Dead Author index




19th Century French poet, essayist, and author. Considered influential to modern writing as a Symbolist poet and, with selected other 19th Century poets, under the label The Decadents.






Cimetiere de Montparnasse, Paris

Baudelaire's life was as paradoxical as his writing with its oft intermingling themes of beauty and decay/corruption. Although he identified himself as aristocratic and Catholic, he is better known for the scandals stirred up by his writings, which were branded as blasphemous. He was intrinsically rebellious, sided with revolutionary politics at times, and spent years suffering with poverty, moodiness, ill health (after contracting syphilis early in his life), and debauchery (including heavy drinking and taking opium). He was given to religious mysticism, moral turmoil, and came to possess an intense hatred for Romanticism and bourgeois sentimentality (although in his earlier days, he had been a bit of dandy). He remained close to his mother throughout his life and died in her arms.
A young "dandified" Baudelaire
painted by Emile Deroy in 1844



Baudelaire was the first person to be called (by Gautier) "decadent." Before that, the adjective had not been used to describe a person, but had been more commonly used to describe (decaying) things, ages, and civilizations. Baudelaire and certain other 19th Century French poets, such as Verlaine and Mallarme, are sometimes as a group labelled "The Decadents."

A great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire spent years (1852-1865) translating many of Poe's works into French and thus contributed largely to Poe's popularity in France.


Baudelaire's book of poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal [Flowers of Evil] (1857), caused enough controversy at the time of its publication that Baudelaire, the book's publisher and printer were all prosecuted for obscenity and blasphemy.


"It seems to me that I will always be happy in the place where I am not." ("Il me semble que je serais toujours bien la ou je ne suis pas.")

[The good bourgeois is] "an enemy of art, of perfume, a fanatic of utensils."

"One must be for ever drunken: that is the sole question of importance. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time that bruises your shoulders and bends you to the earth, you must be drunken without cease. But how? With wine, with poetry, with virtue, with what you please. But be drunken. And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace, on the green grass by a moat, or in the dull loneliness of your chamber, you should waken up, your intoxication already lessened or gone, ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the timepiece; ask of all that flees, all that sighs, all that revolves, all that sings, all that speaks, ask of these the hour; and wind and wave and star and bird and timepiece will answer you: "It is the hour to be drunken! Lest you be the martyred slaves of Time, intoxicate yourselves, be drunken without cease! With wine, with poetry, with virtue, or with what you will." — "Get Drunk," a prose poem from Paris Spleen.


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Of all the Decadents, none presented a more fierce opposition to the Romantic Movement, in so few pages, as Baudelaire. The Romantics closed our eyes to visions of ladies "walking in beauty like the night" and Endymion's breathless search for the moon goddess; Baudelaire opens our eyes to the perverse "flowering" of a corpse rotting in the sunlight, as in his poem Une Charogne {A Carcass}. The Romantic Movement, exemplified by John Keats, embraced the "new religion of nature" and man's idyllic passage therein; Baudelaire's works entice the reader back indoors, into the enclosed spaces of the Decadent aesthete, into a dark velvet opulence where voluptuous epicenes languish in an "infamous menagerie of vices." Here Byron's "swarms of stars" become the glow of an opium pipe. Shelley's "West Wind" darkens to the nocturnal whispers of lesbians entwined in "unquenched thirsts." Within this boudoir noir Baudelaire eloquently annihilates such weary sentimentality as Keats', like Hannibal Lecter bludgeoning the guard while enjoying the supernal strains of a Rachmaninoff concerto. Baudelaire was the premiere lesbian poet of the nineteenth century-that this writer was a man is incidental. His most celebrated work, Les Fleurs du mal, had as its original title The Lesbians. "Delphine and Hippolyte," one of many lesbian poems within the work, was officially banned for over ninety years in France. Baudelaire's "lesbianism" was naturally a hot topic amongst the artists and poets of Paris, from those who'd known him during his prodigal days in the Latin Quarter to his artistic mentor, Gautier. Some speculated that this curiosity revealed Baudelaire's latent homosexuality, while his works and lifestyle ran directly contrary to this supposition: he seldom embellished his male characters with beauty, and was the lover of Jenne Duval for over twenty years {a lovely woman whom Baudelaire oft called by the name of a legendary Roman lesbian, Magaera}. What these acquaintances failed to see was the most salient aspect of Baudelaire's work, a motif which in fact defined his Decadent philosophy: Baudelaire abhorred nature, and thus detested nature's greatest symbiotic force, procreation. He loved women, and true to form, he loved them beyond nature's ordained boundaries, and there he loved them with a perfectly perverse adoration which necessarily excluded men. Baudelaire embraced evil, and it was by no artistic whim that he changed the title of his greatest work from The Lesbians to Flowers of Evil. His were femme fatales entombed in a lavish Sadean sterility, and as their creator, Baudelaire cunningly gained entry into a dark bower of heightened lust and decadence inaccessible to other men. And he understood the importance of spicing his sins with the perfect measure of the Christian world-view: however wanton, his lesbians were often keenly aware of their wrong-doing, which only served to intensify their Sapphic desires. Baudelaire was an alchemist of evil. He was Trent Reznor leaning out of reality over his absinthe spoon in the video "The Perfect Drug," where the futility of sentimentality is both poison and sacrosanct. Within the sphere of his works, his supreme triumph was therefore not only over nature, but over himself: a triumph of transfiguration, of spiritual gender-bending unparalleled in Western literature.

Dru Druwelyn
Orange Beach, AL US - Tuesday, April 11, 2000 at 14:52:37 (GMT)