Paul-Louis-Charles-Marie Claudel was born in Villeneuve-sur-Fère (Tardenois), France, on August 6, 1868, the youngest of three children. His father, Louis-Prosper Claudel, was a civil servant who came to Villeneuve-sur-Fère from La Bresse, a small town in the Vosges region. By nature he was an unsociable and taciturn person whose profession turned him into a nomad, and he had little time for his children. Claudel’s mother, Louise Cerveaux, came from a family that had its origins in Villeneuve-sur-Fère. The family moved often, following the transfers of the father from Villeneuve-sur-Fère, Bar-le-Duc, Nogent-sur-Seine, Wassy, Rambouillet, and Compiègne, until the mother finally agreed to move and settle with her children in Paris. Paul Claudel was fourteen at the time.
Contrary to what one might expect, Paris did not fascinate the young Claudel, nor did Paris bring a respite to the endless family quarrels that were a part of Claudel’s childhood. The pressure of Claudel’s anarchist instincts, which the restless atmosphere of the capital exacerbated, led him to thoughts of suicide. As he grew into adulthood, however, he also saw the positive side of Parisian life. He discovered the “mystical” beauty of Richard Wagner’s music; he joined the group that gathered around Stéphan Mallarmé; and he enjoyed the company of classmates and colleagues who later became well-known personalities in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1886, Claudel...
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