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Reviewed by:
  • Les Formes poétiques selon Baudelaire par Dominique Billy
  • Daniel A. Finch-Race
Les Formes poétiques selon Baudelaire. Par Dominique Billy. (Romantisme et modernités, 155.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015. 488 pp.

This exceptionally technical study undertakes a typological approach to the versification of Les Fleurs du mal. Perspectives from Théodore de Banville and Albert Cassagne lie at the core of the Introduction, which provides a succinctly measured assessment of Baudelaire’s position on the cusp of a revolution in poetic forms. Dominique Billy’s focus [End Page 608] on rhythm as a marker of innovation sets the stage for exacting readings of ‘Une gravure fantastique’ and ‘Le Vin des chiffonniers’ as precursors of vers libre and prose poetry: ‘Baudelaire [ ... ] est [ ... ]venu[ ... ] tourner le dos aux formes poétiques et à leurs propriétés structurantes pour trouver un mode d’expression libéré des sortilèges de la poésie régulière’ (pp. 29–30). The enumeration of French and German precedents for Baudelaire’s work supplies a firm basis for neat interpretations of structural particularities, such as manifestations of antithesis in ‘Abel et Caїn’. Discussions of rhyme gender and unorthodoxly constructed stanzas herald a mode of increasingly complex argumentation based around several tables and graphs cataloguing variants of form in poems ranging from ‘Une charogne’ to ‘Le Jet d’eau’. The worth of a categorizing approach is palpable in the case of Billy’s threefold classification of five-line stanzas that points to Baudelaire deriving inspiration from Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s abbaa quintains. The fourteen sections of quantitative and qualitative scrutiny of metre and rhyme in Chapter 8, which constitutes two fifths of the book, address the idea that ‘la structure organique du sonnet pose [ ... ] un problème particulier’ (p. 290). Billy, in grappling with the intricacies of Baudelaire’s manipulations of the sonnet, amply bolsters our awareness of stylistic variations that signal the rudiments of a movement beyond traditional verse in Les Fleurs du mal. The sweepingly brief conclusion, which follows a concentrated illustration of post-Hugolian originality in the pantoum of ‘Harmonie du soir’, grants that ‘l’œuvre de Baudelaire s’inscrit dans l’orbite romantique par de multiples aspects, dont son attachement à la rime riche’ (p. 431). However, the summative portrayal of Baudelaire as a poet in the Romantic mould runs the risk of devaluing the energy expended on the assessment of the structural variance of Les Fleurs du mal. The appreciation of Baudelaire’s work as ‘le fruit d’une démarche originale’ (p. 435) will be apparent to readers who take the time to work through Billy’s dense contribution to our understanding of the changing nature of poetry in a world undergoing wholesale modernization. The bibliography, though broad in scope, lacks evidence of engagement with richly interpretive books by pioneers such as Helen Abbott, Ross Chambers, David Evans, Rosemary Lloyd, and Clive Scott. Billy’s methodical treatise ultimately provides an account of the structural diversity of Les Fleurs du mal by drawing out a particularly intricate mode of versificatory analysis. Specialists in search of uncommon food for thought will be abundantly served by this minutely detailed volume evoking the depths of knowledge that can be plumbed through catalogic interpretation.

Daniel A. Finch-Race
Trinity College, Cambridge


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pp. 608-609
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