Charles Baudelaire Biography

(French Poet Known for His Handling of Rhyme & Rhythm and His Book 'Les Fleurs du mal')
Charles Baudelaire
2

Birthday: April 9, 1821 (Aries)

Born In: Paris, France

Charles Baudelaire was a nineteenth century French poet, translator and critic, who left a significant influence on the contemporary art and literature.  Known especially for his works like Les Fleurs du mal and Petits poèmes en prose, he singlehandedly introduced Edgar Allen Poe to the French people. However, his personal life was not at all smooth and he never got his due while he was alive. An unusual child, he grew very close to his mother after his father’s death and therefore felt desolate when she married for the second time. Although he began writing poems in high school, he first came in contact with the literary world after passing his baccalauréat. Very soon he became known as dandy, spending more than his income, which led him into a debt trap that continued to haunt him all his life. He died in poverty at the age of forty-six, eaten away by syphilis, excessive drinking and opium consumption. It was only after his death that he started receiving international acclaim.

Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In April

Also Known As: Charles Pierre Baudelaire

Died At Age: 46

Family:

father: François Baudelaire, Joseph-François Baudelaire

mother: Caroline, Caroline Baudelaire

siblings: Claude Alphonse Baudelaire

Born Country: France

Quotes By Charles Baudelaire Poets

Died on: August 31, 1867

place of death: Paris, France

Notable Alumni: Lycée Louis-le-Grand

City: Paris

More Facts

education: Lycée Louis-le-Grand

Childhood & Early Life

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was born on 9 April 1821 in Paris, France. His father, Joseph-François Baudelaire, was a middle ranking civil servant, who began his career as a priest and tutor. In between, he also earned his living as a painter. He died when Charles was not yet six years old.

His mother, Caroline née Dufaÿs, was his father’s second wife and thirty-four-years his junior. Born his parents’ only child, Charles had a half-brother called Claude Alphonse Baudelaire, born in 1805 from his father’s first marriage.

After his father’s death, the mother and son lived together in the outskirts of Paris. Eventually In 1828, his mother got married to Major Jacques Aupick, giving birth to a still-born child a month later. Because he was no longer the center of his mother’s attention, the incident greatly affected him.

In 1831, young Charles began his schooling as a boarder at the Collège-lycée Ampère, Lyon, where his stepfather was posted. He left the academy in 1836, when his family returned to Paris, entering Lycée Louis-le-Grand in the same year, again as a boarder.

In April of 1839, he was expelled from school for refusing to handover a note passed to him by a classmate. Thereafter, he entered Collège Saint-Louis, from where he passed his baccalauréat examinations in the same year.

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In 1839, after passing his baccalauréat examinations, Charles Baudelaire entered École de Droit as a student of law.  In reality though, he began to lead a free life at the Latin Quarter, making his first contact with the literary world.

He also began visiting prostitutes, especially one nicknamed Sarah la Louchette, celebrating her in some of his early poems. During this period, he accumulated considerable debt and contracted venereal disease, which later on resulted in his untimely death.

In June 1841, Charles Baudelaire was sent on a protracted tour to India in order to wean him away from the life he led at Latin Quarter. However, an accident near Mauritius offered him scope to jump the ship and he returned to Paris in February of 1842.

Although he resented being sent on the voyage, it enriched his imagination, awarding his writing with numerous exotic images and sensations. It also provided him with an everlasting theme of nostalgia.

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Back in Paris

In April 1842, Charles Baudelaire inherited a modest fortune from his father's estate. In 1843, he rented an apartment at the Hôtel Pimodan, currently known as the Hôtel Lauzun, for 350 francs, and began acquiring expensive books, paintings, clothes, food and wine. He spent half of his fortune by 1844.

In 1844, he formed Club des Hashischins (Club of the Hashish Eaters) with poet Théophile Gautier in order to experiment with drugs. Soon, they were joined by other literary and intellectual personalities including Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas etc.

On September 21, 1844, his family managed to impose a legal restriction on his inheritance, making sure that from now on, he would only get a monthly pension of 200 francs. The amount was insufficient for his needs and he soon fell into debt trap.

