Marcel Proust (essay date 1921)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Apropos of Baudelaire," in Baudelaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henri Peyre, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962, pp. 110-131.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in June, 1921, as a letter to the literary journal La Nouvelle Revue Française, Proust surveys some of the poetic achievements of Les Fleurs du mal.]

I doubt that a poem equalling Hugo's "Booz endormi" could be found in Les Fleurs du mal, that sublime but sardonic book, in which piety sneers, in which debauchery makes the sign of the cross, in which Satan is entrusted with the task of teaching the most profound theology. . . .

No one has...

(The entire section is 3961 words.)

P. M. Pasinetti (essay date 1948)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Jeanne Duval' Poems in Les Fleurs de mal," in Yale French Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall-Winter, 1948, pp. 86-93.

[In this essay, Pasinetti analyzes the relationship between Baudelaire's sense of poetic craft and his portrayal of a woman believed to have been Jeanne Duval.]

When we take poems XX-XXXV (first ed.) of the Fleurs du mal as the Jeanne Duval group, as is often done, we do not claim an interest in biographical study. On the contrary, when we accept Baudelaire's own ordering of the book and we isolate an area in it, our assumption is that that ordering did not occur at the documentary level (as a man would order his journal for...

(The entire section is 2954 words.)

Jean Prévost (essay date 1953)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Baudelairean Themes: Death, Evil, and Love," in Baudelaire: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Henri Peyre, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962, pp. 170-77.

[In this essay, Prévost discusses a number of the themes that dominate Les Fleurs du mal, including death, evil, and the transforming power of erotic passion.]

Baudelaire certainly does not have the extreme variety of subjects, of themes, and of tones found in Victor Hugo. But his poetical themes are broader and more numerous than those of Lamartine, for example. The Fleurs du mal offers horizons of an amplitude seldom equalled in any other single volume. There would have been scant, if...

(The entire section is 3191 words.)

Martin Turnell (essay date 1953)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Interpretation of the Fleurs du Mal" in Baudelaire: A Study of His Poetry, New Directions Books, 1953, pp. 175-99.

[In the following excerpt, Turnell argues that Baudelaire uses the imagery of urban crowds to escape the solitude of the poetic process.]

I have already suggested that the 'Tableaux Parisiens' are not incidental glimpses of the city, but an attempt by the poet to re-establish contact with the world of common experience, to escape from the self. The attempt naturally fails, but it produces some of his finest and most original poetry.

The chapter contains eighteen poems. They record a 'circular tour' of the city lasting...

(The entire section is 7970 words.)

Alison Fairlie (essay date 1960)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Art of Suggestion," in Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du Mal, Edward Arnold Ltd., 1960, pp. 22-32.

[In the following excerpt, Fairlie demonstrates how Baudelaire's careful choice of words shapes the overall effects of his poetry.]

'Manier savamment une langue', said Baudelaire, 'c'est pratiquer une espèce de sorcellerie évocatoire' [Oeuvres completes, 1954, p. 1035]. It is only by the most acute and exact sense of the exciting possibilities of words, their associations, their sounds, and the ways of combining them, that the poet can create ideas, feelings or sensations. 'Il n'y a pas de hasard dans l'art . . . L'imagination est la plus scientifique des...

(The entire section is 3942 words.)

Camille Paglia (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Gautier, Baudelaire, and Huysmans," in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 421-30.

[In the following excerpt, Paglia analyzes the role of sexuality in general and women in particular in Les Fleurs du Mal.]

Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil (1857) is dedicated to his "master," Gautier. Baudelaire translated Poe and hailed him as his second self. Poe's spiritual father was the Coleridge of the mystery poems. Thus Coleridge, coming through Poe to Baudelaire, daemonizes Gautier, with his Byronic breeziness. Baudelaire's new Decadent tone is haughty and hieratic. His poems are ritualistic...

(The entire section is 4234 words.)

