generally, stems from their symbolic enactment of the impossibility of resolving existing antagonisms in the absence of the kind of collective praxis necessary for such a resolution to come about. Seen in relation to one another, the three prose poems on the poor suggest an "internal" dynamic, three moments of a single dialectical relation. In the aspiration they figure, both individually and collectively, toward a dialectical resolution of oppositional forces; in their staging of the urgency and extreme difficulty of the same, they offer paradigmatic examples of the prose poem's own gesture as genre.

"In every aspect of daily life in which the individual worker imagines himself to be the subject of his own life," Georg Lukács has remarked, "he finds this to be an illusion that is destroyed by the immediacy of his experience." As a prose poem such as "A une heure du matin" suggests, the writer is scarcely more the "subject of his own life" (a lyrical perspective) than any other worker or wage laborer. In its presentation of the lyrical subject's unwilling dependence on others, its imaging of the individual's ineradicable situatedness within determinately social contexts, "A une heure du matin" exemplifies the turn taken by the Petits poèmes en prose toward more concretely and explicitly social motifs than the verse poetry of the day seems to have allowed. In "A une heure du matin" and elsewhere, Baudelaire's prose poetry shows him as having developed, by means of his literary praxis, an intense awareness of himself as object, of his sensibility and his texts as exchangeable goods within the commodity structure of society. There is, accordingly, an intimate connection between Baudelaire's awareness of his own precarious situation as a literary producer and the presentation of the poor in the Petits poèmes en prose. It is questionable whether this awareness enables Baudelaire to get entirely beyond that contemplative subjectobject dualism Lukács describes as characteristic of bourgeois thought. Still, as we shall see, the penultimate poem of the Petits poèmes en prose,"Assommons les pauvres!", shows signs if not of a breakthrough, then at least of a movement in that direction.

Through its frequent focus on the first-person singular of subjective, "lyrical" consciousness, the prose poem offers, on the one hand, an implicit critique of the putative "objectivity" of prose. On the other hand, by virtue of its dislocation and reinsertion of the self into the social context of third-person narrative (with particular emphasis on the anecdote), the prose poem also suggests a critique of the "subjective" lyric. In the case of Baudelaire, it seems most useful to emphasize the genre's critique of lyric poetry, both because the inventor of the modern prose poem has been primarily known as a writer of the verse lyric and because the prose poem's implied critique of prose becomes foregrounded only somewhat later, in the work, for example, of Rimbaud, Lautréamont, and Max Jacob. In the "ordinary" novel, Barthes has said, "the 'I' is the witness; it is the 'he' who is actor." Thus, the "I" in Baudelaire's prose poems, according to Fritz Nies [in his Poesie in prosaicher Welt, 1964], speaks mostly from the standpoint of the observer, "occasionally retreating so far into the background that in many texts it doesn't even make an appearance." This denial of the primacy of the "I " is indeed a prominent aspect of the Petits poèmes en prose and an important part of its critique of the verse lyric, but it is only one dimension of this critique and by no means final. [In "A Prose Poem in the Nominal Style: 'Un Hémisphère dans une chevelure,'" L'Esprit créateur 13, No. 2 (Summer 1973)] John Lyons has written that the collection comprises mostly narratives, "anecdotes . . . hallucinatory adventures, with the structural core . . . generally a story of someone doing something . . . the protagonist acts" That these acts are recounted in the first person as well as in the third person suggests an alternation between lyrical and novelistic, poetic and prosaic perspectives, between "the poet observing himself . . . and the poet observing others" [Fernande De George, "The Structure of Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose," L'Esprit créateur 13, No. 2 (1973)].

In an otherwise admiring letter to Sainte-Beuve (dated January 15, 1866), whom Benjamin considered the poet most responsible before Baudelaire for incorporating social motifs into the lyric, Baudelaire indicates his reservations about the aestheticizing tendencies of his friend's work: "In certain places of Joseph Delorme, I find a little too much of luths, of lyres, of harps and Jehovahs. It taints the Parisian poems. Besides, you had come to destroy that." Earlier in the letter, Baudelaire speaks of Le spleen de Paris as itself "a new Joseph Delorme attaching its rhapsodic thought to each incident of his idleness and drawing from each object a disagreeable moral." The difference between Baudelaire's treatment of the poor and Sainte-Beuve's is suggested in part by the disagreeable moral Baudelaire, in contrast to Saint-Beuve, wishes to draw from the prosaic world. Although Benjamin's analysis of social motifs in Baudelaire's poetry focuses on the Fleurs du mal, the Petits poèmes en prose displays an even greater emphasis on such motifs, as well as, perhaps, the greater insights; while the verse collection tends to turn mud into gold, poeticizing (versifying) social relations even as it ironizes them. In the prose poems of Le spleen de Paris, by comparison, as Suzanne Bernard has said [in Le poème en prose de Baudelaire jusqu'à nos jours], "mud stays mud."

Thus, "Le joujou du pauvre," first published in 1862, does not greatly change or poeticize the prosaic objects it excerpts from the essay, "Morale du joujou," which first appeared nine years earlier. Except for some slight additions, including the list of three exemplary toys in the second paragraph and the breaking up of the second paragraph of the original into the prose poem's eight paragraphs, the two texts remain substantially the same. The most striking difference besides these, and the one that makes the prose poem, is the establishment of a symmetrical frame in the form of a two-line opening and two-line closing paragraph. The latter two lines are completely new, the former partially drawn from the earlier text. Inside this frame, with its "Je" on one end and "les deux enfants" (two children) on the other, the narrator situates himself as a pure observer. The almost immediate shift away from the first person in "Le joujou du pauvre" contrasts with the extended first-person anecdote that begins "Morale du joujou," where Baudelaire recounts a personal event from his own childhood as background to his fascination with toys as an adult. The isolation from this original context of the paragraphs that make up the prose poem effectively cancels much of the subjective, "poetic" first-person intimacy of the earlier essay in favor of a more distanced, objective and "prosaic" account. Although the second paragraph suggests contact between the first and third persons, the subject and object of contemplation, it does so only in the uncertain temporal space between future and imperative, and by means of an ambiguous second person: "When you go out in the morning . . . fill your pockets"( Quand vous sortirez le matin . . . remplissez vos poches.) Of the poor children who are to receive toys and who would run away like cats to savor them, the speaker says: "You will see their eyes open unbelievably wide"( Vous verrez leurs yeux s'agrandir démesurément.) There is no guarantee, however, that these children will "actually" receive anything (from us? the speaker? Baudelaire?), as the children well know, "having learned to be wary of man"( ayant appris à se défier de l'homme.) Contact is postponed indefinitely, leaving speaker and reader suspended in the space/time between two verb tenses.

In the third paragraph, the verb tense changes, and the speaker, who remains unidentified except as an "I" who contemplates the (im)possibility of an "innocent diversion," begins to recount the principal anecdote of the poem, a static portrait. On one side of a fence a wealthy child stands passively on the grass beside a splendid toy; across from him, like an outcast from Eden, "on the highway" (sur la route,) there is another child described as "pitifully black and grimy"( sale, chétif, fuligineux.) The two children and their objects are presented in a frozen, dualistic world. What is referred to in "Morale du joujou" as "that immense mundus of childhood" is in fact two worlds, the insecure world of poverty and the road separated by "symbolic bars" from the cozy, domestic world of the rich. If the toy is, as Baudelaire writes in the earlier essay, "the first initiation of the child to art," then the literary art to which the poor child receives initiation would certainly be unadorned prose, that of the rich child the aristocratic art of classical French poetry with its intricate rhyme schemes and other aesthetic devices and adornments. The phrase Baudelaire uses to describe the rich child's toy—"verni, doré, vêtu d'une robe pourpre, et couvert de plumets et de verroteries" (gilded and shining, dressed in purple, and covered with plumes and glittering beads)—suggests the latter in the preciosity of its diction and subject matter, in the conspicuous assonance and alliteration of "verni . . . vêtu . . . verroteries" and "pourpre . . . plumets, " and in its concealed approximation of a double alexandrine ("verni. . . pourpre" / "et. . . verroteries". )

Corresponding to this symbolic reading on the literary/aesthetic level, the two worlds of the poor and the rich child suggest on the social level the class relations of proletariat and bourgeoisie. In an earlier verse poem from his "Révolte" cycle, "Abel et Caïn," Baudelaire lays out a similar set of relations, where the race of Cain may be identified with the proletariat and the race of Abel with the bourgeoisie. Recalling not only the poor child "on the road" in "Le joujou du pauvre" but also the beggar family in "Les yeux des pauvres," in "Abel et Caín" Baudelaire writes: "Race de Caïn, sur les routes / Traîne ta familleaux abois" (Race of Cain, on the roads / drag along your family with your backs to the wall). Like Abel in the biblical version of the story, the rich child in "Le joujou du pauvre" stands inside the garden from which the poor child is excluded. In contrast to "Abel et Caïn," however, with its open call to rebellion, the tone of "Le joujou du pauvre" is more detached; the speaker is one who keeps his distance and self-possession, "the eye of a connoisseur." The dominant verbs in the latter poem have to do with observation, the calm durée of the imperfect tense: "regardait, " "nettoyait" used to refer to the act of divining "an authentic master under . . . the disgusting patina of misery"( une peinture idéale sous . . . la répugnante patine de la misère.) The closest the children come to action is, momentarily, in the poor child's "showing" (montrait,) the rich child's "examining"( examinait avidement) the live rat that is the shared focus of their gaze, "drawn from life itself (tiré de la vie elle-même. )

The only real center of activity in the poem, the rat the poor child agitates violently, is quite literally caged up. Clothed in a proliferation of adjectives, the children face each other across what seems for the moment of the text a secure partition, but the activity of the poor child exciting the rat inside its cage on one side of the "symbolic bars" is suggestive of the energy that might be released by the proletariat in class struggle. Up to the very end, the speaker of Baudelaire's poem keeps his distance, though the "fraternal" smiles, "of an equal whiteness"( d'une égale blancheur,) serve as an ironic reminder that the promises of the French revolution for liberty, fraternity, and equality have been realized only by those on the right side of a class barrier that has yet to be broken down by successful revolutionary praxis. As with the man looking at his own reflection in the prose poem, "Le miroir" ("according to the immortal principles of '89, all men are equal before the law"[ d'après les immortels principes de '89, tous les hommes sont egaux en droits]), an empty formal likeness is here reflected alongside unresolved, potentially explosive difference. The mirror, Pierre Macherey has said: "does not reflect things (in which case the relationship between the reflection and the object would be one of mechanical correspondence). The image in the mirror is deceptive: the mirror enables us to grasp only relationships of contradiction. By means of contradictory images the mirror represents and evokes the historical contradictions of the period"[ A Theory of Literary Production, translated by Geoffrey Will]. The prose poem in Baudelaire's hands is not only the site of a potential and actual confrontation between literary modes, between poetry and prose, it is also the location, as "Le joujou du pauvre" makes abundantly clear, of a strong emphasis on societal oppositions, potential and actual antagonisms stemming from class relations. In "Les yeux des pauvres," the second of Baudelaire's poems on the poor we will consider, conflict involves not only class relations and literary antagonisms of the form prose/poetry but also another kind of "generic" conflict, the gender-based sexual antagonisms between men and women.

