Incarner la pauvreté – le regard de la misère dans le Spleen de Paris

Caroline Anthérieu-Yagbasan


Embodying Poverty – the Look of Misery in the Spleen de Paris. In the 19th century due to the new economic situation literature faced a new problem of how to represent the city. Also, modernity attempted to perceive beauty in things and phenomena that were, however, not perceived as such, for instance poverty and the poor. The resultant aesthetics immediately posed the ethical problem of how to reconcile social acceptability with the pleasure generated by a literary text. It was necessary to avoid the fallacy of pity as well as complacency. Baudelaire found an original solution to this problem, treating the poor as characters in their own right. However, his poor are mute, silent and motionless, while the poet who observes them has the freedom of action. This muteness is significant and must be questioned. Moreover, the eloquent eyes of poor allow them to be represented without involving their bodies, so to speak. Their face alone allows a relationship. In Spleen de Paris this relationship is rejected by the poet’s lover, while the poet himself, though able to understand the silent words of the beggar, can choose not to. This refusal is evidenced by some episodes of bodily harm. When the poet hits the beggar, in the context of physical violence the beggar suddenly ‘regains’ his bodily presence. In such treatment of the poor Baudelaire’s approach differs fundamentally from sublimation practiced by Victor Hugo, for example, whose images of the poor are romanticized, while Baudelaire evinces clearly his understanding of their bodily suffering and misery. The sublimation of the beggar’s body would be a way to forget the symbolic violence he suffers at the hands of society; Baudelaire’s poet, on the contrary, shows this violence through his sarcasm that masks his own compassion.


Baudelaire; aesthetics; ethics; look of misery; incarnation; responsibility

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