Poetry News

Charles Baudelaire and Victor Hugo: Frenemies for LIFE

By Harriet Staff


Yep! Once upon a time in France, in classic frenemy-style ("friend" + "enemy"), Charles Baudelaire dedicated three poems in Les Fleurs du Mal to Victor Hugo AND THEN called him both "stupid" and "an idiot." The Guardian's on the case!

In a January 1860 letter to an unknown correspondent, Baudelaire bemoans how Hugo "keeps on sending me stupid letters", adding that Hugo's continuing missives have inspired him "to write an essay showing that, by a fatal law, a genius is always an idiot". The letter is being auctioned by Christie's in New York, alongside a first edition of Baudelaire's celebrated poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal, containing the six poems that were deleted from the second edition. The set is expected to fetch up to $100,000 (£60,000), according to the auction house.

Publication of the first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857 was followed by Baudelaire's prosecution for "offending public morals", with the judge ordering his publisher to remove six poems from the collection. Hugo supported Baudelaire after the prosecution in August 1857, telling him that "your Fleurs du mal shine and dazzle like stars", and, in 1859, that "you give us a new kind of shudder".

Baudelaire had, in his turn, dedicated three poems in Les Fleurs du Mal to Hugo, but the Pulitzer prize-winning poet CK Williams has written of how despite this, "Baudelaire secretly despised Hugo". Rosemary Lloyd, meanwhile, writes of the "corrosive envy" of Hugo revealed by Baudelaire in his letters, in her Cambridge Companion to Baudelaire.The author, while praising Les Misérables in public in an 1862 review in Le Boulevard, described it as "immonde et inepte" – vile and inept – in a letter to his mother, adding, "I have shown, on this subject, that I possessed the art of lying". [...]

Read more of the juicy gossip at The Guardian.

Originally Published: June 19th, 2014