In "Le joujou du pauvre," as we have seen, the speaker keeps his distance, and with it, his anonymity, considering the poor from the point of view of a "connoisseur." The overall effect of the poem is to situate poverty as an object of contemplation, as spectacle. In "Les yeux des pauvres," subject—poetry, the speaker, the lyrical "I"—and object—prose, the poor, the narrative "he"—continue to be held apart in a relation of mutual exclusion, but at a closer distance than in "Le joujou du pauvre." The latter text, as we have seen, takes the form of a monological anecdote, with the speaker present only as an observer and narrator. "Les yeux des pauvres," by contrast, suggests a dialogical relationship that includes the speaker as a more active participant, though even here his position is best described as one of oscillation: "inside" the frame of the lover's relationship, he remains "outside" the frame of the poor. Suggestive of a dialectical reversal of the subject/object relation in "Le joujou du pauvre," however, the eyes of the poor in the prose poem that bears their name take in the speaker at least as much as he takes in the poor.

"Les yeux des pauvres" begins, like other crucial prose poems such as "A une heure du matin," "Perte d'auréole" and "Assommons les pauvres!", with an exclamation, one of those linguistic shocks suggesting intensified awareness: "Ah! So you want to know why I hate you today?" At this stage, "you"( vous) remains powerfully ambiguous. As opposed to the "you" of "Le joujou du pauvre," which functions primarily to parry attention away from a detached "I," "you" in this case serves to immediately implicate the reader in a way reminiscent of the verse poem "Au lecteur" ("To the Reader"). The reader is of course also implicated by the problematic of innocence and guilt which begins "Le joujou du pauvre," but the emphasis in that poem falls first on the speaker rather than, as here, on the reader. Though we may continue to read "you" in reference to ourselves as readers, and we are indeed implicated, the pronoun begins to take on its other and primary connotation with the attribute, "the most perfect example of feminine impermeability." Beyond this, the first sentence of the second paragraph, "We had spent a long day together which to me had seemed short," places the speaker in a past that separates him from the reader. Thus, as the focus shifts from the second person plural vous to the first person plural nous, the speaker's place in the narrative gives way to a third "other," his female companion.

The couple, the narrator tells us, has promised to share all their thoughts with each other. These thoughts, however, and the generic/sexual problematic the poem thematizes, are not to be separated from a problem of class relations which stands implacably, in the speaker's words, "directly in front of us." Obtruding on the speaker's romantic desire for a Utopian oneness with his female companion—"We had duly promised each other . . . that our two souls would henceforth be but one—a dream which . . . has been realized by none"—is the prosaic reality of class, as well as sexual, difference, and the crisis of conscience which results from the disparity between rich and poor. The contrast between the ornate, lavish surroundings of the new café where the speaker and his lover are seated and the poor man "of about forty, with tired face and graying beard" holding two small boys, one "too weak to walk," could not be more pointedly drawn. All three "in rags," the members of the poor family contemplate the conspicuous display of wealth in front of them with serious eyes and an admiration "equal in degree but differing in kind according to their ages"( une admiration égale, mais nuancée . . . par l'âge.) Ironically "equal" in their admiration of cultural achievements that do not belong to them but only to a privileged few, the poor, we might say, cannot present themselves, they must be represented. And so here the poor are attributed words we take to be their own in a world that excludes them even as it takes them in: "a house where only people who are not like us can go" une maison où peuvent seuls entrer les gens qui ne sont pas comme nous. )

Theirs is the world of prose; the speaker's world, that of the poetic "café neuf of history and mythology: "All the gold of the poor world had come to adorn those walls" (on dirait que tout Vor du pauvre monde est venu se porter sur ces murs.) This autocritique of French Romantic poetry's aestheticization of poverty, the poeticization of a prosaic world, is further developed in the beginning of the penultimate paragraph:

Les chansonniers disent que le plaisir rend l'âme bonne et amollit le coeur. La chanson avait raison ce soir-là, relativement à moi. Non seulement j'étais attendri par cette famille d'yeux, mais je me sentais un peu honteux de nos verres [read also "verses"—vers] et de nos carafes, plus grandes que notre soif.

[Song writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was right that evening as far as I was concerned. Not only was I touched by this family of eyes, but I was even a little ashamed of our glasses/verses and decanters, bigger than our thirst.]

Like "Le joujou du pauvre," "Les yeux des pauvres" presents poverty as an object of contemplation, even delectation, though here, significantly, the eyes of the poor look back; the distance between the "I" and the other(s) has diminished. Yet though the poor have come closer and their eyes have engaged the speaker, his response is not to confront what stands right before his eyes but to turn away. What he turns toward is a typical substitute for pressing social concerns—romantic love. The eyes of the poor give way to the eyes of the lover, yet the text ends with the static relation of incommunicability. When the speaker's visual intoxication is dispelled, when the lover speaks, the effect is to increase rather than diminish the sense of irreconcilable generic, sexual, and class differences, to accentuate the distance between men and women as well as between social classes: "'Those people are insufferable with their eyes wide open like carriage doors! Can't you tell the proprietor to send them away?'"( 'Ces gens-là me sont insupportables avec leurs yeux ouverts comme des portes cochères! Ne pourriez-vous pas prier le maître du café de les éloigner d'ici?'. )

As at the conclusion of "Le joujou du pauvre," in "Les yeux des pauvres" a static set of relations remains firmly in place, unchallenged by any notion of an intervening praxis that might resolve existing tensions. Although the subject/object relation of the former remains completely one-sided, however, with the narrator/subject contemplating the frozen, dichotomized world of rich and poor alike, "Les yeux des pauvres" displays a contrasting reciprocity in which the speaker, seated complicitously with his lover in a bourgeois café, contemplates the beggarly characters of his anecdote only to have these objects of his contemplation look back at and even "speak" to him (albeit in his own words). These acts of speech distinguish "Les yeux des pauvres" from the voiceless landscape of "Le joujou du pauvre," yet both poems exhibit a fundamentally contemplative orientation to the problem of class relations—significantly, in "Les yeux des pauvres," it is the eyes that do the talking. In "Assommons les pauvres!", by contrast to these two earlier poems, contemplation gives way to action, an exchange of words to an exchange of blows, reciprocal glances between the speaker and the poor to physical interaction and confrontation. Although the probable consequences of such a confrontation are ambiguously drawn in Baudelaire's poem, the change of emphasis in question recalls Marx's fundamental claim that the resolution of theoretical antitheses ("subjectivity and objectivity, spirituality and materiality, activity and suffering") "is only possible in a practical way, by virtue of the practical energy of man. Their resolution is therefore by no means merely a problem of understanding but a real problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it conceived this problem as merely a theoretical one."

Le spleen de Paris combines, as we have noted, a markedly social thematic with lyrical brevity and compression. Although often maintaining the lyric "I," individual prose poems as well as the collection as a whole tend to displace the lyrical subject from the center of attention. In the poems we have looked at so far, we have seen this subject (re)situated within decidedly social contexts. In "Assommons les pauvres!" the "I" is much more an explicit focus of attention than in either of the other two poems on the poor:

Pendant quinze jours je m'étais confiné dans ma chambre, et je m'étais entouré des livres à la mode dans ce temps-là (il y a seize ou dix-sept ans); je veux parler des livres où il est traité de l'art de rendre les peuples heureux, sages et riches, en vingt-quatre heures.

[For fifteen days I had shut myself up in my room and had surrounded myself with the most popular books of the day (that was sixteen or seventeen years ago); I am speaking of those books that treat of the art of making the people happy, wise and rich in twenty-four hours.]

Since "Assommons les pauvres!" was written in 1865, the anecdotal narrative of some sixteen or seventeen years earlier which it recounts takes place around 1848, the year of the failed social revolution that here emerges as the immediate horizon within which to situate Baudelaire's radical formal experimentation in the Petits poèmes enprose. The subject presented to us has a certain distance from his past which allows him to perceive himself as the speaker of the two previous poems we have considered perceived the poor, that is, as an object within the historical process. As a consequence of this temporal distancing, the "I" in "Assommons les pauvres!" approaches an awareness of himself as both subject and object.

Following the speaker's self-imposed immersion in social theory, the intensive fifteen-day period of reading alluded to above, he does something that is, if not unheard of, at least fairly unusual among the generally contemplative speakers of Baudelaire's prose poems—he acts: "And I left my room with a terrible thirst"( Et je sortis avec une grande soif.) At first, this activity takes the most familiar, relatively passive form of Baudelairian activity, that of the flâneur. We are on the verge of following him, however, into a release of energy that is unsurpassed by any other speaker in Baudelaire's work with the possible exception of "Le mauvais vitrier," that poem to which "Assommons les pauvres!" bears perhaps the closest resemblance. The former begins, in a manner suggesting spontaneous individual, much more than collective, praxis: "There are certain natures, purely contemplative and totally unfit for action, which nevertheless, moved by some mysterious and unaccountable impulse, act at times with a rapidity of which they would never have dreamed themselves capable." The amount of time the speaker in "Assommons les pauvres!" spends confined in his room reading suggests his contemplative affinity with the earlier speaker. Although his immersion in theoretical problems also suggests the search for a well-grounded praxis that might differ qualitatively from the perverse spontaneity of the speaker in "Le mauvais vitrier," the course of action he chooses is scarcely less perverse, the action's outcome no less ironic. Like his predecessor in "Le mauvais vitrier," the speaker here has his demon or, rather, his good angel, yet in contrast to that of the speaker in the earlier poem, the demon/angel of "Assommons les pauvres!" is explicitly linked to philosophy—"Since Socrates had his good Demon, why shouldn't I have my good Angel"—as well as to two aliénistes of the era, Lélut and Baillarger, who had maintained that Socrates was insane. The principal difference, the speaker says, between his own demon and that of Socrates, is that his is "a demon of action" (un Démon d'action, un Démon de combat). His counsel: "'A man is the equal of another only if he can prove it, and to be worthy of liberty a man must fight for it'"( Celui-là est l'égal d'un autre, qui le prouve, et celui-là seul est digne de la liberté, qui sait la conquérir. )

Such a position is quite different from the prevailing attitudes of the speakers in "Le joujou du pauvre" and "Les yeux des pauvres." What follows in the text is a parodic example or test case of a noncontemplative, violent approach to solving a "theoretical" problem in which the speaker physically attacks a beggar only to get back twofold everything he delivers to him:

Tout à coup, ô miracle! ô jouissance du philosophe qui vérifie l'excellence de sa théorie!—je vis cette antique carcasse se retourner, se redresser . . . le malandrin . . . me pocha les deux yeux, me cassa quatre dents. . . . Par mon énergique médication, je lui avais donc rendu I' orgueil et la vie.

[Suddenly,—O miracle! oh joy of the philosopher when he sees the truth of his theory verified!—I saw that antique carcass turn over, jump up . . . the decrepit vagabond . . . proceeded to give me two black eyes, to knock out four of my teeth. . . . —Thus it was that my energetic medication had restored his pride and given him new life.]

After this "discussion," which ends by mutual agreement, the defeated speaker ironically acknowledges the beggar ("Sir, you are my equal"), shares his purse with him, and advises him ("if you are really philanthropic") to apply the same theory to his "colleagues"( confrères,) supposedly in order to benefit them as well. There is more to this anecdote, to be sure, than a perverse version of the adage, "The Lord helps those who help themselves." In contrast to the speaker of "Le joujou du pauvre," who maintains his contemplative distance from what he observes, the speaker in "Assommons les pauvres!" turns dramatically from theory to praxis. What kind of praxis is, of course, another question. Equality, the decisive problematic at the end of "Le joujou du pauvre," is imaged as something to be taken by force—or, if need be, by violent action. But to be taken by whom? The speaker's use of the term colleagues sends us back to the title's first-person plural, but the question still arises: Who is the implied "we" of this poem?

