Charles Baudelaire

"Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'–and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil." Charles Baudelaire is considered the greatest French poet of the 19th century but his masterpiece Les Fleurs du Mal soon became a byword for unwholesomeness in society of the day.

Six of his poems were repressed and Baudelaire was fined for writing about such lurid topics as sex and death.

He would not be acquitted from this crime until a whole century later -- on 11th May 1949 the six banned poems reinstated in France.


Despite the high esteem in which he was held by other authors Charles Baudelaire never tasted any financial success during his lifetime. Born the son of a senior civil servant in 1821 in Paris, Baudelaire was brought up my his mother because his father died when he was just six.

The following year his mother re-married to Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick, who later became a French ambassador to various noble courts.

Many think this was a crucial period in Baudelaire's development as he was suddenly usurped in the bid for his mother's affections which goes some way to explain his excesses later in life.


He was educated in Lyon and was always considered to lack consistency by his teachers.

After he studied law at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris but he never had any intention of using it in a career. unsatisfied with his studies Baudelaire turned to other amusements such as opium and prostitutes and he contracted syphilis. By 1839 Baudelaire had run up massive debts but he still took this moment to announce to him family that he intended to be a writer.


Perhaps in order to dissuade him from this career path and as a form of rehab, Baudelaire's father sent him on a voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841.

Far from dissuade him from writing the trip gave Charles Baudelaire experiences that he later used in his poetry. On his return to Paris in 1942 Baudelaire returned to the taverns and began writing some of the poems that would later feature in Les Fleurs du Mal. He met Jeanne Duval, a woman of mixed race, who became his mistress despite being hated by his mother.

At the age of 21 Baudelaire got way lucky thanks to a good inheritance which he successfully squandered living the life of a dandy.

Not long later Baudelaire was deprived of control of his money by the law. This instigated a life-long dependence on his mother for money.

Literary Career

Baudelaire's published career with his art review "Salon of 1845" which garnered attention because of its unapologetic tone and forward-thinking opinions. He wrote a second Salon review in 1846 further increasing his credibility and published a novella called La Fanfarlo.


Baudelaire was a slow worker, often distracted (as his childhood teachers had noticed) so he took his time until 1857 that he published his celebrated volume of poems Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).

Although the poems were received well critically it was their subject matter that drew most attention. When he wasn't discussing sex and death, Baudelaire was focusing on lesbianism, sadness, the corruption of the city, the lost innocence and the always inspiring oppression of living.

He was applauded by fellow writers, such as Gustave Flaubert, that had been attacked over their subject matter but seemed to offend most of society.

Les Fleurs du Mal was published in June and by July the Ministry of the Interior had banned the anthology. Baudelaire, his publisher and the printer were found guilty of blasphemy. He was punished with a fine.

Balzac republished the book of poems in 1861 without the offending 6 poems but with considerable alterations. Nearly 100 years later the poems were officially reinstated in France.

Over the next few years Baudelaire worked at translating works of literary importance, publishing small books of poems and writing various articles. In 1959 a life of poverty was beginning to take its toll on Baudelaire and he moved back in with his mother in Honfleur.

The End

The seaside air did him some good and he was peaceful and productive for a time (Le Voyage was one of the best poems he produced during that time). His publisher went bankrupt in 1861 so Charles Baudelaire's financial difficulties became even worse.

In 1864 he decided to leave Paris for Belgium in the hope of doing some lecturing. However Brussels did not prove to be his salvation but more his undoing as he continued smoking opium and began drinking to excess.

Two years later, he suffered a stroke and was left semi-paralyzed. The rest of his life was spent in maisons de santé in Brussels and Paris where he died on 31st August 1867. He was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

After his death, Baudelaire's mother paid of his debts and published his remaining works. She only lived for another 4 years but it was said that she had finally found comfort in seeing her son's important place in literature.