Brief but illuminating biography of the troubled and troubling French poet.
Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud (1854–91) composed revolutionary verse, carried on a wild, sometimes violent love affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, then abandoned his muse and pursued lucre in Africa. Prolific novelist/memoirist/biographer White (Hotel de Dream, 2007, etc.) offers a lucid, literate introduction to the poet’s short but turbulent life. He begins with a personal connection, recalling his elation when, as a troubled gay adolescent, he discovered Rimbaud’s verse and homosexuality. White moves swiftly through his subject’s spectacular early student career, up-and-down relationship with his mother (to whose home he continually returned, even in his most frenetic phases), voracious reading, early experiments with verse, lifelong wanderlust and ill-fated relationship with Verlaine. It was 16-year-old Rimbaud who made contact; Verlaine, a far more celebrated poet at the time, recognized the boy’s talent and invited him to Paris. Before their affair was over, the older man had left his wife, destroyed his reputation and spent two years in jail for shooting Rimbaud through the wrist. Nonetheless, White shows, Verlaine remained his tormentor’s strongest supporter. No one really knows for certain why Rimbaud abandoned literature and intransigently refused to return to it, preferring to labor in a rock quarry, run guns or trade ivory. White speculates that he was driven by greed and perhaps a desire to start fresh far away from Paris and London, where his reputation had been sullied by his sexual escapades, among other things. Unsurprisingly, the author offers insightful commentary on Rimbaud’s verse as well.
The latest gem in the publisher’s already glittering Eminent Lives series.