As so often in Baudelaire, and as we have already seen in the beginnings of "Le joujou du pauvre" and "Les yeux des pauvres," the text sets up an inescapable complicity between author and reader, both producers of the contradictions and antagonisms of the social context and text itself. In this case, however, complicity is no longer that of an aesthetic contemplation that makes of the poor one more commodity for pleasurable though guilty consumption. It is, rather, a complicity of praxis, to "beat down" the poor. Although the directive to commit acts of physical violence against the poor is in all likelihood best understood ironically, the particular kind of irony in question is less certain. However we take it, the question of class affiliation arises, and it is difficult to pin down the speaker's own standpoint toward such an imperative: one of "us," or one of "them." The speaker, who is himself not a beggar, gives us no other immediate clues as to his own class alliance, though if we read the poem in the context of the preceding prose poems, Baudelaire's other writings, and his situation as a literary producer in the age of high capitalism, ample evidence is available: "the literary life, the only element where certain classless beings can breathe"( la vie littéraire, le seul élément où puissent respirer certains êtres déclassés.) The "we" of "Assommons les pauvres!" should stand as a warning to all those intent on "rescuing" Baudelaire's motivations and intentions by assuming a Marxist or historical materialist perspective. One of the problems with such a reading is its tendency to minimize or repress the antisocialist aspects of the poem along with that deep duplicity Benjamin rightly maintained as characteristic of Baudelaire. The ambivalence and contradictoriness Oskar Sahlberg says must be emphasized with regard to Benjamin's work obtain even more in that of Baudelaire [Sahlberg, "Die Widersprüche Walter Benjamin," in Neue Rundschau 85 (1974)].

Jean-Paul Sartre's claim that the writers of 1848 missed the chance to ally themselves with the proletariat, "the subject par excellence of a literature of praxis," applies particularly well to Baudelaire. Insofar as the literary market of the nineteenth century was first of all, as Sahlberg has remarked, "a great opportunity, and a greater battlefield than it had ever been before," Baudelaire's turn to the prose poem as genre suggests among other things a final attempt to gain for himself a greater share of the rapidly growing bourgeois reading public. Perhaps more important, however, the aesthetic experimentation and social reinscription of the lyric evidenced in the Petits poèmes en prose also suggest an effort on Baudelaire's part to create a new and expanded audience by breaking with the accepted norms and expectations of bourgeois readers as to what a poem should be. As Claude Pichois has remarked [in his edition of Baudelaire's Oeuvres complètes]: "In the modern era, isn't respecting rules—even those that presided over the elaboration of the Fleurs du mal—a sign of submission [asservissement]? To respect the hierarchy of genres in the nineteenth century is perhaps to accept the hierarchy of social classes." The wealth of devices and artifice characteristic of rhymed, metrical verse, in particular the classical alexandrine, had become by the mid-nineteenth century its peculiar poverty. Responding to this situation, Baudelaire's prose poetry offers itself as a dialogization, prosification, and relative democratization of the verse lyric and a renunciation of the aestheticist tendencies Baudelaire had earlier praised in the work, for example, of Théophile Gautier. Arising as it does in the wake of the failed social revolution of 1848, the critique of such tendencies manifest in the Petits poèmes en prose arrives too late, however; their aesthetic revolution goes underground, to be revived by Rimbaud at that "moment of danger" in the early 1870s when the social force of the proletariat begins to show itself again. Full of contradictions, Le spleen de Paris gestures to both bourgeoisie and proletariat, and this double gesturing is responsible for much of the work's tension. Such tension manifests itself nowhere more dramatically than in "Assommons les pauvres!", where the ambiguous deictic "we" suggests Baudelaire's unwilling economic solidarity with prostitutes, beggars, and unemployed wage laborers, the true "confrères" of the poet within the commodity structure.

It is well known that Baudelaire once planned to end "Assommons les pauvres!" with the apostrophe, "Qu'en dis-tu, Citoyen Proudhon?" (What do you say to that, Citizen Proudhon?). With or without the deletion, the text suggests a critical appraisal of Proudhon's social theory. Although Baudelaire had warned as early as 1851 against what he called "socialist sophistry," his sympathies at that time, as earlier in 1848, were on the whole closely allied with those of Proudhon, a writer, he said "whom Europe will always envy us." By 1865, however, the year both of Proudhon's death and of the completion of "Assommons les pauvres!", Baudelaire's own relation to the philosopher had grown more complex. In a letter to Narcisse Ancelle on February 8, 1865, Baudelaire concedes the weakness of Proudhon's aesthetic ideas, while defending him in economic matters as "singularly respectable." A year later, in his January 2, 1866, letter to Sainte-Beuve, Baudelaire writes that he will never pardon Proudhon for not having been a dandy; he also defends him, however, as, with pen in hand, "un bon bougre." Despite the fact that this letter to Sainte-Beuve was written on the occasion of Sainte-Beuve's own recent appraisal of Proudhon, its special relevance for "Assommons les pauvres!" has been left unaccounted for by previous assessments of the poem. With the statement, "I have read him a lot, and known him a little," the letter does indeed document, as Wolfgang Fietkau has pointed out [in Schwanengesang auf 1848, 1978], Baudelaire's intimate acquantaince with Proudhon's work. Beyond this, however, it also suggests, both by what it says and by what it does not say, that "Assommons les pauvres!" may be read as a symbolic enactment on Baudelaire's part of his own attempts to come to terms with, on the one hand, the contemplative aesthetic of the "midwife of souls" represented for him by Sainte-Beuve, and, on the other hand, the revolutionary social praxis represented for him by Proudhon. Of Sainte-Beuve's own recently completed work on Proudhon, Baudelaire writes: "I'll say nothing to you . . . You have more than ever the air of a midwife of souls. The same was said, I believe, of Socrates, but the gentlemen Baillarger and Lélut declared, on their conscience, that he was insane." Echoing unmistakably the passage in "Assommons les pauvres!" quoted earlier which refers to Socrates, these lines suggest that the speaker's "good angel" may be a composite of both figures: Sainte-Beuve, the poet and aesthetician whom Baudelaire elsewhere called "profound in his skepticism," and Proudhon, the most influential French social theorist of his day.

In his well-known letter to P. V. Annenkov of December 28, 1846, responding to what he considered a grave misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the dialectic in Proudhon's recently published, Système des contradictions économiques ou philosophie de la misère, Marx refers to Proudhon as "the declared enemy of every political movement." "The solution of present problems," Marx says, "does not lie for him in public action but in the dialectical rotations of his own head." It is little wonder that Proudhon should have represented for Marx an impediment to social praxis. In a letter written to him as early as May 17, 1846, Proudhon rejected violent revolutionary praxis as a means of social reform because "this supposed means would be quite simply an appeal to force, to the arbitrary." Nevertheless, although Proudhon hoped instead for what he called "slow, measured, rational, philosophical progress" (letter to M. F***, March 2, 1840), Baudelaire thought of him as one of the leading forces behind the February 1848 revolution, a role Proudhon himself privately wished to deny. In the first of three articles on his long-time friend, the socialist chansonnier Pierre Dupont, Baudelaire hails Proudhon as the very embodiment of the "genius of action." Accordingly, whereas the "prohibitive Demon" of "Assommons les pauvres!" calls to mind the "poor Socrates" whom Baudelaire associates with Sainte-Beuve in his letter of January 2, the "Demon of action" which the prose poem's speaker claims for himself recalls Baudelaire's vision, if not Marx's, of Proudhon as a philosopher of praxis.

Given the movement enacted in "Assommons les pauvres!" from a contemplative theoretical approach to social reality toward one based on praxis, the question remains as to what specific kind of praxis, if any, might be most effective. In the Petits poèmes en prose generally, as in "Assommons les pauvres!" in particular, possible answers to this question are articulated less through affirmative proposals or suggestions than by negation. The "correct" praxis is inscribed in Baudelaire's poem as a conspicuous absence—collective, perhaps, rather than individualistic. Nowhere a given, it is everywhere to be fought for. Yet the possibility that such violence will result in benevolent change coexists at the end of "Assommons les pauvres!" with the possibility that it will, instead, make matters worse. In 1865, describing his proposed "universal application of the principle of reciprocity" or "mutualism," Proudhon spoke in favor of "the ancient law of the talion, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth . . . so to speak reversed and transferred from criminal law and the infamous practices of the vendetta to economic law, to the workers' tasks and the good offices of free fraternity." That same year, alluding to the failed revolution of seventeen years earlier, "Assommons les pauvres!" subjects such a principle to a parodic spectacle: where the speaker pokes out only one of the beggar's eyes, the beggar pokes out both of his; where the speaker knocks out two of the beggar's teeth, the beggar knocks out four. Already in 1848, with reference to the June insurrections, Baudelaire had written: "And see how violence, turmoil, impatience and crime retard the questions rather than advance them." Pointing to an indefinite suspension of the synthesis aimed at by revolutionary praxis rather than its permanent realization, the desperate comedy which "Assommons les pauvres!" enacts suggests that one of the manifestations of Proudhon's notion of primitive "exchange in kind" may be physical violence that ends, as the most recent revolution itself had in fact ended, neither in a true dialectical synthesis nor even in a provisional resolution of opposing forces which would be as beneficial to all parties as Proudhon hoped. Although the beggar in "Assommons les pauvres!" gets a share of the speaker's purse, both he and the speaker come away badly injured, and the future is no more secure for either of them than it was before their bloody encounter. Resolution, no resolution, a "wrong" solution (beating down the poor),-—all these are coterminous at the text's conclusion.

The reader of Le spleen de Paris is not bound, in Baudelaire's words, "on the thread of an interminable and superfluous plot." As a collection, it allows for multiple entrances and exits, combinations and recombinations of texts such as the dialectical relation I have (re)constructed among "Le joujou du pauvre," "Les yeux des pauvres," and "Assommons les pauvres!" Le spleen de Paris represents an important gesture toward what Benjamin has referred to in "The Author as Producer" [in Reflections, translated by Edmund Jephcott] as a "melting-down process of literary forms." In Baudelaire's prose poems, this process is not without its conservative side. Pieces of the thread of the "interminable and superfluous plot" the Petits poèmes en prose refuses as collection to show up unmistakably in the predominantly anecdotal structures of many of its individual texts. It is not until Rimbaud's Une saison en enfer that the prose poem challenges narrative, as it were, from within. What is conservative at one historical juncture, however, may be revolutionary at another. For as much as "Assommons les pauvres!" represents a critical turning away on Baudelaire's part from the revolutionary Baudelaire/Proudhon of February 1848 and "universal panaceas . . . against poverty and misery," the text also suggests, as does the prose poem itself as form, at least a partial rejection of the "gilded words" and contemplative aspect of French Romanticism. Proudhon, Sainte-Beuve once remarked to Baudelaire, "should have been the man to whom you were least sympathetic. All these philosophers and socialists want literature to be nothing but a tool of instruction, a moralizing instrument for the people. This is a point of view radically opposed to our own." If the ghost of Proudhon emerges, in "Assommons les pauvres!" as now the good demon of action, now the author of dubious social theories, this contradiction is suggestive of a growing ambivalence on Baudelaire's part toward Proudhon in particular and socialist theories in general in the aftermath of the failed February revolution. Despite such ambivalences, the poem's very treatment of Proudhon indicates the extent to which, contrary to what Sainte-Beuve might have expected, Proudhon continued to be for Baudelaire, as he had been in 1848, a figure to be reckoned with, as compelling in his way as the merely "prohibitive demon" of a Sainte-Beuve, the "poor Socrates" of Baudelaire's January 2, 1866, letter.

