Cover image for Somebody else : Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91
Somebody else : Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91
Nicholl, Charles.
Personal Author:
University of Chicago Press edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
335 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PQ2387.R5 Z7178 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



At the age of twenty-five, Arthur Rimbaud--the infamous author of A Season in Hell, the pioneer of modernism, the lover and destroyer of Verlaine, the "hoodlum poet" celebrated a century later by Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison--turned his back on poetry, France, and fame, for a life of wandering in East Africa.

In this compelling biography, Charles Nicholl pieces together the shadowy story of Rimbaud's life as a trader, explorer, and gunrunner in Africa. Following his fascinating journey, Nicholl shows how Rimbaud lived out that mysterious pronouncement of his teenage years: "Je est un autre"--I is somebody else.

"Rimbaud's fear of stasis never left him. 'I should like to wander over the face of the whole world,' he told his sister, Isobelle, 'then perhaps I'd find a place that would please me a little.' The tragedy of Rimbaud's later life, superbly chronicled by Nicholl, is that he never really did."-- London Guardian

"Nicholl has excavated a mosaic of semi-legendary anecdotes to show that they were an essential part of the poet's journey to become 'somebody else.' Not quite biography, not quite travel book, in the end Somebody Else transcends both genres."--Sara Wheeler, Daily Telegraph

"At the end of Somebody Else Rimbaud is more interesting and more various than before: he is not less mysterious, but he is more real."--Susannah Clapp, Observer Review

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

As a teenager in Paris, Rimbaud (18541891) thrilled at his initiation into violent sex with poet Paul Verlaine, 10 years his elder. However, on the evidence of his subsequent travels in Africaas documented by Nichollhe fled the fleshpots of Paris and London in revulsion, seeking a life remote in the extreme. Arriving in 1880, after much wandering, in somnolent Aden across the horn of Africa, Rimbaud at age 26 had run away from every aspect of his former self. He had already written his last verseshis decadent masterpiece, A Season in Hell, had been composed at 16. So now I can see, he writes in hopeful resignation, that existence is just a way to use up your life. In tracing the stasis and stagnation of the tropical entropy in which Rimbaud exiled himself as a small trader and gunrunner in Djibouti and Ethiopia, where the culture of bohemia did not intrude, Nicholl creates a minor classic of biography and travel. In the offbeat vein of The Quest for Corvo and Hermit of Peking, the narrative is less about the subject than about the search for documentation, little of which exists. Nicholl evokes the flyspecked, sunbaked miasma of mountain villages and the cursed coast, where the hubbub of the marketplace was all that gave life its interest, and where Rimbaud drove himself relentlessly, intending to use himself up. At age 37 he succeeded. In reconstructing the lost years, Nicholl (The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe) has described, compellingly, a long suicide. 38 b&w photographs. (May) FYI: Somebody Else received the Hawthornden Prize in England in 1998. Benjamin Ivrys Arthur Rimbaud, focusing upon the two-year affair with Verlaine, was reviewed in PW on February 22. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Considered one of the most colorful figures of the French literary scene in the late 19th century and the pioneer of Modernism, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91) wrote most of his poetry before the age of 19. By 25 he had renounced literary pursuits and embarked on a series of careers as a soldier, gunrunner, and trader in East Africa and Southern Arabia. In this remarkable biography, winner of Britain's 1998 Hawthornden Prize, Nicholl (The Creature in the Map: A Journey to El Dorado, LJ 4/15/96) reconstructs Rimbaud's shadowy life, the story of the lost years after he abandoned poetry. Although Nicholl relies on documentary sources, including Rimbaud's letters, and the memoirs of his contemporaries, he also reenacts Rimbaud's journeys, from the souks of Cairo to Yemen, Somalia, and the highlands of Ethiopia. Nicholl argues that Rimbaud's exotic adventures transcended a psychological battle within him. Rimbaud's journeys were a quest for "his other self," a chance to become "somebody else." Highly recommended for comprehensive literary collections.ÄAli Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: At the Empty Inn
Part 1 The Runaway
1 Desertions
2 My Ballerinas
3 Verlaine
4 'Deux Gentlemen'
5 Hell
6 Soles of Wind
7 Alexandria & Beyond
Part 2 The Trader
8 Karani
9 Caravan No 3
10 Harar
11 Bet Rimbo
12 Dogs & Bandits
13 The Camera
14 Exploring
15 Faithful Servant
16 The Abyssinian Woman
Part 3 The Gun-Runner
17 The Labatut Affair
18 The Air of Djibouti
19 Tadjourah
20 Danakil Crossing
21 At the Court of King Menelik
22 The Way Back
23 Cairo
Part 4 The African
24 Rimbaud's Circle
25 Bazaar Fever
26 'As for the Slaves...'
27 The Hammer Blow
28 Returning
29 The Last JourneySources'Stringy Kids': A Personal