Charles Baudelaire. I don't think I would have read him had it not been for the Art of the Novella edition of La Fanfarlo (La Fanfarlo translated by Edward K. Kaplan) which came as part of my subscription. I'm still not sure I'll read more of his work (having and on again off again--mostly off again love affair with poetry), but he's an intriguing individual. His photo does not match the idea I have in mind when thinking of the somewhat dissolute lifestyle he led. It sounds as though he was something of a dandy spending lots of money on clothes leading to financial problems that would plague him for much of his short life.
He traveled to India in 1841, and upon returning to France began writing poetry, mostly while sitting in taverns. He was a critic and for a time a journalist. He translated the work of Edgar Allen Poe, who, according to the blurb on the book, he called a "twin soul". If you have ever read anything about Poe, you'll know what a telling remark that is. Baudelaire's most famous work is a collection of poetry called Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal), which like all good literature caused a stir upon publication. It was, however, praised by Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo, and became Baudelaire's masterpiece. What I find most interesting is that he coined the term modernity (modernité) "to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience". I'm not sure how his work fits in with this idea of modernity, but I might be tempted into exploring this aspect of Baudelaire and his work a bit more.
La Fanfarlo is his only work of prose fiction about the obsessive love affair of a young artist with a Parisian dancer, which is lifted right out of the pages of Baudelaire's own life. He had a long standing affair with creole actress and dancer Jeanne Duval.
Samuel Cramer is an artist, a poet. Respectable by birth he is however, a man of "failed works of beauty".
"He is at once a great lazybones, pitifully ambitious, and famous for unhappiness; for his entire life he has had practically nothing but half-baked ideas. The sun of laziness, which ceaselessly glows within him, vaporizes him and gnaws away that half-genius that heaven bestows upon him."
One afternoon while walking in the Luxembourg Gardens he comes across a woman he knew when she was only a girl. Matured now and living in one of the aristocratic neighborhoods of the city, Madame de Cosmelly and Samuel begin discussing art, literature and philosophy. Samuel no doubt has in mind the possibility of seducing this woman who was once an object of infatuation. She confides to Samuel that her husband has been having an affair with the actress Fanfarlo, a woman Madame de Cosmelly calls both stupid and beautiful. Samuel offers to help break up the affair, but not for altruistic purposes. He hopes to find "in the respectable woman's arms compensation for the commendable deed."
As it turns out it's Samuel who ends up being seduced by Fanfarlo. In pursuit of her he studies her on stage, he goes to her home but decides an outright declaration of love won't work. What can he do to to be noticed when her lover is wealthy and she's adored by him?
"Strangely, their harmony of opinions on the good life, and similarity of tastes, bound them together vigorously; that deep agreement on the sensual life, which glowed in Samuel's every glance and every spoken word, greatly impressed Fanfarlo."
So Madame de Cosmelly gets her husband back and Fanfarlo, "probably in love with Samuel" (with an underlying bitterness), gets Samuel. And Samuel? His often feigned passion? Well, he's now forced to know it.
There's lots of name dropping in this story, mostly people and literary references, which comes with a handy list of notes in the back of the book. I fear that the philosophizing went mostly over my head, though the story itself is straightforward. Perhaps someday I'll revisit it, but I've at least had a taste of Baudelaire's work, and that's the beauty of these wonderful little Art of the Novella books. Next up and I will be reading him this week (since the next two are lined up and I don't want to fall behind) is Mark Twain's The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.