In the Petits poèmes en prose, the anecdotal, teleological narrative aspect of individual texts has the progressive function—at once aesthetic and political—of allowing a more radical (re)insertion of the individual subject into concrete social contexts than the verse poetry of Baudelaire's immediate predecessors and contemporaries, including Sainte-Beuve, had seemed to allow. As resolutely cohesive in its individual texts as it is fragmented as a collection, Le spleen de Paris marks the persistence of organicist notions of form even as it begins to effect the break with such notions later manifest in the more radically anti-organic texts of a Rimbaud or a Mallarmé. Commenting on Baudelaire's prose poetry, Bernard has not hesitated to speak of the "destructive effect that a philosophical, moral, didactic digression can have on the fragile alchemy of poetry." Yet the very interplay of various modes of discourse manifest in Baudelaire's collection is surely one of its greatest strengths. By staging the interpenetration of such "high" and "low" discourses as those we have seen in this [essay]—including the languages of poetry, prose, salesmanship, private ownership, the artist's milieu, religion, social unrest, history, philosophy, myth, philanthropy, social theory, and political confrontation; the languages as well of adults and children, men and women, rich and poor—Baudelaire's prose poetry demonstrates an acute awareness of how greatly the "fragile alchemy" of mid-nineteenth-century French Romantic poetry was, if anything, in some need of destructive effects. Of the author as producer, Benjamin asks: "Does he have suggestions for the reorientation of the novel, the play, the poem?" Baudelaire's Petits poèmes en prose provides just such a suggestion.

Michele Hannoosh (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "The Function of Literature in Baudelaire's La F anfarlo," in L'esprit créateur, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1988, pp. 42-55.

[In the following essay, Hannoosh contends that the relationship depicted in La Fanfarlo between the characters and literature provides the key to understanding the novella.]

Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo is a story replete with books, writers, readers, and critics, and yet the function of literature in the narrative has prompted no systematic study. Most of the major elements of the plot turn around a literary object: Samuel is introduced immediately as a writer, and his character defined in terms of his method of reading and the contradictory contents of a "typical" nineteenth-century artist's library; his first encounter with Madame de Cosmelly is dominated by a novel of Walter Scott's, and the second by his own volume of poetry, Les Orfraies-, he contrives to meet La Fanfarlo by means of his journalism; in the end he is reduced to grinding out books for money and founding a socialist newspaper; long discussions of literature occupy the first half, and allusions to literary characters and works occur throughout. We might ask, then, why literature plays so prominent a role in the story, and to what effect?

On the one hand, the theme reflects the status of parody in the work. The overt use of texts within a text is a convention of parody, which as a genre depends on the same metafictional principle: the incorporation of one work within another, which thereby comments on it. La Fanfarlo loosely follows the plot of Balzac's Béatrix, as Prévost first argued [in Baudelaire, 1953], and in a number of individual episodes parodies Balzac, Musset, Gautier, Laclos and others. The scene with Madame de Cosmelly, as all commentators have noted, is a blatant parody of Romanticism. Baudelaire makes this absurdly clear through not only the agglomeration of Romantic clichés, but also the narrator's highly ironic presentation and sarcastic commentary.

But the parody of Romanticism does not cease there. Samuel's Romantic elucubrations in the first episode are clearly a ruse designed to win Madame de Cosmelly. He knows the tricks—and clichés—of the trade and uses them as skillfully as the narrator himself. He becomes an object of mockery, however, in the context of the larger story: the confident poseur considers himself a Valmont, a Lovelace, a Chatterton, a Henri de Marsay, but actually plays right into the hands of his intended victim. This the narrator makes plain by naming the literary models against whom Samuel measures parodically, like these, or with whom he compares (Tartuffe), calling him a fool, and ridiculing Les Orfraies as an unoriginal collection of puerile clichés. Samuel is a parody of the seducer, and the story a parody of the plot which he imagines for it: he is used by Madame de Cosmelly when he expects to reap the fruits of her gratitude, and made miserable by La Fanfarlo when he expects to bask eternally in the "contentement savoureux" which loving her has inspired. The would-be hero becomes a victim, the lover an object of scorn, the poet a hankerer after official recognition through the intrigues of his mistress with the minister. At this level too the parody is clear, in the consistently ironic turn of events (the plot abounds in the conventional ironic devices of misunderstanding and quidproquo) and the narrator's condescending final remarks about the degradation of the hero.

While the parody and irony are easily perceptible, their interpretation has proved more difficult. Most commentators concur on the parody of Romanticism in the first half, but take the second as a "serious" statement of a new aesthetic or a "positive" view of Romanticism: the conscious cultivation of detachment, difference, duality, illusion, and irony which distinguishes the dandy and the true artist, an aesthetic of artifice approaching Baudelaire's formula for modernity. But this view neglects to take account of the irony present in the second half. Moreover it raises the crucial problem of motivation in the plot: if Samuel's experience with La Fanfarlo represents the "new" aesthetic to replace the "old" Romantic one of the Madame de Cosmelly episode, why does it fail and decline into ludicrous farce at the end? If Samuel becomes an authentic poet and lover in his affair with the dancer, renouncing the myth of presence, cultivating duality, and detaching himself from passion, why does this change? The reason cannot be that his controlled ironic distance becomes mere "natural passion," as some have argued; the change in their relations on the contrary causes this to happen. They deteriorate simply when La Fanfarlo learns of his original plan to win her away from Madame de Cosmelly's husband, and takes revenge on him for having, as she thinks, used her. The central questions of the story thus remain: why is Samuel a victim of both Madame de Cosmelly and La Fanfarlo? If we accept that his position toward Madame de Cosmelly was false, a hypocritical role, why after his exhilarating, perfect communion with the dancer must he suffer "toutes les horreurs de ce mariage vicieux qu'on nomme le concubinage"? If the "new" aesthetic is the authentic one, why does it end in the same way as the "old" one? In other words, what precisely does the second half of the story have to do with the first? The answer to these troubling questions, which go to the very heart of the work, can be approached by examining the prominent theme of literature.

In fact a study of this motif reveals the fundamental similarity between the two parts, despite the apparent differences between them. Samuel's character changes not in substance, only, perhaps, in manner. Indeed the narrator implies at the end that this ongoing metamorphosis continues beyond the time of his narrative: "J'ai appris récemment qu'il fondait un journal socialiste et voulait se mettre à la politique." The episode with La Fanfarlo ends in disaster because it involves the same problems as his equally disastrous contract with Madame de Cosmelly: both reflect his questionable approach to his readings.

This the narrator presents early on as a main trait of character:

Un des travers les plus naturels de Samuel était de se considérer comme l'égal de ceux qu'il avait su admirer; après une lecture passionnée d'un beau livre, sa conclusion involontaire était: voilà qui est assez beau pour être de moi!—et de là à penser: c'est donc de moi,—il n'y a que l'espace d'un tiret.

Samuel suffers from the classic quixotic, indeed parodic, problem—confusing his experience with his reading. This makes his protean personality more accurately a motley: "Il était à la fois tous les artistes qu'il avait étudiés et tous les livres qu'il avait lus, et cependant, en dépit de cette faculté comédienne, restait profondément original." He believes himself the author and hero of the books he admires, and thus destroys the distinction between subject and object, self and other. The same trait constitutes the "sophism" of hashish in the Paradis artificiels, the excessive optimism which transforms desire into reality, confuses dream with reality, substitutes an image—particularly the idealizing image that is art—for reality. Baudelaire specifies the reason for this in involontaire: Samuel's prodigious imagination allows him to go beyond the confines of the self and identify with the non-moi, but his laziness and lack of will condemn him to doing so. His imagination lacks the concentration and centralization necessary for creation, and, unlike the narrator, sufficient ironie to control surnaturalisme, as Baudelaire prescribes in Fusées.

So completely does Samuel identify with his readings that he is himself a kind of living poem ("la poésie brille bien plus dans sa personne que dans ses œuvres"). But this differs from the practice of the dandy, who cultivates the beautiful in his person. The dandy's tyrannical doctrine fortifies the will and disciplines the soul, qualities conspicuously lacking in Samuel: "Le soleil de la paresse [ . . . ] lui vaporise et lui mange cette moitié de génie dont le ciel l'a doué." Rather, he fits the description of Pinelli in Quelques caricaturistes étrangers ("son originalité se manifesta bien plus dans son caractère que dans ses ouvrages") where Baudelaire refers to the trait by the most damning term of his criticism, poncif. Samuel represents the jeunesse littéraire criticized in the review of Cladel's Martyrs ridicules (1861); this generation is characterized by the same paraesse, believes in génie rather than the disciplined gymnastique necessary to express it, and "découpe sa vie sur le patron de certains romans, comme les filles entretenues s'appliquaient, il y a vingt ans, à ressembler aux images de Gavarni." Samuel identifies with his readings because he lacks the will to do otherwise; and will, in the Poème du hachisch, is the only effective arm against self-deception and solipsism. The reader, on the other hand, constantly encounters an alternative to this method in the narrator's, who from the beginning emphasizes his ironic detachment from the hero and his own text.

Samuel's readings have in particular determined the dualism of his character, indeed of an entire generation of artists like him: Samuel Cramer and Manuela de Monteverde (his pseudonym), male and female, northern and southern, cerebral and sensual, "ambitieux" and "fainéant," "entreprenant" and "paresseux," hypocritical and gullible:

Les voilà aujourd'hui déchiffrant péniblement les pages mystiques de Plotin ou de Porphyre; demain ils admireront comme Crébillon le fils a bien exprimé le côté volage et français de leur caractère. Hier ils s'entretenaient familièrement avec Jérôme Cardan; les voici maintenant jouant avec Sterne, ou se vautrant avec Rabelais dans toutes les goinfreries de l'hyperbole.

The library matches Samuel's paradoxical personality: mysticism vs. racy libertinage, the metaphysical vs. the farcical, grotesque and obscene, like the volume of Swedenborg and the "livre honteux" open on his table. The narrator is scathing about the vanity and egoism, however unwitting, which permit this identification with and appropriation of another: "Ils sont d'ailleurs si heureux dans chacune de leurs métamorphoses, qu'ils n'en veulent pas le moins du monde à tous ces beaux génies de les avoir devancés dans l'estime de la postérité.—Naïve et respectable impudence!" As the irony implies, such spurious generosity results from a self-deception that would be pernicious were it not ludicrous. But it can have unfortunate consequences, as Samuel will learn: his willingness to appropriate his readings for his own life, his failure to preserve a distinction between the two, make him play into the hands of a superior and more circumspect author, Madame de Cosmelly; and foolishly to reveal the original stratagem because it no longer seems to matter to the new story in which he finds himself, that of La Fanfarlo. Samuel considers himself the author of both stories and fails to see that he may actually be a character in a better author's plot.

The first important episode—Samuel's meeting with Madame de Cosmelly—is dominated by books. He initially becomes aware of her from amidst his books and papers. His memory of their youthful love presents itself in the form of a novel ("il s'était raconté à lui-même, détail par détail, tout ce jeune roman"), which he reappropriates for the present, hoping to reopen the book and continue the story. His means of seduction also involves a book, which provides him with not only the standard pretext for entering into conversation (she has left her volume of Walter Scott on a park bench), but also the occasion to pour forth "un torrent de poésie romantique et banale." Samuel does this not by adopting the manner and attitudes of Scott—he has seen that the volume does not hold her interest—but by berating them and thus asserting his own. His éreintage denounces Scott's banal Romantic "bric-à-brac" in favor of a more serious Balzacian modernity of heroes in black suits carrying cartes de visite, such as Baudelaire himself extolls in his Salons of 1845 and 1846. Scott is accused of piling up gothic clichés and creating lifeless automatons lacking in credible passion, morale, and actualité: "types connus, dont nul plagiaire de dix-huit ans ne voudra plus dans dix ans." He intends his critique to persuade Madame de Cosmelly of the truth of a more contemporary aesthetic, by which he means to win her. But Baudelaire undermines the effort in a few ways. First, the narrator derides Samuel as an insufferable, self-absorbed bore who insists on expounding his ideas to any who will listen, and, as a further insult, compares this passionate Romantic artist to the most standard images of the bourgeois—the travelling salesman, the industrialist, and the framer of stock ventures:

Samuel [ . . . ] rentrait dans la classe des gens absorbants [...]. Il n'y a entre les commis voyageurs, les industriels errants, les allumeurs d'affaires en commandite et les poètes absorbants que la différance de la réclame à la prédication; le vice de ces derniers est tout à fait désintéressé.

