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Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat, 1863
Charles Baudelaire by Étienne Carjat, 1863
Born Charles Pierre Baudelaire
9 April 1821
Paris, France
Died 31 August 1867(1867-08-31) (aged 46)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet, art critic, philosopher
Education Lycée Louis-le-Grand
Period 1844–1866
Literary movement Decadent


Charles Pierre Baudelaire' ( 9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867) was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic and translator.

He is best known for his volume of poetry Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) in 1857. Baudelaire was born in Paris, and studied law at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Baudelaire's first publication was his art review Salon of 1845.

Early life

Baudelaire was born in Paris, France, on 9 April 1821. His father, Joseph-François Baudelaire (1759–1827), a senior civil servant and amateur artist, was 34 years older than Baudelaire's mother, Caroline (née Dufaÿs) (1794–1871). Joseph-François died during Baudelaire's childhood, at rue Hautefeuille, Paris, on 10 February 1827. The following year, Caroline married Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick [fr], who later became a French ambassador to various noble courts. Baudelaire's biographers have often seen this as a crucial moment, considering that finding himself no longer the sole focus of his mother's affection left him with a trauma, which goes some way to explaining the excesses later apparent in his life.

Baudelaire was educated in Lyon, where he boarded. At 14, he was described by a classmate as "much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils...we are bound to one shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature." Baudelaire was erratic in his studies, at times diligent, at other times prone to "idleness". Later, he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, studying law, a popular course for those not yet decided on any particular career. He began to run up debts, mostly for clothes. Upon gaining his degree in 1839, he told his brother "I don't feel I have a vocation for anything." His stepfather had in mind a career in law or diplomacy, but instead Baudelaire decided to embark upon a literary career. His mother later recalled: "Oh, what grief! If Charles had let himself be guided by his stepfather, his career would have been very different...He would not have left a name in literature, it is true, but we should have been happier, all three of us."

Baudelaire 1844 cropped
Portrait of a 23-year-old Baudelaire, painted in 1844 by Émile Deroy (1820–1846)

His stepfather sent him on a voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841 in the hope of ending his dissolute habits. The trip provided strong impressions of the sea, sailing, and exotic ports, that he later employed in his poetry. On returning to the taverns of Paris, he began to compose some of the poems of "Les Fleurs du Mal". At 21, he received a sizable inheritance but squandered much of it within a few years. His family obtained a decree to place his property in trust, which he resented bitterly, at one point arguing that allowing him to fail financially would have been the one sure way of teaching him to keep his finances in order.

Baudelaire became known in artistic circles as a dandy and free-spender, going through much of his inheritance and allowance in a short period of time.

He took part in the Revolutions of 1848 and wrote for a revolutionary newspaper. However, his interest in politics was passing, as he was later to note in his journals.

In the early 1850s, Baudelaire struggled with poor health, pressing debts, and irregular literary output. He often moved from one lodging to another to escape creditors. He undertook many projects that he was unable to complete, though he did finish translations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

Upon the death of his stepfather in 1857, Baudelaire received no mention in the will but he was heartened nonetheless that the division with his mother might now be mended. At 36, he wrote to her: "believe that I belong to you absolutely, and that I belong only to you." His mother died on 16 August 1871, outliving her son by almost four years.

Publishing career

His first published work, under the pseudonym Baudelaire Dufaÿs, was his art review "Salon of 1845", which attracted immediate attention for its boldness.

In 1846, Baudelaire wrote his second Salon review, gaining additional credibility as an advocate and critic of Romanticism. His continued support of Delacroix as the foremost Romantic artist gained widespread notice. The following year Baudelaire's novella La Fanfarlo was published.

The Flowers of Evil

Fleurs du mal
The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal with author's notes

Baudelaire was a slow and very attentive worker. However, he often was sidetracked by indolence, emotional distress and illness, and it was not until 1857 that he published Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), his first and most famous volume of poems.

The poems found a small, yet appreciative audience.

Victor Hugo wrote to him: "Your fleurs du mal shine and dazzle like stars...I applaud your vigorous spirit with all my might."

