glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Baudelaire, Charles (1821-1867)  

A central figure in nineteenth-century French literature, Charles Baudelaire was born on April 9, 1821, in Paris, and died on August 31, 1867. Two collections of Baudelaire's poetry continue to intrigue and influence writers: Les fleurs du mal (Flowers Of Evil, 1857) and Le spleen de Paris (Paris Spleen, 1869). In the latter collection, published posthumously, he essentially invented the "prose poem."

Had he written only poetry, Baudelaire's reputation would be secure; however, he is also an important art and literary critic. His defense of painters not recognized by the artistic establishment of his time, especially the Impressionists, helped gain them an audience and respect. Likewise, his translations of Poe's work established Poe in France as a major literary talent.

Speculation continues about his personal life. Some early writers suggested that he died a virgin; many others now believe that he died of syphilis acquired in 1841. He had complicated relations with Jeanne Duvall, a prostitute; Madame Sabatier, a courtesan for the wealthy and socially prominent; and Marie Daubrun, an actress. The poems Duvall inspired portray her as both the apex of beauty and the nadir of evil.

Lesbianism fascinated Baudelaire. He even considered naming his first book of poems Les lesbiennes. "Lesbos," from Les fleurs du mal, celebrates lesbian love and evokes Sappho, who is described as both "mannish" and "beautiful." Further, the speaker challenges the authorities who would "dare" judge those who inhabit Lesbos. Even the gods would not dare to judge these women, he asserts.

Two other poems called "Femmes damnées" also explore lesbianism. Here the lovers, with their disordered souls, must suffer in a world wound tight with rules. The bourgeois considers such women demonic; that alone makes them fascinating to Baudelaire.

Male homosexuality does not receive this kind of direct treatment; gay men can find no equivalent "Lesbos" in his work.

Baudelaire's best poetry evokes both sensuality and sensuousness. For him, the world is never rational; our attempt to build systems out of chaos leads to madness. Many of his poems target the middle class with its fatuous love of respectability. The more they demand laws to restrict behavior, the sillier and more hypocritical they appear. His solution to middle-class boredom? Shake it off by becoming drunk--on wine, virtue, or poetry--as he suggests in "Intoxication," a poem from Le spleen de Paris.

Baudelaire's poetry has deep roots in Romanticism, but it is often bleak and ultimately urban. The city, Paris, replaces the countryside as the principal roost of poetry. Baudelaire prefers the city's hothouse flowers to the real ones found in the country. The lesbians in his work may be associated with distant island-havens such as "Lesbos," but they are Parisians. What he romanticizes is their outlaw status, their preference for sensuality over respectability.

The French Symboliste writers, including Rimbaud and Verlaine, followed Baudelaire and continued to examine and highlight the themes and issues that surface in his poetry. Baudelaire was among the first French poets to include lesbians as subjects. By doing so, he did much to widen the scope of what is acceptable content in poetry.

Kenneth Pobo


zoom in
Charles Baudelaire.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel


   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Aestheticism

A theory of art and an approach to living that influenced many European and American gay male and lesbian writers at the turn of the twentieth century, aestheticism stressed the independence of art from all moral and social conditions and judgments.

literature >> Overview:  Decadence

Nineteenth-century Decadent literature either describes aspects of decadent life and society or reflects the decadent literary aesthetic.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth century gay and lesbian sexuality becomes a significant subject in French literature.

arts >> Overview:  Symbolists

The symbolist movement in painting and literature, which flourished in Europe from 1886 to 1905, was the first self-consciously queer movement in Western art history.

literature >> Rimbaud, Arthur

Because his writing stresses liberation, the French "boy-poet" Arthur Rimbaud, whose art is based solely on his individual creativity, is a progenitor of modern gay poetics.

literature >> Sappho

Admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets, the ancient Greek writer Sappho is today esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.

literature >> Verlaine, Paul

The poetry of Paul Verlaine celebrates both heterosexual and homosexual activity, including lesbian relationships.


Carter, A. E. Charles Baudelaire. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987.

Peyre, Henri, ed. Baudelaire: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962.

Raser, Timothy. "Language and the Erotic in Two Poems by Baudelaire." Romantic Review 79 (1988): 443-451.

Sieburth, Richard. "Poetry and Obscenity: Baudelaire and Swinburne." Comparative Literature 36 (1984): 343-353.

Van Nortwick, Thomas. "Flores Mali: Catullus and Baudelaire." Kenyon Review 11:1 (1989): 67-77.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pobo, Kenneth  
    Entry Title: Baudelaire, Charles  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 26, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.