Second, Samuel's allusion to eighteen-year old plagiarists rings of firsthand experience, given his habit of making himself the hero and author of everything he reads. If he has evolved into a new modernity, the plagiarist method has changed not at all. Samuel's new aesthetic, as we shall see, is as clichéd and poncif-ridden as he here considers Scott's. Third, his espousal of a Balzacian aesthetic constitutes a central irony of the story: the man who considers himself a Balzacian hero does not see that he is following the plot of another Balzacian novel, with an outcome different from his own plans for it: Béatrix.

The second meeting with Madame de Cosmelly centers on his own book, Les Orfraies. These represent the "folies romantiques" alluded to in the first line of the story, which the narrator here treats with the same scorn that Samuel had earlier shown for Scott: "recueil de sonnets, comme nous en avons tous fait et tous lu, dans le temps où nous avions le jugement si court et les cheveux si longs." [In "Baudelaire-Cramer: La sens des Orfraies," in Du romantisme au surnaturalisme, 1985] F. Leakey convincingly relates them to Baudelaire's own poems of ca. 1843, which he momentarily renounced and later reworked for the Fleurs du mal. As others have observed, the title is parodic, although less for recalling "resounding Romantic" ones [Nathaniel Wing, "The Poetics of Irony in Baudelaire's La Fanfarlo," Neophilologus 59 (1975)] than for denoting a parodic bird, an "anti-oiseau," as Riffaterre points out in Hugo [La production du texte, 1979], and for exaggerating the satanic aspect of Romanticism: these are evil, rapacious birds, "vilains oiseaux." But the parody depends especially on a cliché: "Samuel était fort curieux de savoir si ses Orfraies avaient charmé l'âme de cette belle mélancolique, et si les cris de ces vilains oiseaux lui avaient parlé en sa faveur" (emphasis mine). We are thus reminded of "pousser des cris d'orfraie," shrieking and squawking, the very parody of lyricism. Samuel's title, deliberately subverting the lyric tradition of firstgeneration Romanticism, comically suggests the raucous quality of his own verse, and thereby conveys the narrator's parodic attitude toward the Romanticism of Samuel's generation too.

Their discussion of the Orfraies defines his new aesthetic for us: artifice, anatomical descriptions, depravity, funereal subjects, galanteries addressed to honest ladies, mystical and platonic offerings to "sultanes de bas lieu." In a long discourse full of Romande clichés, Samuel explains it as a result of disillusionment and spleen. But the importance of the book lies in the fact that it provides him with a model to follow in his later experience with La Fanfarlo. The narrator comments that the famous "n'oubliez pas le rouge!" incident, where Samuel demands that she make love to him in the costume and make-up of her role as Columbine in a pantomime, is perfectly consistent with the Orfraies. The long description of her leg and back match the descriptions anatomiques of his volume:

Tranchée perpendiculairement à l'endroit le plus large, cette jambe eût donné une espèce de triangle dont le sommet eût été situé sur le tibia, et dont la ligne arrondie du mollet eût fourni la base convexe [ . . . ] sa tête, inclinée vers son pied, [ . . . ] laissait deviner l'ornière des omoplates, revêtues d'une chair brune et abondante.

The "sujets funèbres" return in the portrayal of the world outside their room: "Le temps était noir comme la tombe"; "le ruisseau, lit funèbre où s'en vont les billets doux et les orgies de la ville"; "la mortalité s'abattait joyeusement sur les hôpitaux." The spicy poetry at which he excels corresponds to the spicy cuisine, literal and metaphorical, which he enjoys with her during their first night. La Fanfarlo herself meets Samuel's desire for an aesthetic of actualité: "Fanfarlo la catholique, non contente de rivaliser avec Terpsichore, appela à son secours tout l'art des divinités modernes." More importantly, the affair involves the same douleurs and ultimately the disillusionment of the Orfraies. The final scene, with La Fanfarlo giving birth to twins, fulfills the prediction which Samuel had made to Madame de Cosmelly: "Il n'est pas de rêve, quelque idéal qu'il soit, qu'on ne retrouve avec un poupard glouton suspendu au sein." The irony has a purpose: in transforming his art into reality according to his habit, he fails to heed the very warning that it imparts.

That Samuel's art can work against him in this way is illustrated by the famous quiproquo des sonnets. This episode has been interpreted as useless, a ridiculous instance of his effort to use serious literature for practical ends, and an example of his failure to understand women. But Samuel's ludicrous "mistake" of sending to La Fanfarlo the sonnet intended for Madame de Cosmelly, "où il louait en style mystique sa beauté de Béatrix, [ . . . ] la pureté angélique de ses yeux, la chasteté de ses démarches, etc.," and to Madame de Cosmelly the "ragoût de galanteries pimentées" intended for La Fanfarlo, matches Madame de Cosmelly's description of the Orfraies themselves: "Vous adressez des galanteries [ . . . ] à des dames, que j'estime assez pour croire qu'elles doivent parfois s'en effaroucher. [ . . . ] vous réservez votre encens le plus mystique à des créatures bizarres [... ] et vous vous pâmez platoniquement devant les sultanes de bas lieu." Moreover the reaction of the two women—La Fanfarlo "jeta ce plat de concombres dans la boîte aux cigares," Madame de Cosmelly "ne put s'empêcher de rire aux éclats"—prefigures the outcome of the story: La Fanfarlo effectively discards Samuel as she becomes a "lorette ministérielle," and the narrator predicts that he will end up in that ultimate boîte aux cigares, the grave; and Madame de Cosmelly has the last laugh. This seemingly trivial "détail comique," this brief "intermède" in the larger drama, does not merely represent Samuel's ineffectualness in a rather typical Romantic episode, but actually links the two parts of the narrative by representing in miniature the unhappy and comical consequences of transferring literature to reality.

Madame de Cosmelly, for all her pretense of simplicity and naivety, proves herself a more sophisticated reader—and author—than Samuel. She understands the psychology of desire: she knows that her husband grew weary of her "parce qu'elle avait trop d'amour; elle mettait tout son cœur en avant." With Samuel she proceeds more carefully, exploiting the power of suggestion and the provocative effect of the hint, playing a role of candor which she spices up with indications of her capacity for passion and corruption. She describes her efforts at coquetry—the "toilettes folles et somptueuses des femmes de théâtre," the sparkling wit of the femme du monde, the rouge, two of which accoutrements Samuel later demands of La Fanfarlo. She recounts her hatred, jealousy, and thirst for vengeance, and, with a metaphor calculated to go straight to the heart of Samuel's desire, depicts her passion as that of a mistress "battue et foulée aux pieds." She understands the attraction of vice ("De quel charme si magique le vice auréole-t-il certaines créatures?") Indeed this "charmante victime" possesses the very "charme magique" which she here attributes to women of low virtue; she bewitches Samuel as completely as the dancer does later.

The narrator calls attention to Madame de Cosmelly's cleverness by twice alluding to Tartuffe:

Pendant qu'elle sanglotait, Samuel faisait la figure de Tartuffe empoigné par Orgon, l'époux inattendu, qui s'élance du fond de sa cachette, comme les vertueux sanglots de cette dame s'élançaient de son cœur, et venaient saisir au collet l'hypocrisie chancelante de notre poète.

Madame de Cosmelly, cette aimable Elmire qui avait le coup d'œil clair et prudent de la vertu, vit promptement le parti qu'elle pouvait tirer de ce scélérat novice, pour son bonheur et celui de son mari.

As Howell remarks [in "Baudelaire: A Portait of the Artist in 1846," French Studies 37 (1983)], Samuel displays exemplary tartufferie in this scene, attempting to seduce her with his "patois séminariste." But the comically awkward first comparison presents a Tartuffe already caught out and thus points to the other side of his hypocrisy—his utter stupidity before a more clever impostor, with a better talent for acting: or, as the second comparison makes clear, Elmire, who, like Madame de Cosmelly, uses her foolish suitor to bring her husband round to her side.

But why does Samuel fall into her trap? Why is this hypocrite, with his advanced faculté comédienne, his literary culture and his extensive experience of reading and writing, incapable of interpreting her story, with its "marivaudages dramatiques," and her designs properly? Samuel here makes the same mistake as with his readings, takes the story as his own, considers himself its author; the plot should follow his plans for it. The narrator places the blame for this error squarely on his credulity, his ability never to be astonished by anything:

Il semblait dans sa vie vouloir mettre en pratique et démontrer la vérité de cette pensée de Diderot: "L'incrédulité est quelquefois le vice d'un sot, et la crédulité le défaut d'un homme d'esprit. L'homme d'esprit voit loin dans l'immensité des possible. Le sot ne voit guère de possible que ce qui est."

Samuel's credulity is a function of his vast imagination, which allows him to accept the improbable, and his equally vast laziness, which condemns him to doing so indiscriminately. A better reader must be more of a fool, less bold than Samuel but more sceptical, posing the type of question that the narrator attributes to us here:

Quelques lecteurs scrupuleux et amoureux de la vérité vraisemblable trouveront sans doute beaucoup à redire à cette histoire, où pourtant je n'ai eu d'autre besogne à faire que de changer les noms et d'accentuer les détails: comment, diront-ils, Samuel, un poète de mauvais ton et de mauvaises mœurs, peut-il aborder aussi prestement une femme comme Madame de Cosmelly? [. . . ] Madame de Cosmelly, la discrète et vertueuse épouse, lui verser aussi promptement [ . . . ] le secret de ses chagrins? A quoi je réponds que Madame de Cosmelly était simple comme une belle âme, et que Samuel était hardi comme les papillons, les hannetons et les poètes. [ . . . ] La pensée de Diderot explique pourquoi l'une fut si abandonnée, l'autre si brusque et si impudent. Elle explique aussi toutes les bévues que Samuel a commises dans sa vie, bévues qu'un sot n'eût pas commises. Cette portion du public qui est essentiellement pusillanime ne comprendra guère le personnage de Samuel, qui était essentiellement crédule et imaginatif [ . . . ]

But here the narrator contradicts the lesson that the story appears to teach. He mocks the incredulous, pusillanimous reader like ourselves and taunts us for a scepticism that we have learned from his own ironic voice. In urging us to free our own imagination and accept the story uncritically, he actually sets the trap of the second half, where his relative sympathy for the hero risks blinding us to the differences between them. But to follow him in this would repeat Samuel's error. In accepting the aesthetic which the narrator seems to approve, and taking the second half as serious and positive, we abdicate our will, and condemn ourselves to as rude an awakening at the end as Samuel's own.

If Samuel's credulity derives from an imagination which his laziness prevents him from controlling, a further question arises: what is the source of this laziness, which abandons his identity to every book, author, and hero that he encounters? Madame de Cosmelly provides a significant clue: "je me regardais moins souvent que vous dans la glace." Samuel, fascinated by his own image, finds in his readings a reflexion of himself. Literature constitutes a mirror in which he sees himself as he would like to be, and, following the sophistic logic of the hachischin, he persuades himself that he is so. His is thus a fantasizing imagination, as R. Storey argues [in Pierrots on the Stage of Desire, 1986], which incorporates the object of its desire into itself; maintaining distance is the duty of the will, and this Samuel lacks. Madame de Cosmelly, on the other hand, equates her mirror with her conscience, and while childishly seeking assurance of her beauty from it, yet refrains from glorifying in the image.

