A guide to the Paris of Baudelaire: Paris change

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Visiting Paris is always a cultural experience due to its food, monuments and attractions. Yet no guide to the Île de France is quite like that of Charles Baudelaire.

Through his famous work of poetry ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, the famous 19th century poet depicts Paris changing through Haussemannisation, with his memories that are “plus lourds que des rocs.”

The Paris of Baudelaire: ‘Tableaux parisiens’ et Les Fleurs du Mal’ 

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To understand the Paris of Baudelaire I suggest you read his collection ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, and especially the section ‘Tableaux parisiens’.

The 11 poems in ‘Tableaux’ depict the changed, new, ominous Paris in which Baudelaire must seek refuge.

These poems also depict marginalised figures of society such as beggars and old people to reflect the poet’s own emotions of being an outsider in a changed city.

With six thematically chosen sections in ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’,

  • Spleen et Idéal (Spleen and Ideal),
  • Tableaux parisiens (Parisian Scenes),
  • Le Vin (Wine),
  • Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil),
  • Révolte (Revolt) and
  • La Mort (Death),

the collection embodies a movement from Baudelaire’s idealistic world, into the spleen of Paris. The Baudelairien ‘spleen’, refers to a literary meaning of the word, “melancholy with no apparent cause, characterised by a disgust with everything”.

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Discover Paris using poetry to escape the spleen

Through his depiction of Paris, Baudelaire uses poetry to escape this spleen and “capture the beauty of life in the modern city,” using what Jean-Paul Sartre has labelled as being his existential outlook on his surroundings.

For all lovers of Paris, Baudelaire and literature, it’s time to delve into a new page of Paris.

Let’s discover Paris through Baudelaire’s eyes and explore the sites this real flâneur would recommend!

1. Reflective role: high windows

As an outsider, Baudelaire speaks of the relationship between the individual and of society. He frequently places the speaker in a reflective role looking out at the city.

The poet would take pleasure in viewing the crowds of Paris from high windows, trying to understand them as they navigated the post-Haussmannian capital.

  • MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org - Baudelaire - Paris - Les fleurs du mal - flaneur - librarie polonaiseThe Musée d’Orsay has this classic view across Paris from its high window, allowing you to watch the Parisian daily life go by.
  • Baudelaire may have also sought comfort when writing about being an outsider to this crowd.
  • If you feel the same way, the windows on the top floor of the Librarie Polonaise will give you both the view of the busy street of Boulevard Saint-Germain, and comfy chairs, books and even a typewriter to appeal to any writer needing inspiration.

2. A different perspective: Paris change

Exploring the French capital through Baudelaire’s perspective allows us to appreciate the architecture. Yet, the poet himself was depressed by the Haussmannian changes. This classic ‘spleen’ was caused by the new layout of the capital and by the new architecture. It’s a perfect way to really look at how Paris changed.

  • Visit the Latin Quarter and take a look at the roads leading up to the Panthéon for a fine example of the new wide Parisian roads. They were designed so as to avoid Revolution barricades and allow the army easy access.
  • Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful apartments that lead up to the Palais de Luxembourg, such as those along the Avenue de l’Observatoire. These all caused Baudelaire’s life change; a source of poetic inspiration.

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3. La beauté of passing moments

Baudelaire took pleasure in the quick, passing moments, showing the reader the importance of fleeting seconds of life.

  • Why not follow in his footsteps and take to the streets of the Champs-Élysée and get a different view of this famous boulevard, avoiding spending hundreds of euros in its boutiques.
  • Instead of shopping, walking from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre is a fantastic opportunity to keep an eye open for the classic Baudelaire spleen of the city’s architecture!
  • After a long stroll, a sit down in a café is always a must. Take time to crowd watch like Baudelaire from the comfort of Café de Flore. For many writers such as Sartre, this key literary café was the ideal place to get inspiration, discuss ideas and take a break from the crowd!

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4. Baudelaire: honouring a great French writer

It’s important to note that the Paris of Baudelaire and his ‘spleen’ is not one of the nice shops and beautiful streets. Instead, his focus at the time was on dirty, poverty-stricken areas of Paris with social problems rather than the Paris of the upper class.

Baudelaire wouldn’t be Baudelaire without his ‘spleen’.

So why not visit the interesting and unusual part of Paris that is the cemetery of Montparnasse. Home to Baudelaire’s unique memorial statue found on the right-hand side of the cemetery, I can imagine it would have been Baudelaire’s perfect place for a stroll…

I would simply have to agree!

Are you a fan of Baudelaire’s literary works? Have you visited any of the architecture that he refers to? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image credits:
1.’Corner building, Square Alboni, Paris’ by James Petts, via Wikimedia Commons
2. ‘Charles Baudelaire’ by Étienne Carjat, via Wikimedia Commons
3. ‘Avenue de l’Opera’ by Camille Pissarro, via Wikimedia Commons
4. ‘View from Librarie Polonaise’ courtesy of Jessica Rushton
5. ‘Pantheon Paris’ by Ba’Gamnan, via Wikimedia Commons
6. ‘Cafe de Flore’ by Arnaud 25, via Wikimedia Commons

About the Contributor

Jessica Rushton

I'm a final year French student at University of Nottingham. I am passionate about French literature, in particular nineteenth-century French novels and love escaping to Paris for chocolat chaud. Follow me: my year abroad bloginstagram & twitter!

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