Updated on May 19, 2015
8. ‘Fanfarlo’ by Charles Baudelaire
Before Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ came the only prose work he ever wrote, ‘La Fanfarlo’. The novella is a fictional account of Baudelaire’s romance with dancer Jean Duval, and it is a captivating read, mainly because of the intensity of its language.
The protagonist, Samuel, pursues a married woman he knew from his school years. She, Madame C, is aloof and keeps herself at a distance, but he harries and even tortures her with his flowery prose until she eventually gives in and makes him her confidant. She reveals to him that her husband, Mr C, is having an affair with a young actress called Fanfarlo, and Madame C manipulates Samuel into tearing the illicit lovers apart. Eventually – and somewhat predictably – Samuel ends up falling for Fanfarlo himself.
There are multiple framing devices used in this story which really keep the reader quite far from the major protagonists. The whole thing is narrated by a man who once knew Samuel, who he describes as a contradictory man. We also get a second story within a story when Madame C describes her plight to Samuel. I think this novella is structurally not the best: it’s a little too contrived and the sequence of events too obvious.
But really I can forgive that, because it’s the language that makes it. Baudelaire was of course a hugely influential French poet and his command over language is truly breathtaking. I don’t think I can properly describe it, I will just have to quote him:
“He loved the human body as though it were a material harmony, as beautiful architecture, plus movement.”
“From the summit of his solitude, cluttered with paperwork, paved with books, and populated with his dreams, Samuel often noticed … a face he had loved yesteryear.”
So there: suspend your disbelief about the story, it is a bit silly, but it’s worth reading this book to wallow in Baudelaire’s beautiful language alone.
“…all loves always end badly, so much the worse if more divine and winged at their beginning.”
This is another in the series from Melville House Publishing. I had never read anything by Baudelaire before – although I believe I helped my housemate write an essay about his poetry at uni – and reading this has inspired me to read his poems, since this is the medium in which he truly dominates.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?