Samuel's experience with La Fanfarlo, then, represents merely another "lecture passionnée d'un beau livre," and entails the same problems as his method of reading generally. She is indeed a work of art, "une harmonie matérielle, [ . . . ] une belle architecture, plus le mouvement," and his love for her is described as "l'admiration et l'appétit du beau": like his readings, she provides a mirror in which he can contemplate himself, another self to appropriate for his own. But this egotistical approach to art, and to love as an art, bars him from the sense of harmony between self and other that art in the Baudelairean scheme inspires, and brings him only the tristesse of the Orfraies: "il était souvent seul dans son paradis, nul ne pouvant l'habiter avec lui [... ] aussi, dans le ciel où il régnait, son amour commençait d'être triste et malade de la mélancolie du bleu, comme un royal solitaire." The infini that Samuel thinks he sees in her eyes is only the "gouffre lumineux" in which the hachischin "admire sa face de Narcisse." Like the drug, his love "ne révèle à l'individu que l'individu lui-même," and his lonely paradise is a "paradis d'occasion"—as R. Chambers remarks [in L'ange et l'antomate, 1971], sterile as well as solitary. The "contentement savoureux" that it evokes in him reflects only the diminished power of his will: by contrast, Balzac's Henri de Marsay, having similarly gorged himself on pleasure, feels the imperious need to assert his will, recuperate and concentrate his identity, in the passage from La Fille aux yeux d'or to which the narrator in a footnote here directly refers.

Throughout this section one notices the narrator's sympathy for his hero, in contrast to the irony and sarcasm of earlier. He agrees with Samuel openly on the decoration of the bedroom ("Cramer haïssait profondément, et il avait, selon moi, parfaitement raison [ . . . ]"), and shares his taste for rich wines and highly seasoned foods. His reflexions on the dance ("c'est la poésie avec des bras et des jambes, c'est la matière [ . . . ] animée, embellie par le mouvement") match Samuel's view of the body ("une harmonie matérielle [ . . . ] une belle architecture, plus le mouvement"). He admires La Fanfarlo as deeply as does Samuel. But he also maintains a distance on him, both in the "n'oubliez pas le rouge!" episode and elsewhere, referring to him with condescension as "le romantique Samuel, l'un des derniers romantiques que possède la France," "le pauvre Samuel," and "l'homme le plus faux, le plus égoïste, le plus sensuel, le plus gourmand, le plus spirituel de nos amis." Moreover, the passages on food and décor are sufficiently exaggerated as to be comical: the ludicrously hyperbolic discourse on truffles, the seriousness with which the narrator professes to take the question of sauces, stews, and seasonings ("question grave et qui demanderait un chapitre grave comme un feuilleton de science"), and his eccentric and vehement abhorrence of large rooms. Baudelaire's irony is subtler in this section than earlier, but nevertheless clear. The narrator's sympathy holds the very danger against which he has warned us in Samuel: we risk taking it for a "serious" aesthetic, identifying ourselves with him and endorsing it as he seems to do, until it is undermined by its failure at the end.

But why does it fail? The credulity which makes him the dupe of Madame de Cosmelly makes him the victim of La Fanfarlo too. Believing himself in control of the story, Samuel commits his fatal bévue and reveals the original stratagem. Despite discovering that he has been used by Madame de Cosmelly, he does not learn that the will of another can alter the plot and recast the characters: this time it is La Fanfarlo, who takes the revenge on him that he had expected Madame de Cosmelly to take on her husband. He suffers not because he was caught playing a role, but because he had once again forgotten the role, confused it with reality, and simply and candidly told the truth.

By contrast, in the preceding scene, Madame de Cosmelly demonstrates the importance of playing a role and controlling it carefully. In a clever and exaggerated display of virtue, devotion, and self-sacrifice, she lets her husband know that he has been deceived by his mistress, and drives him away in embarrassed annoyance. But the text suggests the wisdom of her action: "S'il alla chez la Fanfarlo, il y trouva sans doute des vestiges de désordre, des bouts de cigares et des feuilletons." Sending him into the arms of the dancer will restore him to her own by presenting the evidence of the affair with Samuel. Having blurred the distinction between art and life, Samuel can exercise no such control, nor achieve such successful results.

His bévue, rather, brings only vulgarisation: La Fanfarlo thickens, becomes a "beauté grasse, propre, lustrée et rusée," and gives birth to twins. Samuel's art too degenerates into procreation, the irony lying not only in his previously expressed repugnance for this, but also in the use of a verb normally reserved for beasts: "Samuel a mis bas quatre livres de science." But this is only the logical consequence of his literary method generally: the commis voyageur of the narrator's earlier comparison grows well into his role, peddling books of all types and subjects.

The Auri sacra fames! which he places as an epigraph to one of them both acknowledges and flouts his "accursed craving for gold." He continues to have the ironic selfconsciousness of earlier and to lack the will to act upon it. If he has "tombé bien bas," he remains the poet of the Orfraies, the "dieu de l'impuissance" of the beginning, who adapts himself to everything, even harsh financial circumstances, and consequently succeeds at nothing.

However, the final irony, as Wing has noted, aims not at Samuel but at the reader:

Pauvre chantre des Orfraies! [ . . . ] J'ai appris récemment qu'il fondait un journal socialiste et voulait se mettre à la politique.—Intelligence malhonnête!—comme dit cet honnête M. Nisard.

The narrator turns the tables on us, leading us to concur with the judgment of bad faith, only to identify us thereby with one whose honesty is ironically placed in doubt, as the malhonnête/honnête opposition implies. But the irony does not only reintroduce ambiguities about the hero, as Wing allows. Rather, it makes clear that Samuel's experience applies to readers of the story too. The final sentence unveils, with a flourish, the narrator's designs, into which we find we have unwittingly played. The text thus reminds us of Samuel's essential mistake: we must not be readers like him, confusing ourselves with the narrator, considering ourselves the author of the story, lest we find ourselves similarly caught out, our "honest" views shown to be those of a hypocrite. Irony works with ambiguity but need not be ambiguous, and here the point is clear: the truly honest reader remains distinct from all voices, like Diderot's sot, and is ultimately the wiser for it.

Edward K. Kaplan (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: "Interpreting the Prose Poems: An Amalgam beyond Contradictions," in Baudelaire's Prose Poems: The Esthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious in "The Parisian Prowler, " The University of Georgia Press, 1990, pp. 1-18.

[Kaplan is an American poet and critic. In the following excerpt, he finds that Le spleen de Paris addresses the conflict between "compassion and a fervent aestheticism. " According to Kaplan, compassion entails community, while fervent aestheticism leads to isolation. ]

Baudelaire's 1855 experiments with lyrical prose quickly faded into the background as he developed autonomous subgenres—"fables of modern life," as I call them. The formalistic problem of the "prose poem" is far less valuable in interpreting them than a focus on their narrator, a Second Empire Parisian poet—a flâneur, or urban stroller—who struggles with his conflicting drives. It is remarkable that Baudelaire's early critical essays anticipate, by many years, his new prose genre and the revised second edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (1861) which they parallel. In fact, his overall development confirms his conversion from "poetic" idealism to a literature of daily experience.

Questions of form are of course essential and we need an appropriate interpretive model: "These texts include in perfect but minimal form the Märchen or wonder-tale, the Sage or anecdote, the fable, the allegory, the cautionary tale, the tale-telling contest, the short story, the dialogue, the novella, the narrated dream" (Marie Maclean, Narrative as Performance: The Baudelairean Experiment, 1988). Editors have accepted—inappropriately, in my view—Baudelaire's dedication "To Arsène Houssaye," which introduces the twenty-six prose poems serialized in 1862 for La Presse, as a preface to the completed collection. "The Thyrsus" ("Le Thyrse," first published in 1863) is a more sophisticated model, one which surpasses the binary opposition of prose and poetry which has seduced interpreters. These two prominently analyzed texts grope toward a theory of genre but do not encompass the modern fable. "The Stranger" and "The Old Woman's Despair" ("L'Etranger," "Le Désespoir de la vieille"), which open the collection, define The Parisian Prowler's dynamics more precisely.

Baudelaire's early essays demonstrate the generative tension of his entire work: his personal struggle to maintain both compassion and a fervent estheticism. In 1851, his first reflections on imagination, "Du Vin et du hachisch" (On wine and hashish), warn firmly against intemperate reverie by distinguishing the "good" intoxication of wine, which makes one sociable, from the "bad" ecstasies of hashish, which alienate and enfeeble the dreamer. He concludes by quoting a "musical theoretician," Barbereau, a proxy of his implicit ethic: "I do not understand why rational and spiritual man uses artificial means to achieve poetic beatitude, since enthusiasm and free will suffice to raise him to a supernatural existence." Baudelaire's defense of the will remains uncompromised.

The following year, in "L'Ecole païenne" (The pagan school of poetry), Baudelaire locates the problem in literature. He censures the fastidious, polished poetry of "art for art's sake," notably that of Théodore de Banville. The final paragraphs denounce an obsession with esthetic idealism: "The excessive appetite for form induces monstrous and unknown disorders. Absorbed by the ferocious passion for the beautiful, the notions of the just and the true disappear. The feverish passion for art is an ulcer which devours what remains; and, as the clear absence of the just and the true in art amounts to the absence of art, the entire person vanishes; excessive specialization of one faculty produces nothingness."

The most radical solution is to destroy all art. He goes on to cite the famous incident in Augustine's Confessions when the neophyte Christian accompanies his friend Alypius to a brutal Roman circus; they refuse to watch, until the crowd's shouts rouse their curiosity. Baudelaire, as moralist, embraces the convert's asceticism: "I understand the fits of rage of iconoclasts and Moslems against images. I accept entirely Saint Augustine's remorse for his excessive pleasure of the eyes. The danger is so great that I forgive the abolition of the object. The madness of art is the equivalent of the abuse of mind." The shattering of a peddler's windowpanes, at the end of "The Bad Glazier" ("Le Mauvais Vitrier"), confronts us with a comparable idolatry.

Art—the voluntary creation of significant form—should not be confused with self-titillation. Contradicting his reputation as a dandy, Baudelaire admonishes the overly refined "mind" which denies ethics. A perverse "artist" may relish the idea of beauty and yet ignore its intrinsic rectitude:

[The madness of art] engenders stupidity, hardness of heart and a boundless pride and self-centeredness. I remember having heard about a joker artist who had received a counterfeit coin: I will keep it for a poor man. The wretch took an infernal pleasure in robbing the poor and at the same time enjoying the benefits of a charitable reputation. I heard another one: Why don't the poor put on gloves to beg? They would make a fortune. And another: He is badly draped; his tatters do not become him.

We should not consider those things as childishness. What the mouth gets used to saying, the heart gets used to believing.

In fact, anecdotes cited in this essay became, fourteen years later, full-fledged fables that demonstrate how an exaggerated estheticism can abolish elemental decency. The narrator of "A Joker" ("Un Plaisant," first published in La Presse, 1862) clamors against a gloved dandy who violates the dignity of a beast; the stroller of "Widows" ("Les Veuves," first published in the Revue Fantaisiste, 1861) analyzes "in the mourning clothes of the poor, an absence of harmony that makes them more heartbreaking"; and the narrator of "The Counterfeit Coin" ("La Fausse Monnaie," first published in L'Artiste, 1864), speculates about his friend's false gift.

