With much editing here and there, Graham Robb has produced a fine and eminently readable translation of Claude Pichois’s comprehensive life of Charles Baudelaire. Only for a fleeting moment when the young Charles ‘does’ his first communion did I raise my eyebrow. In England people ‘make’ their first Communion.
In fact I have a copy of the French edition of the book most of which I read a few years ago when it came out, and I think it would be fair to say that Robb has given us something infinitely more readable than the original. One would have to be truly head-over-heels in love with the poète maudit of Les Fleurs du Mal to want to know the minutiae of his mother’s obscure ancestry... or a more than usually meticulous scholar. Monsieur Pichois is, I suggest, both. His immensely erudite, annotated edition of the poet’s complete works (Pléiade) is every Baudelaire student’s Bible.
The Hamlet-like figure of Baudelaire, dressed in black, loving his mother, hating his step-father, indecisive, hopeless, helpless, concerned with metaphysics and death, alone and a part, moving like a brilliant shadow across the middle of the last century, is, without doubt, an infinitely loveable figure. In Baudelaire Claude Pichois traces