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Reviewed by:
  • Paris Spleen, La Fanfarlo
  • Ann Kennedy Smith
Baudelaire, Charles . Paris Spleen, La Fanfarlo. Trans. Raymond N. Mackenzie. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2008. Pp. xxiv + 135. ISBN: 978-0-87220-948-0

In this new translation Raymond MacKenzie has followed recent tradition in placing together Baudelaire's early novella and the collection of fifty prose poems which were published after his death. La Fanfarlo, published in 1847, is discussed in MacKenzie's clear and thought-provoking introduction under the heading "an experiment in narrative." As a narrative experiment Baudelaire's novella is one he judged to have failed, but MacKenzie's translation of the tale has a lightness of touch that captures the humour and pacing of this baroque fantasy and places it in the context of the poet's defiance of narrative expectations.

The true experimental writing here is to be found in the prose poems of Paris Spleen, which were conceived in parallel with Les Fleurs du Mal but not published in [End Page 178] their entirety until 1869, two years after Baudelaire's death. Recent publications by Sonya Stephens and Maria Scott have ensured that the collection of prose poems is no longer the "neglected masterpiece" that Edward K. Kaplan described in his 1989 translation, but there are still many issues surrounding these works, not least the choice of title. MacKenzie favours Paris Spleen, which underlines their connection to Les Fleurs du Mal, and if the prose poems deliberately lack the architecture of that work he nonetheless argues for a "moral progression" to be found there.

The choices continue from the title of the first poem, "L'Étranger." Which is better, "stranger" or "foreigner"? How to suggest the "tu/vous" difference in speakers? The enigma of the poem means that Baudelaire himself does not offer any clues. MacKenzie maintains that the prose poems do not represent "a rejection of the poetic in favour of prose fiction," but, perhaps wisely, he does not attempt to emulate the lyricism of "To Each his Chimera" or "A Hemisphere in Her Hair" and instead opts for clarity and a pared-down approach.

This certainly makes for a more modern-sounding reading, and if at times can be a little flat, as in "My soul voyages on this perfume the way other souls voyage on music," there is an appealing matter-of-factness in the wish that concludes "At One in the Morning": "I would really like to redeem myself, to feel a bit of pride in the silence and solitude of the night." In this poem it is worth noting that MacKenzie is one of the few translators to get the essential sense of Baudelaire's words when he describes "a cheap dancer who begged me to design her a costume for playing 'Vee-nis'," and he is unabashed about finding the right modern idiom to fit Baudelaire's "s . . . b . . ." in "The Soup and the Clouds": "So are you going to eat your soup, you son of a bitch of a cloud merchant?"

MacKenzie's footnotes are more helpful but similarly to the point, and if this translation is more prose than poetry, it allows a contemporary and fresh way of looking at the prose poems, and most importantly, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, succeeds in not blocking the light of the original.

Ann Kennedy Smith
University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education


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pp. 178-179
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