SAINTE-BEUVE by Harold Nicolson


Email this review


The distinguished biographer of Sainte-Beuve suggests that the disregard for his literary achievements may well have been a reflection of the animosities he engendered by his jealousy, his ideological vascillations, his cruelty as a journalist of living men, his deference to the past. In an era of Romanticism he chose to applaud the traditional styles and castigate the new -- thus blocking his recognition of people like Baudelaire, Gautier, Flaubert, Stendahl, Musset and Balzac. His condition (hypospadias) disfigured him physically, crippled him sexually and, as a result, his love- life was virtually barren though he had many unrequited infatuations. The one exception was his protracted affair with Madame Victor Hugo which grew out of a close but competitive friendship with her husband. The importance of this affair may be measured by its many echoes in his work. He had few friends and many acquaintances -- Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Musset, George Sand, Matthew Arnold, to mention a few. The author traces Sainte-Beuve's theological, political and literary opinions, finding reasons for his frequent reversals. Though there is much to be desired in his personality and his poetry, Mr. Nicolson accalims his prose, his introduction of the inductive method in literary criticism, his attention to the subconscious, his wide range of interest and variety of theme, and ""the youthful ardour of his curiosity"". Very complete for the restricted few who will read it. But not a book that will inspire readers to turn to Sainte Beuve.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1957
Publisher: Doubleday