Jules Laforgue Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Born in Uruguay, Jules Laforgue was sent at the age of six to a boarding school in Tarbes, France, where he remained until he was fifteen. Laforgue felt isolated and persecuted at school; he left an account of his childhood and adolescence in the autobiographical novel Stéphane Vassiliew (1946). His family returned from Uruguay in his sixteenth year, and the eleven children and two parents crowded into an apartment in Paris. That spring, his mother died after a twelfth pregnancy; she was thirty-seven. In “Avertissement,” Laforgue wrote that he hardly knew his mother, but his awareness of her situation may be glimpsed in “Complainte du fœtus de poète,” in which an unsympathetic and egotistic voice describes his birth, blithely unconcerned with any feelings but his own.

Laforgue attended the Lycée Fontanes (now Condorcet) but twice failed his oral examination for the baccalauréat. A paralyzing fear of failure afflicts many of Laforgue’s poetic alter egos. After failing his examinations, Laforgue continued to study independently, reading omnivorously and attending lectures on the philosophy of art by the determinist Hippolyte Taine, whose assertions that art is completely determined by milieu, race, and historical moment Laforgue rejected.

In 1880, the twenty-year-old Laforgue met several influential men whose friendship helped launch his career. Gustave Kahn became a good friend, confidant, and literary editor. Kahn introduced Laforgue to the regular Tuesday readings by Stéphane Mallarmé and also to Charles Henry, an intellectual equally brilliant on scientific and literary topics. That same year, Laforgue also met the literary critic Paul Bourget, who generously criticized his writing and who arranged a job for Laforgue assisting the art critic Charles Ephrussi. He introduced Laforgue to the paintings of the Impressionists, and evidence from Laforgue’s poems and essays indicates that the Impressionist aesthetic reflected his conviction that art aims at fusing a sensual and intellectual apprehension of life.

Late in 1881, Laforgue’s father, who was dying from tuberculosis, moved the rest of the family to Tarbes, leaving Laforgue behind. Although he took a cheap room to remain in Paris,...

(The entire section is 923 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

If a poet can be judged, in part, by the breadth and depth of his influence, Jules Laforgue (lah-fawrg) occupies a lofty niche: He inspired musical composers (Arnold Schoenberg, Arthur Honegger, and Darius Milhaud) and stimulated a legion of writers, both in France (in particular, Alain-Fournier and Jules Supervielle) and in English-speaking countries (James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allen Tate, and Hart Crane).

Laforgue once described himself as “a good Breton, born below the tropics.” His mother was Breton, his father a Gascon transplanted to Uruguay, where he founded a school. Jules was born in Montevideo in 1860, the second of eleven children. When the school failed in 1866, Jules was brought to Tarbes, his father’s native village, located in the Pyrénées. In 1876 the family moved to Paris; there Jules finished his education and secured a position for two years as secretary to the art historian Charles Ephrussi. During this period his exposure to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and to Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious prompted him to momentarily adopt an attitude of ascetic detachment and to consider the unconscious as a kind of divine fount of creative activity. Allusions to these philosophical concerns appear in his first collection of poems, Le Sanglot de la terre, published posthumously.

In 1881, he obtained, thanks to the efforts of Ephrussi and Paul Bourget, a position as reader to...

(The entire section is 536 words.)