Undeniably one of the modern world's greatest literary figures, Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) left behind a correspondence documenting in intimate detail a life as intense in its extremes as his poetry. This extensive selection of his letters—many translated for the first time into English—depicts a poet divided between despair and elation, thoughts of suicide and intimations of immortality; a man who could write to his mother, "We're obviously destined to love one another, to end our lives as honestly and gently as possible," and say in the next sentence, "I'm convinced that one of us will kill the other"; who courted and then suffered the controversy provoked by his masterpiece, Les Fleurs du mal; who struggled throughout his life with syphilis contracted in his youth, near-intolerable financial restrictions imposed by his stepfather, and conflicting feelings of failure and revolt dating from his school days.
Writing to family, friends, and lovers, Baudelaire reveals the incidents and passions that went into his poetry. In letters to editors, idols, and peers—Hugo, Flaubert, Vigny, Wagner, Cladel, among others—he elucidates the methods and concerns of his own art and criticism and comments tellingly on the arts and politics of his day. In all, ranging from childhood to days shortly before his death, these letters comprise a complex and moving portrait of the quintessential poet and his time.