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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.

Early Life of Charles Baudelaire

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was born in the city of Paris on the 9th of April 1821. His father was Joseph-Francois Baudelaire who was a civil servant and an amateur artist. His mother was Caroline who was 34 years younger than her husband. His father died when Charles was a young boy. His mother married a Lieutenant General who later became an ambassador.

It is noted that this was a crucial stage in his childhood. Charles went to a boarding school in Lyon. Later, he came back to Paris and studied at the Lycée Louis le Grand. He learned law which was considered a popular career for those who hadn’t decided on their career. 

In his youth, he fell into the company of prostitutes and contracted an STD. He was also in debt. He completed his degree in the year 1839. Slowly, he started to have a flair for literature. His mother was opposed to his career and so was his stepfather. At the age of 21, he received some inheritance, however, it was finished before he knew it.

Time abroad – Travels and Inspiration

Charles was sent on a voyage to Calcutta, India by his stepfather. This helped him greatly as it distracted him from his life in Paris. He was now interested in exploration, the sea, the concept of imports and exports. The exotic ports inspired him to write many poems. He wrote an exert about his travels – Running on Elephants.

His stepfather died in 1857.

Writing Career of Charles Baudelaire

He returned to Paris and started writing poems that he later included in the ‘Les Fleurs du mal’. In 1848, he wrote for a revolutionary newspaper. However, he had no special interest in politics. During the 1850s he struggled with debt, he moved from one lodge to another to escape lenders. He did not complete the projects he undertook. 

His first published work was his art review ‘Salon of 1845’. He received some recognition for this work as it made a bold statement. His critics of various novels were in sync with the tone of Impressionist painters of the time. In the following year, he came up with another review of the Salon which made him look like a credible advocate and a critic of Romanticism.

He also published a novel – La Fanfarlo. He was known to work slow and steady. He always took time with his writings due to the many distractions of emotional instability that came his way. His most famous work is Les Fleurs du mal which is a volume of poems. Most of these were later published by his friend Auguste Poule Malassis in 1855. Many of these were seen in French magazines.

Charles had a small and niche audience. He was believed to be one of those people that have large potential but fail due to distractions in life, as said by Gustave Flaubert who also said that he had rejuvenated Romanticism.

Charles’s way-ahead-of-time writing was admired by very few audiences. At a time when writing about sex and death was taboo, he touched lesbianism, corruption, living oppressively, and wine. Many critics called his writing wholesome and a masterpiece of art and passion with the tinge of poetry. 

Personal Life – Family and friends

Baudelaire is known to have been a reckless spender, splurging on his friends. He had a mistress called Jeanne Duval who was highly rejected by his family. His mother was of the opinion that the woman was the one to drain Charles out of his money. All this stress caused him to attempt suicide while he was only in his 20s. His mother died in the year 1871, fours years after he did.

Later Life of Charles Baudelaire

During his final years, Charles worked on a translation and adaptation of Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”.  He also published Small Prose Poems, a series of art published at Pays, Exposition universelle.

In his later life, he started to experience acute stress and poverty which led him to look noticeably aged. His long term use of laudanum affected his health in a major fashion. He spent his later life with his mother at Honfleur. During this time, he wrote his Le Voyage and proved that he was productive during his later times. He was also a supporter of Richard Wagner, a great opera producer. 

After 1860, it was noticed that he was on the way financial instability yet again due to the losses occurred by his publisher. In 1864, he left Paris and moved to Belgium in the hope of selling the rights of his works.

He was known to deteriorate his body by smoking opium on a regular basis. He drank excessively which led him to have a stroke followed by permanent paralysis. He spent some time in Brussels post his stroke in 1866 until he died the following year on 31st of August 1867.

Charles Baudelaire’s cemetery can be found at Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. 

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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