Les Fleurs du mal

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The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal with author's notes.

Les Fleurs du mal (English: The Flowers of Evil) is a volume of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire. First published in 1857 (see 1857 in poetry), it was important in the symbolist and modernist movements. The subject matter of these poems deals with themes relating to decadence and eroticism.

Overview[edit]

The initial publication of the book was arranged in six thematically segregated sections:

  • Spleen et Idéal (Spleen and Ideal)
  • Tableaux parisiens (Parisian Scenes)
  • Le Vin (Wine)
  • Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil)
  • Révolte (Revolt)
  • La Mort (Death)

The foreword to the volume, identifying Satan with the pseudonymous alchemist Hermes Trismegistus and calling boredom the worst of miseries, neatly sets the general tone of what is to follow:

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encore brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.

If rape and poison, dagger and burning,
Have still not embroidered their pleasant designs
On the banal canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It's because our souls, alas, are not bold enough!

The preface concludes with the following malediction:

C'est l'Ennui! —l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!

It's Ennui! — his eye brimming with spontaneous tear
He dreams of the gallows in the haze of his hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
Hypocritical reader, my likeness, my brother!

Baudelaire dedicated the book to the poet Théophile Gautier, describing him as a parfait magicien des lettres françaises ("a perfect magician of French letters").[1]

Tableaux Parisiens (Parisian Scenes)[edit]

Baudelaire's section Tableaux Parisiens is considered one of the most formidable criticisms of 19th-century French modernity. This section contains 18 poems, most of which were written during the Haussmann's renovation of Paris. Together, the poems in Tableaux Parisiens act as 24 hour cycle of Paris, starting with the second poem Le Soleil (The Sun) and ending with the second to last poem Le Crépuscule du Matin (Morning Twilight). The poems featured in this cycle of Paris all deal with the feelings of anonymity and estrangement from a newly modernized city. Baudelaire is critical of the clean and geometric streets of Paris which alienate the unsung anti-heroes of Paris who serve as inspiration for the poet: the beggars, the blind, the industrial worker, the gambler, the prostitute, the old and the victim of imperialism. These characters whom Baudelaire once praised as the backbone of Paris are now eulogized in his nostalgic poems. For Baudelaire, the city has been transformed into an anthill of identical bourgeois that reflect the new identical structures that litter a Paris he once called home but can now no longer recognize.[2][3]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Illustration of «Les Fleurs du Mal» by Carlos Schwabe, 1900

The author and the publisher were prosecuted under the regime of the Second Empire as an outrage aux bonnes mœurs ("an insult to public decency"). As a consequence of this prosecution, Baudelaire was fined 300 francs. Six poems from the work were suppressed and the ban on their publication was not lifted in France until 1949. These poems were "Lesbos", "Femmes damnées (À la pâle clarté)" (or "Women Doomed (In the pale glimmer...)"), "Le Léthé" (or "Lethe"), "À celle qui est trop gaie" (or "To Her Who Is Too Gay"), "Les Bijoux" (or "The Jewels"), and " Les "Métamorphoses du Vampire" (or "The Vampire's Metamorphoses"). These were later published in Brussels in a small volume entitled Les Épaves (Scraps or Jetsam).

On the other hand, upon reading "The Swan" (or "Le Cygne") from Les Fleurs du mal, Victor Hugo announced that Baudelaire had created "un nouveau frisson" (a new shudder, a new thrill) in literature.

In the wake of the prosecution a second edition was issued in 1861 which added 35 new poems, removed the six suppressed poems, and added a new section entitled Tableaux Parisiens.

A posthumous third edition with a preface by Théophile Gautier and including 14 previously unpublished poems was issued in 1868.

Legacy[edit]

Alban Berg's "Der Wein" (1929) is a concert aria setting Stefan George's translation of three poems from "Le Vin".

An episode of the television show The Batman was named "Fleurs du Mal" in homage to the poem. In addition to this, a florist's shop in the episode is named Baudelaire's, in honor of the author.

Henri Dutilleux's Tout un monde lointain... for cello and orchestra (1970) is strongly influenced by Les Fleurs du Mal. Each of its five movements is prefaced by a quotation from the volume and the title itself comes from one of its poems (La Chevelure - number XXIII).

Rock band Buck-Tick named their 1990 album Aku no Hana, as well as its titular track, after Les Fleurs du mal.

The movie Immortal (2004, Dominique Brunner); In the scene on the Eiffel Tower, Jill (Linda Hardy) is reading from the book Les Fleurs Du Mal. She recites the third stanza from the poem "XLIX. Le Poison".

The 2009 manga Aku no Hana was based on Les Fleurs du mal set in modern Japanese society. The main character, Takao Kasuga, steals the gym clothes of his crush, Nanako Saeki, after being inspired by an excerpt from the aforementioned work.

Marilyn Manson released a song entitled "The Flowers of Evil" from his 2012 album Born Villain.

Symphonic metal band Therion released an album named Les Fleurs du mal in 2012.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Baudelaire, les Fleurs du Mal, Le Livre de poche, page 345.
  2. ^ Chambers, Ross. The Writing of Melancholy: Modes of Opposition in Early French Modernism. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993. Print.
  3. ^ Thompson, William J. Understanding Les Fleurs Du Mal: Critical Readings. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 1997. Print.

External links[edit]