One of the most influential French poets of all time, Charles Baudelaire publishes his book Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil), leading to his conviction on charges of blasphemy and obscenity.
Baudelaire was born into great expectations, anticipating a large inheritance. He studied law until 1840 but abandoned it to become a poet. He led a wild and dissolute life in Paris, became a heavy user of opium and hashish, and contracted syphilis, which would kill him years later. He ran through half his inheritance in two years and was later put on a strict monthly allowance. In 1844, he met the beautiful Jeanne Duval, for whom he wrote his “Black Venus” cycle of love poems. He began writing reviews and criticism, and became friends with such artists as Manet, Delacroix, and Daumier.
Baudelaire developed a strong taste for the macabre and discovered Edgar Allen Poe in 1852. His translations helped popularize Poe in France at a time when the writer was not widely read even in his own country. In 1852, Baudelaire wrote his second love-poem cycle, this time inspired by Apollonie-Aglae Sabatier, his “White Venus,” which was followed by a third cycle, inspired by his “Green Eyed Venus,” actress Marie Daubrun.
He collected his poems in Les Fleurs du Mal. The poems used lyrical poetic style to describe sometimes revolting subjects. Une Charogne, for example, describes a festering corpse.
Baudelaire, as well as the publisher and printer, were found guilty of obscenity and fined. The book went out of print, and it was only after Baudelaire’s death that he was recognized as one of the country’s greatest poets. Destitute, he went on a lecture tour to Belgium and fell seriously ill in 1866. He returned to Paris and died in his mother’s arms in August 1867, poor and unrecognized, with almost no poetry still in print.