Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris, France in April of 1821. His mother was Carolina Baudelaire and his father was Joseph-François Baudelaire, who worked as a civil servant. When Baudelaire was still very young his father died. His mother remarried the next year to Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick who would later become a French ambassador.
It is now thought that this transitioning of affections from Baudelaire to Jacques was deeply troubling to the young boy. He was traumatized and his relationship with his mother was later marked by his constant need for more money.
Early Life and Education
As a teen, Baudelaire was educated in Lyon. Although he boarded at his institution, he was not a very good student. His studies were erratic and he did not seem to have a particular vocation in mind. Later on, in his educational career, he attended Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He intended to study law but still did not have a fully formed career plan.
Baudelaire was known throughout his life for his excesses. He spent a great deal of money on clothing and began to run up debts that he couldn’t pay. This began a cycle of his returning to his family for funds. It is also likely that he frequented prostitutes during this period and contracted one or more vernal diseases.
In 1839 he graduated but instead of embarking on a career in law, he moved on to literature. His mother and stepfather were not thrilled with his decision. Their initial displeasure with his career choice, and consistent frustration with how he lived his life, coalesced in their sending him on a voyage to India. This was done in the hope that he would end his poor habits. The trip provided him with some needed inspiration for his future works. He was taken in by the sea and sailing in general.
It was at twenty-one years old that Baudelaire came into his fortune; true to his nature though he had spent most of it within a few years. It was around this time period that he began to write the poems which would later make up Les Fleurs du Mal. He also took a lover named Jeanne Duval. The relationship ended badly as she had a tendency to take money from him whenever possible. Baudelaire was deeply unhappy and attempted suicide.
Baudelaire’s first published work was an art review titled, “Salon of 1845.” It was noticed for its bold writing style and critical opinions. In 1848 it is known that he took part in the February Revolution. Although his interest in politics was sparing, he did spend time writing for a revolutionary newspaper. In the early 50s, his bad habits began to catch up with him and he moved from house to house. He was doing all he could to avoid his creditors.
During this period he was also working on a great number of projects but it was not until 1857 that Les Fleurs du Mal was published. This work would come to be known as his best.
There was not a huge audience for Baudelaire’s work, but those who he reached appreciated his writing. Les Fleurs du Mal was principally concerned with sex and death. These, along with a number of other themes he touched on were considered scandalous. The poems were also known for their great use of the sense of smell. Often times they brought up feelings of nostalgia for a past one may or may not have lived.
After the volume was published public opinion turned against Baudelaire and his publisher. They were both prosecuted for “creating an offence against public morals” and fined. Six of the poems included in the volume were suppressed. It was not until 1949 that the judgement was reversed and the poems reinstated in France.
Later Life and Death
The final years of Baudelaire’s life were marked by illness. He had been a consistent user of laudanum for most of his life and combined with poverty his health was in a bad state. In 1859 his mother allowed him to move in with her. A few years later though, after his publisher went bankrupt, Baudelaire moved to Belgium. He intended to sell the rights to his work and give lectures.
His drinking and drug habits only worsened and in 1866 he had a massive stroke. He was paralyzed and unable to speak for more than a year before he was given last rites. He spent the last two years of his life semi-paralyzed in Brussels and died in August of 1867.