The critic's moral indignation, in 1852, contrasts sharply with the perceived obscenity of his poetic masterpiece, censored a scant fortnight after publication. Perhaps the author subverted his didacticism even more vehemently after Les Fleurs du Mal had been so utterly misunderstood, for the magistrates did not fathom the author's ethical irony: "One must depict vice as seductive, for it is seductive" ("Les Drames et les romans honnêtes"). By 1861, when he consolidated his practice of the modern fable, Baudelaire abandoned good conscience as his narrator responds to beggars and other outcasts with cruelty, outrage, or cynicism. His anger (an ironic disguise and often hard to interpret) appears to outweigh his compassion.

There is no deeper tension in Baudelaire's mature work than the conflict of ethics and esthetics, and he grapples with a temperament driven by a powerful animus: "To glorify the worship of images (my great, my only, my primitive passion)" (Mon cœur mis à nu). The poet feared that his enthrallment with formal grace would numb his humane concern. Despite his neurotic, self-destructive relationships, he cherished the possibility of ordinary love, while at the same time remaining driven by absolute values. A too "perfect idealization" (the phrase appears in "A Heroic Death" ["Une Mort héroïque"] ) might deaden the artist's sympathy with others.

Baudelaire's "second revolution" integrates ethics and art. The thirty-two new poems—and especially the "Tableaux parisiens" (Parisian pictures)—added to the 1861 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal undermine the first edition's idealist thrust and depict a conversion to the world as it exists. Briefly stated, the first edition storms the gates of a transcendent kingdom, while the second sanctifies the finite. The three sonnets that conclude the 1857 edition—"La Mort des amants," "La Mort des pauvres," and "La Mort des artistes" (The death of lovers, The death of paupers, The death of artists)—recapitulate the journey toward immortality. The expanded 1861 closure introduces a crucial irony; "La Fin de la journée," "Le Rêve d'un curieux," and "Le Voyage" (The day's end, A curious man's dream, The voyage) reject dreams of afterdeath survival.

The initial and longest section, "Spleen et Idéal" (Spleen and Ideal), defines this conversion. The "Beauty Cycle" (poems numbered 17-21) can be read as a single experience which revises the philosophy of the whole. The 1857 sequence consisted of three allegorical sonnets, "La Beauté," "L'Idéal," and "La Géante" (Beauty, The Ideal, The Giantess). The 1861 sequence is transformed by two major poems, "Le Masque" and "Hymne à la Beauté" (The mask, Hymn to Beauty), which denounce the idolatry enounced by the previous three. The artist becomes a self-aware critic who replaces the transcendent with temporality.

"La Beauté" barricades the frontier and promotes the idealist standard. The Idol herself exclaims: "Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre" (I am beautiful, O mortals! like a dream of stone). Beauty is a concept of which the artist can produce only a facsimile, "a dream of stone," while reenacting a tragic drama:

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Consumeront leurs jours en d'austères études

(Poets, confronting my grandiose poses, . . . will consume their days in austere studies).

Artists can justify their sacrifice, since imagination can transform our perception of daily existence. Refracting the Ideal, Beauty's eyes are "De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles" (Pure mirrors which make all things more beautiful). As "The Bad Glazier" insists with devastating irony, art should "make life [look] beautiful," faire voir la vie en beau, as it were, through rose-colored glass.

Then a momentous change occurs. "Le Masque," added in 1861, explodes the romantic heroism of "La Beauté," as the poet recovers reality. The poem interprets an exuberant and seductive sculpture by Ernest Christophe (to whom it is dedicated), which itself allegorizes the relationship between artifice and life. The female statue's body represents "the esthetic":

Vois quel charme excitant la gentillesse donne!
Approchons, et tournons autour de sa beauté

(See what stimulating magic her loveliness bestows!
Let's go closer, and walk around her beauty.)

As he deliberately anatomizes his own adoration, the "critic" discovers "the mask" and translates the allegory. The drama pivots on lines 17-19, which compose one brief, but all the more striking stanza:

O blasphème de l'art! ô surprise fatale!
La femme au corps divin, promettant le bonheur,
Par le haut se termine en monstre bicéphale!

(O blasphemy of art! O fateful surprise! The woman of body divine, promising happiness, at the top becomes a two-headed monster!)

The woman's superhuman body renders even more grotesque the contradictory heads that become exposed. These two faces represent truth and falsehood. They have denied nature and its temporality, not simply embellished it. The shocked esthete recognizes the inevitable triumph of the finite.

The final section (lines 20-36) elaborates his conversion in three stages. The poet will denounce—and seemingly reject—the "lying mask" that conceals the suffering mortal. First, the woman's real self stands unveiled:

La véritable tête et la sincère face
Renversée à l'abri de la face qui ment.

(the true head and the sincere face tipped back and sheltered by the lying face)

He then identifies with her as a person, again repeating the word "beauty":

Pauvre grande beauté! Le magnifique fleuve
De tes pleurs aboutit dans mon coeur soucieux;
Ton mensonge m'enivre, et mon âme s'abreuve
Aux flots que la Douleur fait jaillir de tes yeux!

(Great pitiful beauty! The magnificent river of your tears flows out into my anxious heart; your lie intoxicates me, and my soul slakes its thirst in the waves that Pain makes gush from your eyes!)

At the obvious thematic level—and it is of fundamental importance—the poet is roused by the woman's authentic grief. But a subtler problem arises when we try to interpret "Ton mensonge m'enivre." He is enivré—intoxicated or inspired—but by what? By her real inner struggle, by her pathetic attempt to mask her mortality? or by the mensonge itself, the "lie" of her exterior loveliness? Her "beauty" manifests her need to deny, or transcend, physical frailty. Does his imagination respond to her contradiction, her impotent denial which intensifies her suffering—in brief, from compassion? Or does his inspiration flow from a purely imaginative, and illusory, act of empathy—from poetry? This ambiguous ivresse will energize The Parisian Prowler from beginning to end.

"Le Masque" might have ended here, but a third movement, comprising two stanzas of dialogue, completes his consent to the real. Unmasking the person does not suffice; we must understand her, as he asks: "—Mais pourquoi pleure-t-elle?" (But why does she weep?). The answer asserts a simple truth, the banality of which signals the poet's sincerity:

—Elle pleure, insensé, parce qu'elle a vécu!
Et parce qu'elle vit!

(She weeps, mad one, because she has lived! and because she lives!)

Without any irony of qualification, the poet-critic celebrates the pathos of temporality. Disillusioned, and through a dialectical awareness of artistic illusion itself, the esthete embraces his human solidarity. The woman behind the mask is his "hypocrite lecteur," and of course "son semblable, son frère." This mature, reflective woman remains free of the ambivalence typical of his representations of idealized or frivolous females.

The famous "Hymne à la Beauté" which follows—also added in 1861—answers the "Beauty" sonnet more directly. It dwells upon art's ethical consequences as it reiterates the question:

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l'abîme,
O Beauté

(Do you come from the deep sky or do you emerge from the abyss, O Beauty?)

The final two stanzas recapitulate the struggle. The penultimate one abandons the question of human justice and, provisionally, reaffirms the transcendent:

Que tu viennes du ciel ou de l'enfer, qu'importe,
O Beauté! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu!
Si ton oeil, ton souris, ton pied, m'ouvrent la porte
D'un Infini que j'aime et n'ai jamais connu?

(What does it matter whether you come from the heavens or from hell, O Beauty! monster enormous, frightening, innocent! if your eyes, your smile, your feet, open for me the door of an Infinite I love and have never known?)

This closure would typify the idealist 1857 edition, were it not for the final stanza which weds the esthetic quest to a moral imperative. Baudelaire's mature poetics subordinates the artist's anguished, unfulfilled desire to his solidarity with ordinary people:

De Satan ou de Dieu, qu'importe! Ange ou Sirène,
Qu'importe, si tu rends,—fée aux yeux de velours,
Rhythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine!—
L'univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds?

(From Satan or from God, what does it matter! Angel or Siren, what does it matter, if you—velvet-eyed fairy, rhythm, perfume, light, O my only queen!—make the universe less hideous and time less oppressive?)

This presymbolist poetry, enriched with synesthesia—a confluence of music, odor, sight, and touch—preserves the Ideal within the world and renders mortality bearable. A nuanced ethics must surpass the simplistic dualism of good and evil, for these opposites are normally mixed, sometimes confused. The "modern" artist still strives to redeem humanity, but his goal is modest, almost practical. Realistically speaking, Beauty can only alleviate anxiety or ennui—not cure it—as it sanctifies the possible.

Baudelaire's poems are far more subtle than his aphorisms, which retain the all-too-familiar dualistic formulas: "There are, in every person, all the time, two simultaneous postulations, one toward God, the other toward Satan." His concepts strained toward the notion of simultaneity without reaching it. His terminology, despite its affinity with Joseph de Maistre's theology of violence, remains more emotive than logical. Wrestling with his experience in a necessarily imprecise vocabulary, in life as in writing, Baudelaire attempted, again and again, to mend these rifts, to become one: "Even as a child, I felt in my heart two contradictory feelings, the horror of life and the ecstasy of life." His Platonic, Catholic, and romantic polarities were unequal to the task.

Baudelaire's 1862 dedication "To Arsène Houssaye," artistic editor of La Presse, which is normally reprinted as a guide to the subsequent collection, appears to refute my interpretive principle of unity. But the author did not include that deceptive proclamation in his handwritten table of contents, and a close analysis reveals the dedication itself to be a disguised parody of the genre: its message can be easily understood as a canny, ironic challenge addressed to a colleague whom he did not respect but needed to please. Subversive self-contradictions emerge from the very beginning:

My dear friend, I send you this little work of which it cannot be said, without injustice, that it has neither head nor tail, since, on the contrary, everything in it is both tail and head, alternatively and reciprocally. Consider, I beg you, what admirable convenience that combination offers us all, you, me, and the reader. We can cut wherever we want, I my reverie, you the manuscript, the reader his reading; for I do not bind the latter's recalcitrant will to the endless thread of a superfluous plot.

Baudelaire highlights the incompleteness of this inaugural series. How, at that point, could he predict their definitive conception? This "petit ouvrage .. . n'a ni queue ni tête, puisque tout, au contraire, y est à la fois tête et queue." The chiasmus queue/tête / tête/queue connotes totality while the image itself opposes fragmentation to unity and suggests that each piece can be appreciated separately. Since each one is both tail and head, we must accept the collection as coherent. There is no "intrigue superflue," but there may be separate plots, or a unifying one. Whatever the case, readers should interpret them flexibly.

The imagery of segmentation derives from a traditional organic metaphor: the serpent. The author's jovial permission to "cut" cannot be completely in earnest: "Remove one vertebra, and the two pieces of that tortuous fantasy will reunite without difficulty. Chop it up into many fragments, and you will find that each one can exist separately. In the hope that some of those segments will be lively enough to please and to divert you, I dare dedicate to you the entire serpent." What author would encourage his editor to mutilate, or even surgically to excise portions of his manuscript? This was in fact the author's frustrating battle with Houssaye. Baudelaire waggishly elaborates conflicting metaphors, for his guiding idea is not one of disorder and irreconcilable separation but that of relative autonomy. Sparring with an authority he knew to be literal-minded, Baudelaire rejects a "superfluous plot" while maintaining the possibility of a sustained development (the hierarchical entity of head and tail).

An astute reader (unlike Houssaye) could restore these parts, if severed, to their rightful place within a larger, though serpentine, construction. In the last analysis, however, this discussion is trite. Just as single poems in a collection—such as Scève's Délie, Ronsard's Les Amours, Hugo's Les Contemplations, and Les Fleurs du Mal—can be read individually or as stages of a spiritual itinerary, so The Parisian Prowler can mark a journey of initiation or comprise discrete experiences which readers might synthesize or not according to their concerns.

