Durand, Alain-Philippe [faculty advisor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages]
Charles Baudelaire; bipolar disorder; drugs; french
Charles Baudelaire (April 9th, 1821- August 31st,1867) the nineteenth century French poet, was an eccentric and scandalous character who pushed the boundaries of decency and literature quotidianly. Today he is considered the father of the modernist literary movements and is well respected in literary circles. However, during Baudelaire’s lifetime, his great work Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) was censored by the French government, he was constantly bankrupt, attempted suicide once, and was an opium addict. Charles Baudelaire did not lead a cheerful life and his works show this darkness. In Les Fleurs du Mal, Baudelaire constantly refers to “le spleen,” or the suffering of the self. In conjunction with “le spleen,” Baudelaire writes constantly on feelings of depression, ennui, and the heavy hand of time. Therefore, after explicating the poem “La vie antérieure” in Les Fleurs du Mal for Professor Durand in his French literature class, I came to the conclusion that Baudelaire suffered from depression and self-medicated with opium. I became interested in Baudelaire and his dreadful “spleen” and I decided to continue researching this theory. After researching more thoroughly, I posit that Charles Baudelaire was not simply suffering from depression, but from bipolar disorder. Because bipolar disorder has been widely misdiagnosed until recently, I believe that attributing Baudelaire’s mental instability to drug use or a sexual transmitted disease is overly simplistic. Baudelaire suffered from most of the symptoms of bipolar disorder: attempted suicide, substance abuse of alcohol and opium, large financial debts, sexual promiscuity, and cyclical depressions. Looking at Baudelaire as a bipolar sufferer gives the reader a new depth to consider his work and fosters a greater appreciation for his writing.