Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire Biography.com

Author, Critic, Poet(1821–1867)
Charles Baudelaire was a French poet best known for his controversial volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil).

Synopsis

Charles Baudelaire was a French poet born on April 9, 1821, in Paris, France. In 1845, he published his first work. Baudelaire gained notoriety for his 1857 volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). His themes of sex, death, lesbianism, metamorphosis, depression, urban corruption, lost innocence and alcohol not only gained him loyal followers, but also garnered controversy. The courts punished Baudelaire, his publisher and the book's printer for offending public morality, and as such, suppressed six of the poems. Baudelaire died on August 31, 1867 in Paris.

Early life

Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris, France on April 9, 1821, to François Baudelaire, a senior civil servant and amateur artist, and his wife, Caroline. After François died, in 1827, Caroline married Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick, who later became a prominent ambassador.

As a young man, Baudelaire studied law at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. Dissatisfied with his choice of profession, he began to drink daily, hire prostitutes and run up considerable debts. Upon obtaining his degree in 1839, Baudelaire chose not to pursue law—to his mother’s chagrin—and turned to a career in literature instead.

In 1841, Baudelaire's stepfather sent him on a voyage to India, in an effort to redirect his stepson's energy. The themes of the sea, sailing and exotic ports that appeared in Baudelaire's later poetry were largely inspired by this experience. Upon his return to Paris, Baudelaire became friends with other authors and artists. He also began a lifelong relationship with Jeanne Duval. When his parents rejected the coupling, a troubled Baudelaire attempted suicide.

Baudelaire soon began to publish his writing. His first published work was an 1845 art review, which attracted immediate attention. Many of his critical opinions, including his championing of Delacroix, were bold and prophetic. In 1846, Baudelaire wrote his second art review, establishing himself as an advocate of Romanticism.

Baudelaire struggled with poor health and pressing debts throughout his adult life. He moved frequently to escape creditors, making it difficult to devote himself to any one project. However, he did manage to produce translations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, whose work he greatly admired, as well as write the works of poetry for which he would eventually become known.

'The Flowers of Evil'

In 1857, Baudelaire published his first and most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal ("The Flowers of Evil"). The poems found a small but enthusiastic audience. The principal themes of sex and death, however, created a public scandal. Other themes included lesbianism, metamorphosis, depression, urban corruption, lost innocence and alcohol.

Baudelaire, his publisher and the book's printer were prosecuted for creating an offense against public morality. Six of the poems were suppressed. Many notables of the era, including Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo, rallied behind Baudelaire and condemned the decision. Today, The Flowers of Evil and its famous French author are held in high literary regard. The book helped to create an appreciation for new literary artforms, bring once-controversial issues out of the dark and create a surge for truth and impressionism among writers and readers alike.

Baudelaire next worked on a translation of Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Other works in the years that followed included Petits Poemes en prose ("Small Prose Poems") and critical studies of Flaubert, Théophile Gautier and Balzac.

Final Years

By 1859, Baudelaire was suffering from a number of chronic conditions, brought on by stress and his long-term use of laudanum, a form of opium. His long-standing relationship with Jeanne Duval, and relationships with actress Marie Daubrun and courtesan Apollonie Sabatier, provided inspiration but no consistent companionship. Baudelaire lived with his mother for a short time toward the end of his life, producing the poem "Le Voyage," among other works. Eventually, financial difficulties drove him to leave his home. In 1864, he departed for Belgium, hoping to raise enough money to pay off his debts.

Baudelaire suffered a massive stroke in 1866. The final months of his life were spent in a semi-paralyzed state in Brussels and Paris, where he died on August 31, 1867. Baudelaire was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Many of his works were published posthumously, allowing his mother to resolve his debts.

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