cover image Rimbaud


Pierre Petitfils, Pierre Petitifils. University of Virginia Press, $49.5 (338pp) ISBN 978-0-8139-1142-7

There have been over 300 serious studies of this enfant terrible of French poetry: interpretive, ideological, selective (focusing on his homosexuality, Hinduism or occultism, for example), but none so exhaustively factual as this one by a leading French Rimbaud scholar. Based on seemingly every scrap of available documentary evidence, the book covers the poet's life in a wealth of absorbing detail, from his birth in 1853 to his agonizing death in 1891. There's the precocious provincial schoolboy who, at age 15 and already published, flees to Paris, partly to escape his tyrannical mother, partlyas self-proclaimed poet-seerto carry out a one-man poetic revolution among the poets of the genteel Parnassian school; the long and tempestuous relationship with Verlaine, who goes to prison for shooting him; and finally, Rimbaud's 15 harsh years as an adventurer-trader in the Middle East and Africa after he has put poetry (though not writng) behind him. Rimbaud's life had, in Petitfils's words, ""the logic of a Greek tragedy,'' and there's much to be said for a biographical approach whose modest aim is to present rather than ``understand'' it. Illustrations. (October)