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Charles Baudelaire – Biography

Below is a detailed biographie of Charles Baudelaire, a French poet known for his sensible complexities in writing style. He was also an art critic and an essayist.

Charles Baudelaire (9 April 1821- 31 August 1867) was a French poet, translator, writer, and critic of literary work. He was credited with the title of Modernist as his work reflected modernity and romanticism.

He lived a short life of 46 years full of controversies, debts, and fleeting fame, but an ephemeral eminence for bold and distinctive work inspired by real-life observations of the life of people.

Childhood And Education Of Baudelaire

The tragic childhood events in Baudelaire’s life incited many of his valiant works later. His father, Joseph Francois Baudelaire was a priest, tutor, and painter. He worked as a civil servant till retirement; at the age of 60, he married a 26-year-old lady Caroline Dufays.

Baudelaire was their only child. He was born in Paris, on 9 April 1921. He lost his father at an early age. His father died in the year 1927 when he was only 6 years old. The following year his mother married Major Jacques Aupick.

Baudelaire was educated in a boarding school in Lyon. Later, he studied law at Lycee Louis-le-Grand. He realized that he was ill-suited for any particular profession. However, he was well aware of his precocious inclination for literary work. He spent 2 years in the Latin Quarter of Paris to pursue his interest.

Family Relations

For most of his life, Charles was hinged on his mother emotionally and financially. His stepfather was never a problem for him until he started coming into his way of life.

For Baudelaire, the journey from addressing a father as a father to addressing him as ‘The General’ is reflected in his poems. Baudelaire seemed to be very impressionable and in consequence, his life moulded accordingly.

He felt that the undivided attention and love of his mother drifted apart after the ingress of his stepfather into their lives. He expressed his agony in one of his letters to his mother saying, “There was in my childhood a period of passionate love for you.” He always borrowed money from her promising to return it after a profitable published work.

He lived a lavish life by accumulating heavy debts from his mother and other creditors. His art circle called him a dandy and a free spender because irrespective of the amount of money he got, he spent it all in lounges, on prostitutes, and other luxuries. When he was 21, he inherited a substantial amount of money from his father.

He squandered half of his inheritance in no time and if left unrestraint could have spent the rest as well. Consequently, his family had to obtain an official order to put restraints on his expenditure. He resented their decision of giving him a monthly allowance.

His parent decided to send him on a voyage to protect him from accrued debts and to mould his debauched habits. Yet he jumped off the ship and returned to Paris. The voyage added to the experience that he illustrated in his work. During this time, Jeanne Duval arrived in his life as his mistress. His mother never approved of her.

She thought that Jeanne was exploiting Baudelaire for money. Their relationship continued on and off throughout his life.

His Literary Works

The most renowned work of Baudelaire was a compilation of lyric poetry titled Les Fleurs du mal. It was published in 1857 but it had nearly all his poems from the year 1840 till his death. His work mostly revolved around the theme of death, sex, lesbianism, melancholy and colourful illustrations of secular love.

Eroticism, death, disgust, and the desire for an ideal world were reflected in Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). It was very a controversial work as some of its poems were considered scandalous. Six of his poems were banned stating them as contempt of law and against morality.

Baudelaire and the publishers were prosecuted and fined for the same. After 100 years, in May 1949 the banned was lifted and the other 6 poems were also published.

Gustave Flaubert and Theodore de Banville were part of his appreciative audience who admired his work. He dedicated Les Fleurs de mal to Theophile Gautier, in gratitude for their friendship.

Le Spleen de Paris was published posthumously in 1869. It is a collection of 50 prose poems and is also known as Petits Poems en Prose. It is based on the work of Parnassians. It explores the idea of Satanism, sensuality, pleasure, temptations, melancholy, and disgust for the faulty modernization of that time.

There was the use of language, symbols, atmosphere, and imagery to depict sensuality.

