The Flowers of Evil

By Charles Baudelaire; James McGowan | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

I

Les Fleurs du Mal, the most celebrated collection of verse in the history of modern poetry, first appeared on the horizon in 1845 in an advertisement on a book cover: 'To be published shortly: The Lesbians by Baudelaire-- Dufaÿs'. Charles Baudelaire, who was trying out different versions of his name ( Dufays was his mother's name), was a 24-year-old man of letters who had published only one poem. The announcement of The Lesbians was repeated on several book covers in 1846 and 1847, including that of Baudelaire's own substantial pamphlet reviewing the annual art exhibit, The Salon of 1846. By 1848 the title had changed to Limbo, whose publication was announced as imminent, and in 1850 and 1851 some poems from the future Flowers of Evil were published as extracts from Limbo. Finally in 1855 the Revue des deux mondes printed eighteen poems under the title, Les Fleurs du Mal, and the complete collection appeared in 1857.

The evolution of titles is certainly intriguing. Why 'The Lesbians?'1 The Flowers of Evil contains only three poems that obviously fit this title: 'Lesbos' and the two 'Condemned Women'. It is very unlikely that Baudelaire had written others which were then abandoned, though of course he might have planned a substantial sequence. Marcel Proust, a great admirer of Baudelaire's poetry, wondered 'how he could have been so especially interested in lesbians to go as far as wanting to use their name as the title of his whole splendid collection'.

____________________
1
Claude Pichois, Baudelaire's biographer and editor of the best edition of his work, maintains that for Baudelaire's contemporaries, the French title "'Les Lesbiennes'" would have meant only 'female inhabitants of Lesbos', but there is much evidence to confute this. For example, an article in the Revue des deux mondes of 1847 by Baudelaire's schoolfriend Émile Deschanel speaks of Sappho as 'a Lesbian in the full sense of the word'. Moreover, the young Baudelaire, out to shock, would scarcely have chosen an innocent, archaic-sounding title.

-xiii-

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The Flowers of Evil
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction xiii
  • Note on the Text xxxviii
  • Select Bibliography xlix
  • A Chronology of Charles Baudelaire li
  • Translator''s Preface liv
  • Spleen et Idéal 8
  • Tableaux Parisiens 164
  • Le Vin 212
  • Fleurs Du Mal 226
  • Révolte 262
  • La Mort 274
  • Les Épaves 294
  • Additions de la Troisième édition Des Fleurs Du Mal (1868) 328
  • Explanatory Notes 350
  • Index of Titles 386
  • Index of First Lines 391
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