To earn money, he now began writing art criticism, essays, and reviews for various journals, publishing works like Salon de 1845 and Salon de 1846.  Both the works attracted attention and he soon became known as an advocate of Romanticism, championing artists like Eugene Delacroix and Gustave Courbet.

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In January 1847, he published his next work; an autobiographical novella entitled La Fanfarlo. But soon after that his output slowed and although he continued writing, he did not publish any book until 1857.  Instead, he became involved in Revolution of 1848 and later in the 1851 resistance to the Bonapartist military coup.

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Struggles

Charles Baudelaire spent the early 1850s in poverty and poor health, moving from place to place to escape creditors. Continuing to write, he published eleven of his poems as Les Limbes in 1851. Around this time, he also began his first major study of American author Edgar Allen Poe.

In March and April 1852, his study on Poe was published in Revue de Paris as Edgar Allan Poe, His Life and His Works. Baudelaire also started translating his stories, which began to be published in Le Pays in 1854 and 1855, earning him much needed money.

In 1856, some of his translations of Poe’s stories were collected and published in book form as Extraordinary Tales. It was followed in 1857 by a similar collection, entitled New Extraordinary Tales.

In June 1857, he published the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal, his first book of poems. Although it was highly acclaimed by many it also courted controversy and on July 7, a case was brought before the public prosecutor on charges relating to public morality. Unsold copies were seized.

On 20 August 1857, a trail was held and six of the poems were found to be indecent and ordered to be removed. He was fined 300 franc, which was later reduced to 50 franc. Because of the controversy, the work failed to be financially successful, sending him to despondency.

The weight of the trail, lack of money, poor living condition, as well as the developing complications with syphilis, now began to take toll upon his health. Nonetheless, he continued to write, publishing Aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym, another translation of Poe in 1858.

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Last Years

After his stepfather’s death in 1857, Charles Baudelaire reconciled with his mother, spending 1859 with her at her home in Honfleur. There he produced a series of poetic masterpieces as well as two important essays in art criticism, the Salon de 1859 and The Painter of Modern Life.

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In 1860, he published Les Paradis Artificiels (Artificial Paradises). In this work, he described the effects of the drugs and discussed how they could theoretically aid mankind in reaching an "ideal" world. By then, he had started taking laudanum, which led to an opium dependency.

In 1861, he had the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal published. While the six banned poems were deleted, 35 new poems were added to the collection. Soon after that his publisher went bankrupt, which deteriorated his already bad financial situation.

In 1862, he gave up verse in favor of prose poems, publishing in the same year La Presse, which contained twenty prose poems. It was followed by a similar work, Le Spleen de Paris (which was posthumously published in 1869). Another important work of this period was Le Peintre de la vie modern.

Major Works

Charles Baudelaire is best known for his book of poem, Les Fleurs du mal. Although deemed obscene at the time of its first publication, it is now considered to be the origin of the symbolism style of literature and with a posthumous third edition being published in 1868 includes all most all his poems written till his death.

Family & Personal Life

In 1842, Charles Baudelaire met Jeanne Duval, a Haitian-born actress and dancer of mixed French and black African ancestry. Although his mother never accepted her, they remained together for almost next twenty years, albeit stormily. Described as his muse, she also died of syphilis sometime between 1862 and 1870.

In 1864, deeply in debt, Baudelaire left for Belgium, where he hoped to sell the rights to his works and give lectures. Eventually he settled down in Brussels, where he remained until the summer of 1866. During this period, he began taking opium and drinking excessively.

In March 1866, he fell unconscious while visiting the Church of Saint-Loup at Namur. A few days later he was found dazed in a café and taken home. It was later discovered that he was stricken with paralysis and aphasia, from which he would never recover.

In July 1866 he was brought back to Paris. He died there in his mother's arms on August 31, 1867, and was buried in the family vault in Montparnasse Cemetery two days later.

In 1902, a somber monument was unveiled at the cemetery in his memory.

Trivia

The official ban on the six poems included in the first edition of Les Fleurs du mal, was lifted in 1949.

See the events in life of Charles Baudelaire in Chronological Order

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