In those early days, the poet’s mother was an idolized figure, the object of the poet’s total love. ‘At least you are an eternal book’, Baudelaire wrote at the dawn of his 18th birthday to the woman who made the mistake of marrying the austere General Aupick, only a year after his father’s death.
Collected under the title Cette maladresse maternelle qui me fait t’aimer davantage: Lettres à sa mère (This maternal clumsiness that makes me love you more: Letters to his mother) published by Le Passeur, a new edition of his letters offers a re-reading of Baudelaire in the light of this heartbreaking relationship. Because it is she, the woman more adulated then rejected, that the poet places at the heart of the very first sonnet of his Les Fleurs du Mal. In Bénédiction, the poet evokes the disappointment that he caused his mother by choosing the vocation of a poet. ‘She admires the talent of her son but remains convinced that he is wasting his life’, explains the writer and psychoanalyst Michel Schneider in the preface to the book.
‘I only have my pen and my mother’, wrote Baudelaire to his tutor on March 5, 1852. Baudelaire’s thoughts on his condition as a man and about his creator are closely linked to that strange and passionate relationship that he maintained with his mother the whole of his life.
This close relationship was also because of his financial condition: accumulating debts, always in need of money, he constantly complained to his mother. Besides, he hardly ever talked about poetry or art with her. He wrote about material things and personal worries. These endearing letters paint the poet Baudelaire as he struggled with the problems of everyday life.
But beyond this apparent mundaneness, these letters also reveal the boredom that always assails the poet and a terrible, ambiguous, even sado-masochistic relationship. We see a genius imploring his mother to recognize him and love him, when she was convinced that he had been ruining his life. This obsession with winning the love of this at once adored and hated woman makes this disturbing correspondence so unique.
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was born from the second marriage of a literate sixty-something man, a lover of art who cultivated the spirit of the Enlightenment. He was still only six years old when his father died, and his mother remarried soon after to a soldier.
In 1841, sent to Calcutta by his family, who sought to divert him from his aimless way of life that offended them, Baudelaire interrupted his trip during a stopover on the island of Reunion and returned to Paris. He then led, thanks to his father’s inheritance, an improvident and wasteful bohemian life during which he contracted syphilis and the habit of consuming drugs. Both would accompany him throughout his life, as well as the temptation to commit suicide.
Placed under the guardianship of his family in 1844, Baudelaire had only a small monthly income and was often heavily in debt. He worked as an art critic, while pursuing his work as a poet.
In 1864, chronically overwhelmed with financial worries, weakened by drugs and illness, he moved to Brussels. Brought back to Paris by his mother in 1866 when he suffered from general paralysis, the poet died in his mother’s arms a year later.