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An appraisal of Mallarmé's debt to Baudelaire Rosenthal, Bessie Gertrude


This study represents an attempt to determine the extent of Mallarmé's debt to Baudelaire. It is generally recognized that Mallarmé underwent the influence of Baudelaire in the course of the development of his thought and expression. Mallarmé himself recognized this debt and at one period of his life referred to Baudelaire as his master. Yet, a great diversity of opinion exists as to the importance and duration of this influence, a fact borne out by "une vue d'ensemble" of critical opinion. In order to bring Baudelaire's role more clearly into its proper perspective, the first part of this assessment contains a brief discussion of divergent critical opinion, and a summary of other important influences to which Mallarmé is said to have been subjected. Mallarmé's poetry written prior to his encounter with poems of Les Fleurs du Mal is also considered, particularly his religious poems and those in the collection Entre quatre murs. In the second part of this study we compare the aesthetic and metaphysical concepts held by the two poets, and their attitudes towards society, poetry, and the material world. Their physical and spiritual worlds, and the special nature of each poet's ideal are also examined. In part III we examine some of Mallarmé's poems written from 1861 to 1865 - the period in which he is generally believed to have been most completely under the sway of Baudelaire - with a view to ascertaining in more tangible form Mallarmé’s debt to Baudelaire, in terms of themes, imagery, and expression. We also mention certain Baudelairian reminiscences in poems written by Mallarmé after 1865: poems in which the originality and characteristic Mallarméan traits are manifest and undisputed. This study, it is hoped, will help not only to clarify certain concepts held by both great poets, but contribute to a greater understanding of the veritable nature of Baudelaire’s role in the development of Mallarmé's unique contribution to French verse.

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