Final years

Charles Baudelaire
Charles Baudelaire by Nadar, 1855
Jeanne Duval
Jeanne Duval, painted by Édouard Manet in 1862 (Budapest Museum of Fine Arts)
Apollonie Sabatier by Vincent Vidal (M500901 0000130 p)
Apollonie Sabatier, muse and one-time mistress, painted by Vincent Vidal
Grave of Baudelaire in Cimetière du Montparnasse

By 1859, his illnesses, his life of stress, and his poverty had taken a toll and Baudelaire had aged noticeably. But at last, his mother relented and agreed to let him live with her for a while at Honfleur. Baudelaire was productive and at peace in the seaside town, his poem Le Voyage being one example of his efforts during that time. In 1860, he became an ardent supporter of Richard Wagner.

His financial difficulties increased again, however, particularly after his publisher Poulet Malassis went bankrupt in 1861. In 1864, he left Paris for Belgium, partly in the hope of selling the rights to his works and to give lectures. His long-standing relationship with Jeanne Duval continued on-and-off, and he helped her to the end of his life.

Baudelaire suffered a massive stroke in 1866 and paralysis followed. After more than a year of aphasia, he received the last rites of the Catholic Church. The last two years of his life were spent in a semi-paralyzed state in various "maisons de santé" in Brussels and in Paris, where he died on 31 August 1867. Baudelaire is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

Many of Baudelaire's works were published posthumously. After his death, his mother paid off his substantial debts, and she found some comfort in Baudelaire's emerging fame. "I see that my son, for all his faults, has his place in literature." She lived another four years.

Edgar Allan Poe

In 1847, Baudelaire became acquainted with the works of Poe, in which he found tales and poems that had, he claimed, long existed in his own brain but never taken shape. Baudelaire saw in Poe a precursor and tried to be his French contemporary counterpart. From this time until 1865, he was largely occupied with translating Poe's works; his translations were widely praised. Baudelaire was not the first French translator of Poe, but his "scrupulous translations" were considered among the best. These were published as Histoires extraordinaires (Extraordinary stories) (1856), Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires (New extraordinary stories) (1857), Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym, Eureka, and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (Grotesque and serious stories) (1865). Two essays on Poe are to be found in his Œuvres complètes (Complete works) (vols. v. and vi.).

Influence and legacy

Gustave Courbet 033
Portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1848

Baudelaire's influence on the direction of modern French (and English) language literature was considerable. The most significant French writers to come after him were generous with tributes; four years after his death, Arthur Rimbaud praised him in a letter as "the king of poets, a true God". In 1895, Stéphane Mallarmé published "Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire", a sonnet in Baudelaire's memory. Marcel Proust, in an essay published in 1922, stated that, along with Alfred de Vigny, Baudelaire was "the greatest poet of the nineteenth century".

In the English-speaking world, Edmund Wilson credited Baudelaire as providing an initial impetus for the Symbolist movement by virtue of his translations of Poe. In 1930, T. S. Eliot, while asserting that Baudelaire had not yet received a "just appreciation" even in France, claimed that the poet had "great genius" and asserted that his "technical mastery which can hardly be overpraised...has made his verse an inexhaustible study for later poets, not only in his own language".


Baudelaire, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Œuvres complètes, volume I, dos et jaquette
Baudelaire, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Œuvres complètes (Complete Works), volume I.
  • Salon de 1845, 1845
  • Salon de 1846, 1846
  • La Fanfarlo, 1847
  • Les Fleurs du mal, 1857
  • Les paradis artificiels, 1860
  • Réflexions sur Quelques-uns de mes Contemporains, 1861
  • Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne, 1863
  • Curiosités Esthétiques, 1868
  • L'art romantique, 1868
  • Le Spleen de Paris, 1869. Paris Spleen (Contra Mundum Press: 2021)
  • Translations from Charles Baudelaire, 1869 (Early English translation of several of Baudelaire's poems, by Richard Herne Shepherd)
  • Oeuvres Posthumes et Correspondance Générale, 1887–1907
  • Fusées, 1897
  • Mon Coeur Mis à Nu, 1897. My Heart Laid Bare & Other Texts (Contra Mundum Press: 2017; 2020)
  • Oeuvres Complètes, 1922–53 (19 vols.)
  • Mirror of Art, 1955
  • The Essence of Laughter, 1956
  • Curiosités Esthétiques, 1962
  • The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, 1964
  • Baudelaire as a Literary Critic, 1964
  • Arts in Paris 1845–1862, 1965
  • Selected Writings on Art and Artists, 1972
  • Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire, 1986
  • Twenty Prose Poems, 1988
  • Critique d'art; Critique musicale, 1992
  • Belgium Stripped Bare (Contra Mundum Press: 2019)

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