Salon de 1845 and 1846 reveal Baudelaire’s passion for the art of painting. In this book, he embellished the paintings of Eugene Delacroix, one of the most unique artists of modern times. Salon de 1845 was not a big success rather it was criticized by many mainstream critics of that time. Unlooked-for success and appreciation came in for Salon de 1846.

His French translations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe were widely acknowledged. Some of his translations which were majorly published from 1845 to 1865 include Mesmeric Revelation (1845), Nouvelles histories extraordinaires (1857), Adventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym (1858), and more.

Baudelaire was also influenced and overwhelmed by the music of Richard Wagner. He thoroughly praised him in his writings and contributed to uplifting the art of Wagner and Wagnerism in Europe.

La Fanfarlo, a novella narrating a love affair was published in January 1847. He translated Confessions of an English Opium Eater written by Thomas De Quincey.

His associates were numerous but a majority of them maintained their distance from him owing to his scandalous work. To add to his income, he wrote essays, reviews, art criticism, journals, and translations.

Influence and Death

Baudelaire was a fearless and perceptual writer. His distinctive work was hardly praised enough. However, after his death, many distinguished writers and poets praised and admired his work. Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme, and Paul Verlaine regarded him as their predecessor.

T.S Eliot an English poet said that Baudelaire’s work cannot be praised enough. In a lecture, Eliot stated that “I am an English poet of American origin who learned his art under the aegis of Baudelaire and the Baudelairian lineage of poets.”

Accumulating debts, financial constraints, lack of love, stress, and a faulty lifestyle took a toll on Baudelaire’s mental and emotional health. In the early 1850s, he suffered from ill health.

In 1866, he had a massive stroke followed by paralysis. After one year, he died and was cremated in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse, Paris on 31 August 1867.

Charles Baudelaire was a very influential poet of the 19th century. His life and experiences moulded around the emotional complexity owing to which he produced very fine works of art. Though his work did not get much recognition during his lifetime, later even the most renowned authors admired his writings.

Charles Baudelaire quotes

“He who looks through an open window sees fewer things than he who looks through a closed window.”

“I set out to discover the why of it, and to transform my pleasure into knowledge.”

“We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose. ”

“But the true voyagers are only those who leave
Just to be leaving; hearts light, like balloons,
They never turn aside from their fatality
And without knowing why they always say: “Let’s go!”
― Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

“To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.”

“You are sitting and smoking; you believe that you are sitting in your pipe, and that your pipe is smoking you; you are exhaling yourself in bluish clouds. You feel just fine in this position, and only one thing gives you worry or concern: how will you ever be able to get out of your pipe?”
― Charles Baudelaire, Artificial Paradises

“I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.”

“Let us beware of common folk, common sense, sentiment, inspiration, and the obvious. ”

“I should like the fields tinged with red, the rivers yellow and the trees painted blue. Nature has no imagination.”

“Through the Unknown, we’ll find the New”
― Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal

Charles Baudelaire Les fleurs du mal

Charles Baudelaire poems

Here is the complete list of his poetry.

Afternoon Song
Anywhere Out of the World
De Profundis Clamavi
Evening Harmony
Get Drunk
Her Hair
I Love The Naked Ages Long Ago
Invitation to the Voyage
Le Gout du Néant
My Earlier Life
One O’Clock in the Morning
Sorrows of the Moon
Spleen (IV)
The Albatross
The Bad Monk
The Blessing
The Carcass
The End of the Day
The Enemy
The Jewels
The Living Torch
The Possessed
The Sick Muse
The Vampire
The Venal Muse
To the Reader
Travelling Bohemians
Une Charogne

Charles Baudelaire Pronunciation

chaalz boh·duhl·euh

Charles Baudelaire as a Critic

Tried his hand at writing art criticism. He was a committed art lover. He also suggested that the role of critic should be “[to] provide the untutored art lover with a useful guide to help develop his own feeling for art ” and to demand of a truly modern artist “a fresh, honest expression of his temperament, assisted by whatever aid his mastery of technique can give him”.

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