Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

"Ce Pere Nourricier": Revisiting Baudelaire's Family Romance

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

"Ce Pere Nourricier": Revisiting Baudelaire's Family Romance

Article excerpt

C'est dans les notes relatives a l'enfance que nous trouverons le germe des etranges reveries de l'homme adulte, et, disons mieux, de son genie ... Tel petit chagrin, telle petite jouissance de l'enfant, demesurement grossis par une exquise sensibilite deviennent plus tard dans l'homme adulte, meme a son insu, le principe d'une oeuvre d'art.

--"Un Mangeur d'opium" (oc 1: 497)

Ne confondez jamais les fantomes de la raison avec les fantomes de l'imagination; ceux-la sont des equations, et ceux-ci des etres et des souvenirs.

--"Promethee delivre par L. Menard" (oc 2: 11) (1)

Baudelaire's poetry represents, among other things, a striking enactment of Romantic nostalgias and interiorized Freudian regressions. It is not by accident that he was the first major French author to be put on the couch by a French psychoanalyst. (2) A schematic reading of his family history casts him as something of a nineteenth-century Hamlet: death of the father before young Charles' sixth birthday; hasty remarriage of his mother to Jacques Aupick, a stern military man; reports of Charles seen on the barricades in 1848 yelling "Il faut tuer le General Aupick"; heart-rending letters to Maman about his pennilessness and need for her approval. As his friend, Jules Buisson, would note years later: "Il y aurait un bien joli chapitre de psychologie a ecrire, sous ce titre: qu'eut ete Baudelaire sans le general Aupick?" (3) It is no wonder that early Freudian psychoanalysts were drawn to the "cas Baudelaire." (4)

Much has been made of the CEdipal drama that shaped the relationship between Baudelaire and his mother, whose image is inscribed throughout the Fleurs du mal. (5) In the role of "evil stepfather, General Aupick, for his part, left his imprint more on Baudelaire's psyche than on his poetry. By Jean-Paul Sartre's account it was these two parents who shaped and determined the poet's existential torment. "Le role du general a ete capital dans le processus d'autopunition ... et il est vrai aussi que le terrible Aupick semble s'etre incarne dans la mere du poete ... Apres la mort de son mari, elle reprend, malgre elle, son role ecrasant de justicier" (Sartre 73-75). Unlike the one-sided relationship with his forbidding stepfather, the relationship with his mother was, for Baudelaire, naturally more complex; intimately associated with his childhood, she was, in Sartre's words, "le seul etre pour qui Baudelaire ait jamais eprouve de la tendresse." But was she "le seul"? As Ernest Prarond, a friend of the poet in the early 1840s, later recalled: "Baudelaire parlait de son pere, en bon fils, comme il parlait de sa mere. Par contre, il aimait fort peu son beau-pere, le general Aupick" (Dayre and Pichois 78). Taking the lead from Ernest Prarond, in this article I propose to look at the shadowy figure of the rather distinguishedlooking gentleman who strolled in the Luxembourg gardens with his young son but was left standing outside of Sartre's biography: neither the omnipresent mother, nor the inescapable stepfather, but Francois Baudelaire, the "pere nourricier," whose "fantom" hovers over the poetry and the criticism, insinuating itself, in particular, in Baudelaire's writing on Art. (6)

Prarond tells us that, according to Charles, "son pere aurait porte la soutane avant de porter le bonnet rouge"--a reference to Francois Baudelaire's ordination as a priest in 1783. (7) (He abdicated this function on 19 November 1793.) In the same vein, Jules Levallois, in Physionomies de la Boheme (1887), alludes to the provocative epithet that the poet used to describe himself: "Baudelaire auquel j'ai entendu dire, de sa voix la plus aigue et la plus sifflante: 'Moi, fils d'un pretre ...'" (Crepet 3). Other characterizations of the poet's father refer to his painterly pursuits.

Although Francois Baudelaire's career as a painter was a minor one, the mixed impressions it left on his son were anything but insignificant. …

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