Baudelaire and le Spleen de Paris

Baudelaire and le Spleen de Paris

Baudelaire and le Spleen de Paris

Baudelaire and le Spleen de Paris

Synopsis

The collection of prose poems known as Le Spleen de Paris is an important, puzzling, and yet relatively neglected area of Baudelaire's work. This is the first study in English that is exclusively concerned with these texts. Approaching the poems chronologically, Hiddleston focuses primarily on the position of the artist and his attitude towards his art, the often enigmatic and contradictory moral message the poems purpose to convey and, above all, the relationship between prose and poetry in this hybrid and, by the poet's own admission, "dangerous" genre.

Excerpt

Uncertainty surrounds all aspects of Baudelaire's prose poems. What he wished to, and what he did, achieve in experimenting with such a 'dangerous' and hybrid genre, in which he had few predecessors, none of whom have been incorporated in the literary canon, is by no means evident; we do not know what the completed volume would have looked like or even how many pieces it would have contained, and there has been disagreement about the title he would have chosen. Furthermore, the reader may well feel deprived of guides and norms; for, in contrast with the voluminous bibliography of Les Fleurs du Mai, very little has appeared on the prose poems. Fritz Nies's Poesie in prosaischer Welt, the only full-length study, came out more than twenty years ago, and although there has been a considerable increase in publication in recent years particularly in the form of articles, many of which make a distinguished contribution to an aspect of the subject, Barbara Johnson's Défigurations du langage poétique is the only major work to have appeared since. Dedicated to Paul de Man, it contains many illuminating insights, but its often highly ingenious arguments are based almost exclusively on the doublets of 1857 and 'Le Galant Tireur', with the result that the view of the poems that emerges is inevitably incomplete. By examining the position of the artist and his attitude towards his art, the complex and often ambiguous moral message the poems suggest, and above all the relationship between prose and poetry, I have tried to dispel some of the obscurities which envelop the texts. I have used throughout the title Le Spleen de Paris, since, whatever his hesitations, it is the one Baudelaire uses increasingly in his correspondence after 1863 and, given his predilection for titles which are either 'petards' or 'mystérieux', seems much preferable to Petits Poëmes en prose, which serves merely to designate a genre.

I am deeply grateful to the British Academy for a grant which enabled me to visit the 'Centre d'Études baudelairiennes' at Vanderbilt . . .

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