Fanfarlo by Charles Baudelaire

fanfarloSamuel Cramer, a “passionate atheist” circa 1820 Paris, meets a kindred spirit who happens to be a married woman.  She tells him of her husband’s affair with a popular dancer, Fanfarlo.  As a favor to her, Cramer begins to pan the popular actress/dancer in his daily newspaper column.  After several months he finally meets Fanfarlo who insists he explain himself.

After he tells her that he is in love with her, the two begin an affair which forces her to end the long running affair with the married woman’s husband. The married woman writes Cramer, thanking him.   After many months together, Fanfarlo finds the letter and insists Cramer explain himself once again.  When he tells her that he only began the affair with her to force her to break it off with the married man, she is furious.

That’s the plot in a nutshell of Baudelaire’s only prose work.  Supposedly based on his real life affair with dancer Jean Duvall, Fanfarlo is a slight piece that provides Baudelaire an opportunity to spread his wings a little.  It’s a very funny story, written very in the 19th century so it shows it’s age some.  The novel had not quite been fully formed yet and this is really a novella, really a longish short story if you want to be exact about it.

I found it entertaining with just enough little bits of treasure spaced throughout the story to make it well worth reading.  Here’s a few:

One of Samuel’s most natural failings was to deem himself the equal of those he could admire; after an impassioned reading of a book, his unwitting conclusion was: now that is beautiful enough for me to have written — and in only the space of a dash, from there to think: therefore I wrote it.

He resolutely snuffled out his two candles, one of which was still quivering on a volume of Swendenborg, and the other expiring on one of those shameful books beneficial only to minds possessed by an excessive taste for the truth.

He gave her his volume, The Ospreys, a collection of sonnets, like those everyone has written and everyone has read, at the age when our judgement was so short and our hair so long.

In the midst of what may look like frivolous stuff, Baudelaire manages to make a few profound points about the way passion can adversely affect many people.  I enjoyed Fanfarlo so much that I’m disappointed to know that it’s Baudelaire’s only prose work.  While I do not know his poetry, I would like to have more by him.

Fanfarlo was translated from the French by Edward K. Kaplan.

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3 Comments

  1. Well, his prose poems are in prose. So is his criticism. And his high-larious letters. Plenty of prose works for the reader who for some sensible reason is averse to Flowers of Evil.

  2. Okay, point taken, but you know what I meant. I’d love to read his letters. I had no knowledge of his work at all before this book came in the mail, but he’s on my radar now. I hope to find more of his work in my TBR stack.

  3. The collection of letters titled The Conquest of Solitude is a good length and explains the obscurities well. This man had an entertaining life. I wish I knew of a good, punchy, short biography.

    The prose poems, usually titled Paris Spleen, little micro-fictions, are also a great place to get a good dose of Baudelaire’s strong personality.

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