William Chapman Sharpe (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Poet as Passant: Baudelaire's 'Holy Prostitution,'" in Unreal Cities: Urban Figuration in Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, and Williams, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990, pp. 39-56.

[In the following chapter from a longer work, Sharpe examines how the "Parisian Sketches" section of Les Fleurs du Mal transforms the urban experience into a metaphor for the poetic process.]

Although Blake and Wordsworth begin the poetic exploration of the apocalyptic modern metropolis, the unreal city of the nineteenth century finds its laureate in Baudelaire. Baudelaire's poetry is revolutionary because it insists on the motley splendor of the entire...

(The entire section is 6998 words.)

Graham Robb (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Poetics of the Commonplace in Les Fleurs du Mal," in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 86, No. 1, January, 1991, pp. 57-65.

[In the following article, Robb discusses Baudelaire's use of common words and phrases in Les Fleurs du Mal.]

Much attention has been lavished on the commonplace in recent years, and it would be futile, not to say unoriginal, to attempt another rehabilitation of the cliché as an expressive literary device. Neither would it be particularly profitable, in a short study, to analyse the manner in which a poet such as Baudelaire exploits and renovates literary stereotypes. The very definition of the stereotype poses several...

(The entire section is 4665 words.)

T. A. Unwin (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Pseudo-Narrative' of Les Fleurs du Mal, in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 46, No. 6, 1991, pp. 321-39.

[In the following essay, Unwin argues that Les Fleurs du Mal conveys the suggestion of a story, which the critic calls a "pseudo-narrative."]

'Le seul éloge que je sollicite pour ce livre est qu'on reconnaisse qu'il n'est pas un pur album et qu'il a un commencement et une fin.' Thus wrote Baudelaire to Vigny on sending him the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal. Reluctant students of poetry are indeed often relieved to discover that the collection can be approached in terms of its thematic development. This is not only a matter of...

(The entire section is 7230 words.)

John Porter Houston (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Two Versions of Les Fleurs du Mal and Ideas of Form," in The Ladder of High Designs: Structure and Interpretation to the French Lyric Sequence, edited by Doranne Fenoaltea and David Lee Rubin, University Press of Virginia, 1991, pp. 100-37.

[In the following essay, Houston examines the structural differences between the 1857 and the 1861 versions of Les Fleurs du Mal.]

In 1857, upon the publication of the first edition, Barbey d'Aurevilly made his well-known reference to the "architecture secrète" of Les Fleurs du mal, and the phrase is often quoted, although it patently contains false associations. To begin with the adjective...

(The entire section is 11853 words.)

Karen A. Harrington (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fragmentation and Irony in Les Fleurs du Mal," in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1, Fall-Winter, 1991-92, pp. 177-86.

[In this essay, Harrington examines the complex sense of self that Baudelaire reveals in Les Fleurs du Mal.]

Fragmentation commands special significance in Les Fleurs du Mal and stresses an often contradictory split occurring at many levels such as the structural opposition between spleen and ideal. Thematic polarities of love and hate, time and space, good and evil, God and Satan abound in Baudelaire's work. Of greater importance, perhaps, is the position of the fragmented self that shapes the core or...

(The entire section is 3685 words.)

Edward K. Kaplan (essay date 1993)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Baudelaire and the Vicissitudes of Venus: Ethical Irony in Fleurs du Mal," in The Shaping of Text: Style, Imagery, and Structure in French Literature, edited by Emanuel J. Mickel, Jr., Bucknell University Press, 1993, pp. 113-30.

[In the following essay, Kaplan explores the relationship between ethics and sexuality in Les Fleurs du Mal.]

Respectful attention to literary context often helps resolve thorny theoretical issues. The "architecture" (or overall thematic structure) of Les Fleurs du Mal can be delineated, with some certainty, through analysis of certain sequences (or cycles), and Baudelaire's deliberate revisions of the first (1857)...

(The entire section is 6764 words.)