The remaining four paragraphs stress, with a playful irony, the author's originality. Baudelaire's rhetorical modesty, unanswered questions, self-deprecatory comparisons, and italics all express his pride. First he "confesses" that his project was inspired by a model: "the famous Gaspard de la nuit of Aloysius Bertrand (a book known to you, to me and to some of our friends, does it not have every right to be called famous!)" He overpraises Bertrand's commercially unsuccessful book, while the italicized "fameux" (which also implies "infamous") implicitly carves out the differences. Bertrand claimed to be inspired by engravings by Callot and Rembrandt, whereas Baudelaire evokes "modern life, or rather one modern and abstract life" in Second Empire Paris. The systematically self-aware critic exercises a far bolder ambition.

Formalistic notions of genre have only recently confirmed Baudelaire's true innovation. His oft-cited definition of "poetic prose" plays only a minor role in the dedication and simply adapts conventional views of romantic lyricism: "Which of us has not, in his ambitious days, dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and choppy enough to fit the soul's lyrical movements, the undulations of reverie, the jolts of consciousness?" It is not this "miracle of a poetic prose" that constitutes an "absolute beginning." Could not Rousseau, Chateaubriand, and Michelet, for example, better serve as models? More significantly, Baudelaire transported the lyrical narrative from nature to the city: "This obsessive ideal [of the prose poem] came to life above all in frequenting enormous cities, in the intersection of their countless relationships." The urban poet is both exemplar and theoretician of the modern self.

The two final paragraphs (surreptitiously) take aim at the main target, Houssaye himself. Baudelaire contrasts his malicious fable "The Bad Glazier" with his editor's crudely didactic anecdote, "The Glazier's Song" ("La Chanson du vitrier"), which illustrates a "democratic" reconciliation of a poor man and a poet. Baudelaire pretends to admire Houssaye's effort to compose verbal music, a "poetic" idealization, from the humble artisan's "strident cry," its "prosaic" reality. He does not state that Houssaye's text only reproduces sentimental commonplaces and democratic propaganda. Nor would his postutopian prowler ever replace poetry with une chanson, popular ditties. Read in Erasmian tradition as "paradoxical praise," Baudelaire's compliments translate into a mockery of mediocre writing unredeemed by its lofty intentions.

Baudelaire repudiates both didacticism and imitation, obliquely asserting his pride at not "executing exactly [his italics] what he planned to do." He had deliberately "remained quite far from his mysterious and brilliant model," Bertrand's Gaspard de la nuit. The final line of "Le Voyage" (The voyage), the final poem of the 1861 Fleurs du Mal, dramatizes his commitment to innovation above all: "Au fond de l'Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau!") Into the depths of the Unknown to find the new!). Quite earlier, in "Exposition universelle" (1855), Baudelaire had associated himself with Delacroix's "quality sui generis, indefinable and defining this century's melancholy and fervent aspect, something completely new, which makes him a unique artist, wihout progenitor, without precedent, probably without a successor." Without knowing it, Baudelaire had announced his modern fables.

"The Thyrsus" states a theory of the Baudelairean "prose poem" more appropriately than his "dedication" to Houssaye. Commentators have differed on their interpretation of this "theoretical fable," which reflects on its own status as literature. The text begins as a meditation on a caduseus (a wand or baton) entwined with flowers, which then generates an extended metaphor of multiple polarities: "What is a thyrsus? According to its social and poetic meaning, it is a sacerdotal emblem to be held by priests and priestesses celebrating the divinity whose interpreters and servants they are. But physically it is only a staff, a mere staff, a vine pole for hops, a vine support, dry, hard, and straight" [Robert Kopp, in his editor of Petits poèmes en prose.] These ideas are not extraordinary, for any work can both mimetically represent experience and translate the story into a message, "le sens moral et poétique." But Baudelaire stresses the combination of "prosaic" and "poetic" elements, the interweaving of shapes, colors, and scents, which exercises a mysterious seduction—like "a mystical fandango executed around the hieratic staff."

Baudelaire further tangles the web of dualistic categories as he formulates a confluence of opposites. Interpreters should preserve the genre's integrity by applying the chemist's notion of "amalgam." Baudelaire's dedication of this piece to Franz Liszt, whom he truly admired, announces his most advanced conception:

The thyrsus is the representation of your astonishing duality, powerful and venerable master, dear Bacchant of mysterious and impassioned Beauty. . . .

The staff, it is your will, straight, firm, and unshakable; the flowers, the rambling of your fancy around your will; the feminine element executing around the male its prodigious pirouettes. Straight line and arabesque line, intention and expression, tautness of the will, sinuosity of the word, unity of goal, variety of means, all-powerful and indivisible amalgam of genius, what analyst would have the hateful courage to divide and to separate you?

The rhetorical question leaves in suspense the possibility—or advisability—of destroying his prose poems' organic unity. A critic must possess a "détestable courage" in order to disintegrate their "amalgame tout-puissant de génie" and abstract its bisexual vitality. Form is not separable from content nor can concepts replace their concrete (or allegorical) representations. Interpreters must respect the opposing elements without immobilizing their productive tensions.

Binary oppositions can distract us from the strict, condensed structure of the whole which prepares a "total effect." Baudelaire's "amalgam theory" justifies our label "fables of modern life," a plausible model of which appears in his 1857 "New Notes on Edgar Poe". The jolts and shocks which had so impressed Walter Benjamin fit into a rigorous plan: "If the first sentence is not written in order to prepare that final impression, the work fails from the very beginning"[ Oeuvres complètes.] The narrator gains in his ability to wear many masks: "the author of a short story has a multitude of tones at his disposal, nuances of language, a reasonable tone, sarcasm, humor, repudiated by poetry, and which are like dissonances, attacks against the idea of pure beauty"[ Oeuvres complètes.] Both Baudelaire and Poe capture the complex dynamics of consciousness.

The Parisian Prowler in fact opens, not with lyrical excursions, but with two brief, prosaic fables—"The Stranger" and "The Old Woman's Despair" ("L'Etranger," "Le Désespoir de la vieille")—which form a "diptych." It is highly significant that the definitive collection of fifty retains, with their original numbering, the four series of prose poems printed in 1862 for La Presse. Their central characters—two outsiders, a man and a woman—establish the conflict between fantasy and reality which will consistently direct the narrator's adventures. Both seek to alleviate their anguish, the one through daydreaming, the other through affectionate gestures. The "enigmatic man" of the first and the "good decrepit woman" of the second speak through the flâneur who begins his journey through them.

The stranger who lends the first fable its name is a sort of nineteenth-century Meursault, Camus's model of alienation. The narrator asks him basic questions, as might a psychotherapist who probes a patient's life history. The Odyssey opens by defining a normal person's sources of being:

"Tell me, whom do you love the most, you enigmatic man? your father, your mother, your sister, or your brother?"

"I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother."

"Your friends?"

"There you use a word whose meaning until now has remained to me unknown."

"Your fatherland?"

"I am unaware in what latitude it lies."


"I would willingly love her, goddess and immortal."


"I hate it as you hate God."

"So! Then what do you love, you extraordinary stranger?"

"I love clouds . . . drifting clouds . . . there . . . over there . . . marvelous clouds!"

The interviewer wants to discuss love, but the stranger refuses to concede any common ground to him. He addresses him with the familiar tu while the other, denying any middle-class values, will not reciprocate. The stranger is indeed estranged from God, family, and country—the conventional treasures of bourgeois society. They do not really speak, just swap words.

The stranger mirrors the narrator who, in future guises, longs to participate in a community as a citizen or as an artist. He is the prototypical victim of ennui, a pathological deadening of emotion and will, the "delicate monster" leading us to despair, which threatens the narrator from beginning to end. The stranger appears as an orphan who has renounced his yearning for companionship and repressed all memories, traces of the past with which he might construct a solid identity, while his apathy anesthetizes the pain of unsatisfied yearnings. This unknowable person dreams, not to foster desire, but crudely to evade reality. As he "spaces out," constantly mobile reveries waft him away from others—and from himself.

But the stranger's bleak refusals cannot bury his attachment to love. Other things being equal, he would pursue Beauty: "Je l'aimerais volontiers, déesse et immortelle." His use of the conditional tense does not deny a commitment to esthetic perfection. Then why does he separate this spiritual search from community values? Understandably, he repudiates the tainted (and elusive!) security of money as he equates cupidity with official religion, echoing the prophetic warning against identifying God and Mammon. His uncompromising standard of truth and beauty renders all prevailing institutions untenable.

How do we understand the stranger's final response, launching his mind into the emptiness of suspension points . . . ? The narrator had first perceived him as "enigmatic"; he now becomes "extraordinary"—the epithet shifting from bafflement to (an ironic?) admiration. At the end, the stranger's self becomes, in Baudelaire's terms, "vaporized"; as Kierkegaard explains: "So when feeling becomes fantastic, the self is simply volatilized more and more, at last becoming a sort of abstract sentimentality which is so inhuman that it does not apply to any person"( The Sickness Unto Death.) Reverie relishes its narcissistic plunge into the mind's inner spaces. Nevertheless, the esthetic stranger (for that is what he represents) has only temporarily eluded the Other, who summons love's absence. He still dwells with ennui.

The female outsider of "The Old Woman's Despair," quite the contrary, attempts to make tender contact; she is the collection's ethical stranger. She too is thwarted—not by her own, voluntary aloofness but by her body. Contradicting the fierce misogyny of later fables, the narrator displays his sympathy for this female victim of time, another little old lady of "Tableaux parisiens." Sweet and lonely, she seeks reciprocal affection and symmetrically contradicts the male outsider's disclaimer, in the first fable, of companionship.

The shriveled little old woman felt quite delighted when she saw the pretty baby whom everyone was entertaining, and whom everyone was trying to please; a pretty creature, as fragile as she, the little old woman, and, like her as well, toothless and without hair.

And she went up to him, trying to make little smiles and pleasant faces at him.

But the terrified child struggled under the kind decrepit woman's caresses, and filled the house with his yelpings.

Then the kind old woman withdrew into her eternal solitude, and she wept alone in a corner, saying to herself, "Ah, for us, unfortunate old females that we are, the age of pleasing has passed, even innocent creatures; and we disgust little children we try to love!"

The kinship of these vulnerable persons, aged and infant, at the beginning and the decline of life, is ironic, and the narrator repeatedly associates her tenderness with her age. She is "la petite vieille ratatinée," "la petite vieille," "la bonne femme décrépite," and "la bonne vieille." Baby and hag are both toothless and bald, but what is attractive in one renders the other repulsive. Beauty is relative, and the "innocent" baby has not yet learned that he has no reason to fear the old woman's smiles.

The narrator states his compassion for her "solitude éternelle"; the adjective labels her estrangement as absolute, essential to her being. And so she views herself as a puppet of biological destiny, one of a multitude of pariahs: "malheureuses vieilles femelles." Aged women, discarded by the young who perceive only exterior and transient loveliness, enter a subhuman category. Woman's superficial "gift of pleasing" is all too fragile.

This tension between ethical pathos versus a compelling passion for ideal Beauty energizes the entire collection: conflicts between fantasy and reality, mental versus social space, innocence versus evil. The rigorously dialectical organization of "The Old Woman's Despair" anticipates many other pieces, and its "pivotal sentence" [Robert Kopp, in his edition of Petits poèmes en prose]—"But the terrified child . . ."—is the first of several brutal proxies for "the world," which will burst into a dream. Usually the narrator hides his compassion under rude poses. The male "stranger" might represent a positive model of the dandy—were it not for the journalist-narrator's deliberate probing of his intimate aspirations. This diptych, which draws the lines of battle, defines the two strands of "esthetic" and "ethical" fables interwoven throughout The Parisian Prowler.


Charles Baudelaire World Literature Analysis