Who is Charles Baudelaire?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Charles Baudelaire was a French poet whose work epitomizes the Decadent movement in literature. He also produced influential critical essays on other important writers of his era and translated much of Edgar Allan Poe's work into French. Baudelaire is best known for his collection of poetry entitled Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). His work also had a significant influence on the emergent Symbolist movement in art and literature.

Charles Baudelaire moved to Belgium in 1864, where he eventually died in 1867.
Charles Baudelaire moved to Belgium in 1864, where he eventually died in 1867.

Baudelaire was born in Paris on 9 April 1821. When he was 16 years old, his father died, and his mother remarried the next year, to a lieutenant-colonel who later became an ambassador. Baudelaire graduated from the Coll├Ęge Louis-le-Grand in 1839 and planned to begin a literary career. However, his life became quite chaotic, and his guardians consequently sent him on a trip to India in 1841. When he returned, Baudelaire was old enough to collect the money he inherited from his father, but he managed to spend nearly all of it over the next year or so and the remainder was placed in trust. Around this time, Baudelaire met Jeanne Duval, the inspiration for many of his poems, with whom he continued to have a relationship until the end of his life.

Baudelaire's career as a writer began with a few art reviews in 1845 and 1846. Shortly thereafter, he discovered the works of Poe in English and was awe-struck. He worked on translations of Poe's stories into French for the next 20 years, and his versions remain highly acclaimed. Baudelaire also wrote reviews on the work of his contemporaries, including Theophile Gautier, Gustave Flaubert, and Honore de Balzac.

When Les Fleurs du Mal was published in 1857, it shocked most readers and critics with its themes of deviant sexualities, death, and dissolution, but Baudelaire also gained a loyal, albeit small, following. Baudelaire, along with his printer and publisher, was sued for producing the offensive work, and five of the poems were censored out of the first version. The next edition, published in 1861, included the previously expurgated poems.

In 1861, Baudelaire's publisher went bankrupt, and the poet's financial difficulties became severe. He moved to Belgium in 1864, where he began to smoke opium and drink heavily. In 1866, he suffered from a major stroke and became paralyzed. He was hospitalized in Brussels and Paris for the remainder of his days and died on 31 August 1867. After his death, Baudelaire's work became much more accepted and acclaimed than it had been during his lifetime, and Les Fleurs du Mal is now considered a classic of French literature.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


Can someone recommend a single volume that they think is most representative of Baudelaire's work? I am not looking for the collected works because I don't have the time to wade through every one of his poems. If there is a smaller collection that I could start with that would be great.


Baudelaire has always been the archetype of the tragic poet in my mind. A fiery man who showed an early genius, produce masterful works in bursts followed by long bouts of silence that dies a young and tragic death after many sufferings. It's like something out of a cheesy novel.

But he did live an incredible life and produced some beautiful poetry. I have been reading Baudelaire since college and every time I come back to his works I find something fresh and exciting. His work is the rare poem that combines dazzling lyricism with incredible depth and meaning. He was a master.

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