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Concern for style, brief form, Augustinian inspiration… Baudelaire at the school of the Grand Siècle


DECRYPTION - Everything seems to oppose Baudelaire to the moralists of the 17th century. Everything except the concern for style, the taste for brief form, and Augustinian inspiration.

This article is taken from the

Figaro Hors-Série "Baudelaire, le spleen de la modernité"

, find all the articles on the most classic of modern poets, his life as a tormented dandy, his aesthetics, his work, from Fleurs du Mal to Artificial paradises.

Le Figaro Hors-Série "Baudelaire, the spleen of modernity" Le Figaro

Dive to the bottom of the abyss, Hell or Heaven, what does it matter? »

Proclaims the virulent poet, the apache, the dandy. Perceived as both heir and gravedigger of the romantics, Baudelaire was rarely associated with the moralists of the 17th century, who were all keen to unmask illusions and deceptive virtues with detachment. The author of

La Destruction

ou des

Litanies de Satan

hardly seems at first sight to be dependent on the authors of the Grand Siècle, often confused with the caricature of “

classical times

” where rhetorical clarity, order and tightness between heart and reason reign. Baudelaire, on the contrary, participated in the tendency to reject the edifying use of literature, submission to the bourgeois moral order and the instrumentalization of art.

Other dissonances emerge: the honest man of the seventeenth century seeks to make people forget his distinction in favor of respect for others, while the insensitive dandy according to Baudelaire immediately manifests his

"exclusive love of domination".

To read also Michel De Jaeghere: "Baudelaire, the alchemist of the pain"

The Baudelairean obsession with failure nevertheless resonates with certain sentences of French moralists. Same vision of adversity: human inaptitude for happiness, rout of justice, harmful power of boredom, falsity of virtues and breaches of the spirit. Following Montaigne, the main moralists of the Grand Siècle are Pascal, La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère. The list can extend to La Fontaine, Fénelon, even Molière, but also, of unequal importance, to the oratorian Jean-François Senault, to Pierre Nicole, to Madeleine de Scudéry, to the Marquise de Sablé, to the countess. from La Fayette, to the Abbé d'Ailly, to the Jesuit Dominique Bouhours… Educated by ancient authors, by theology and moral literature (Castiglione, Gracián), they cannot be reduced to professors of ethics.As a

“Civilization of manners”

(Norbert Elias, 1939), they make up the portrait of the human heart.

Nineteenth-century critics revere this current. After the first edition conforming to the originals of


de Blaise Pascal, published only in 1844, Baudelaire could not miss the


which Sainte-Beuve, whom he admired, published from 1840 to 1859. During the trial of the

Fleurs du badly,

August 20, 1857, Me Gustave Chaix d'Est-Ange, his lawyer, will invoke before the court of the Seine the moralistic filiation of Baudelaire. The pleading was deemed weak, but it rightly associated the poet with Christian preachers, Dante evoking Hell, and Molière mocking Tartuffe's hypocrisy. For the lawyer, Baudelaire

"is indignant because

Our sins are stubborn, our repentances are cowardly,

and it is truly the lofty language of a moralist that he uses, in this first page where he enters into communication with the reader in order to stigmatize so harshly

The stupidity, the error, the sin, the skimp

… ”.

Formal ideal and concern for style

From the 17th century moralists, Baudelaire adopted the formal ideal and the concern for style. He strives to infuse his verb with a literary heroism which he transcribes through

"intensity without ostentation"



He thus develops his prose with a view to transforming it into a "


", perceived as moral meditation, brief and concentrated,

"suitable for



he says. By using a language

"little loaded with ornaments",

his writing remains faithful according to him to the conciseness of Sénèque, La Rochefoucauld, Pascal and La Bruyère. These last resort to the brief form: thoughts, maxims, characters and reflections, shared within aristocratic and worldly circles. Baudelaire himself refers

"to men of the world, to soldiers, to adventurers, or even to simple courtiers"

who write,

"sometimes to the devil, very beautiful books that we, people of the trade, we we are forced to admire ”(The Work and the Life of Eugène Delacroix).

Known for his


La Rochefoucauld was a conspiratorial and reckless aristocrat, a man of war and of the world.

Shipwrecked from the Fronde, in which his mistress the Duchess of Longueville had drawn him, he had perfected this art of paradox which is the maxim

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Source: lefigaro

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