RIMBAUD by Pierre Petitfils


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Arguing that, amid all the hagiographies and deconstructions, no tree life has yet been written of the man who almost single-handedly subverted French poetry, Petitfils, a leading Rimbaud authority, has attempted a definitive biography study--but come up with a prosaic effort. In the light of pioneering research, and in exhaustive detail, he recounts the successive and hitherto hidden lives of our poet of delirium and sensual derangement--that prototype of the poÉte maudit: the unruly provincial schoolboy, enfant terrible of the local lycÉe; the peasant newly arrived in bohemian Paris; the hindu-homo-hashiste home. wrecker, eloping with Paul Verlaine (a married man and father) to Brussels and London; and, finally, the legendary poetic apostate who, seeming to have abandoned literature entirely by the ripe old age of 19--having already written the Illuminations and A Season in Hell and revolutionized French letters in the process--set out for exotic Asia upon a mystic March into the Sun before he turned gun-running mercenary in Africa, finally to surface in Marseille to die at 37. But while this action/adventure story must make for breathless reading among the timid archivists, it gives the rest of us no clue as to how pivotal a position Rimbaud--coming between Baudelaire and the generation of 1870 (Proust, ValÉry, Colette)--occupies in both the history of literature and sensibility. Readers need to know the work--here made pretext instead of subtext--to know just how little light is shed upon it by this life.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Univ. Press of Virginia