"Charles Baudelaire was one of the greatest French poets of the 19th century. His work has been a major influence on Western poetry and modern poetry in general as, thematically, he was one of the first poets (along with Rimbaud) whose subject was often urban life and its dark side, with all of its evils and the degradation of its temptations. His poems, classical in form, introduced Symbolism, he is also known as a writer of the Decadent group.
Baudelaire was moody and rebellious, imbued with an intense religious mysticism, and his work reflects an unremitting inner despair. His main theme is the inseparable nature of beauty and corruption. His major work, Les Flers du Mal, translated as The Flowers of Evil (1857), originally condemned as obscene, is recognized as a masterpiece, especially remarkable for the brilliant phrasing, rhythm, and expressiveness of its lyrics.
**More In-Depth Biography:
Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. He studied at the Collège Royal, Lyon (1832-36) and Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris (1936-39), from which he was expelled. His intention was, from his early age, to live by writing, yet he enrolled as a law student in 1840 at the École de Droit. Probably at this time he became addicted to opium and contracted syphilis, which turned out to be leathal. During this period Baudelaire fell heavily in debt and he never finished his law studies.
In 1841 Baudelaire was sent to on a voyage to India, but he stopped off at Maurius. On his return to Paris in 1842 he met Jeanne Duval, a woman of mixed race, who became his mistress and inspiration for such poems as Black Venus. From 1842 Baudelaire lived on his inheritance from his father. Two years later this income was deprived by law of control over it by the Counseil Judicaire. In the late 1840s Baudelaire become involved in politics. He fought at the barricades during the revolution of 1848 and in the same year he also cofounded the journal Le Salut Public. He was associated with Proudhon and opposed the coup d'état of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in December 1851. Subsequently Baudelaire remained aloof from politics and adopted an increasingly reactionary attitude.
Baudelaire published his first novel, the autobiographical La Fanfario, in 1847. From 1852 to 1865 he was occupied in translating Edgar Allan Poe's writings. When his Les Fleursdu Mal appeared in 1857 all involved - author, publisher, and printer - were prosecuted and found guilty of obscenity and blasphemy. The remaining years of Baudelaire's life were darkened by despair and financial difficulties. He returned to Paris in 1864 from extended stay in Brussels and stayed in a sanatorium. He died in Paris of aphasiac and hemiplagiac on August 31, 1867, in his mother's arms.
Although Baudelaire is chiefly known for his poems, his critical essays have also gained attention of researchers. His essays on art have been published under the collective title Curiosités Esthéthetiques and those on literature and music under the title L'art Romantique (in English translation Penguin has published some of these essays under the title Selected Writings on Art and Literature, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays has been published by Chronical Books [see Bibliography]). Baudelaire's starting point for his aesthetic analysis was the lived experience, not principles of aesthetics or abstract preconceptions about the beautiful. He was impressed by Wagner's music,enthusiastic about Poe, and fascinated by the suggestiveness of caricatures. As a subjective idealist, he was unsympathetic to Courbet and to developments in French landscape painting that would lead to Impressionism. This led to his negative attitude towards Édouard Manet (1832-83), whose works were also frequently rejected by the salon jury.
For further reading: Baudelaire the Critic by Margaret Gilman (1943); Baudelaire by Enid Starkie (1957); Baudelaire by Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler (1989); Charles Baudelaire Revisited by Lois Boe Hyslop (1992); Baudelaire by Joanna Richardson (1994).