How did Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal get reviewed when it was published in 1857?

Charles Baudelaire’s mother had reservations about Les Fleurs du Mal.

Theophile Gautier warned the poet of its “scabrous nature.” M. Bourdin, writing for Le Figaro (a newspaper largely reflecting government views), was scandalized:

There are times when one doubts Monsieur Baudelaire’s sanity; there are those when there is no longer any doubt; most of the time we have monotonous and calculated reiterations of the same words and notions—the odious is cheek by jowl with the ignoble, the repulsive joins the disgusting. You have never seen so many bosoms being bitten, chewed even, in so few pages; never has there been such a procession of demons, fetuses, devils, animalia, cats and vermin.

The book is a hospital open to all forms of mental derangements and emotional putrefaction.

If one may understand a poet at the age of twenty allowing his imagination to be carried away by such subjects, nothing can justify a man of over thirty making public such monstrosities in a book.

French courts banned six of the poems and fined the poet and printers on the grounds that the poems were “necessarily conducive to the arousal of the senses by virtue of a coarse realism offensive to modesty.”

While Baudelaire considered scandal “the foundation of (his) future,” he was antagonized by the court’s ignorant and unperceptive accusation of “realism.” Spirituality was the very essence of his artistic vision, and this alone, he maintained, transformed the squalor and evil of the world into beauty.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

Leave a Comment