Cover image for Rimbaud
Robb, Graham.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.
Physical Description:
xviii, 551 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PQ2387.R5 Z825 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PQ2387.R5 Z825 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Unknown Beyond the avant-garde at the time of his death, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) has been one of the most destructive and liberating influences on twentieth-century culture. During his lifetime he was a bourgeois-baiting visionary, a reinventor of language and perception, a breaker of taboos. The list of his known crimes is longer than the list of his published poems. But his posthumous career is even more astonishing: saint to symbolists and surrealists; poster child for anarchy and drug use: gay pioneer; and a major influence on such artists as Picasso, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison.

At the age of twenty-one, Rimbaud turned his back on his artistic achievement. For his remaining sixteen years he lived in exile, ending up as a major explorer and arms trader in Abyssinia. The genius of Graham Robb's account is to join the two halves of this life, to show Rimbaud's wild and unsettling poetry as a blueprint for the exotic adventures to come. This is the story of Rimbaud the explorer, in mind and in matter.

Author Notes

Graham Robb's two previous books, "Victor Hugo" & "Balzac," were "New York Times" Notable Books. He lives in Oxford, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The model modern writer was a late-nineteenth-century French teenager, Arthur Rimbaud (1854^-91), who grew up fatherless under the heavy hand of a cold, irascible mother. No one knew what to do when he began flouting every rule he could, for he was the most gifted student his small town had ever seen. At 15, he jaunted off to Paris to promote himself to the avant-garde poets of the time, such as Paul Verlaine, who took him for his lover so passionately that, culminating the most famous homosexual lovers' quarrel in history, he shot him. At 19, Rimbaud gave up poetry to pursue a life of wandering opportunism that, given his lifelong chutzpah, was entirely in character. He made and lost fortunes in Africa, and men and women in bed, and rebellious young writers have rallied to his call for "derangement of the senses" ever since. Robb is an exciting writer, a good scholar, and a literary enthusiast, and although he avoids the artificiality of fiction, he makes Rimbaud as vivid as a novelistic antihero. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this robust biography, Robb (Balzac; Victor Hugo) contemplates the life of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) as if the French poet/ vagabond's deeds were those of a mythic hero. Rimbaud's every impulse is viewed as the expression of a coherent, wildly innovative vision of the world; his artistic accomplishments are assumed to have redeemed his devious and destructive tendencies. Thus, when the academically gifted Rimbaud produced other students' homework for a price, the burgeoning genius was operating "a parasitic service industry feeding on the education system," which Robb posits as a "splendid achievement for a child of fifteen." When Rimbaud spread his own excrement on the table of a Parisian caf‚ as if it were plaster for a fresco, he was making the critical point that "flat canvas and oils could not compete with the three-dimensional kaleidoscope of reality." And when discussing the poet's use of blackmail to secure the attentions of his lover, poet Paul Verlaine, Robb dryly notes that Rimbaud "never allowed conventional morality to ruin a practical arrangement." The author seldom admits ambiguity. He is most effective in his effort to blend Rimbaud's early life as a bohemian social deviant with his subsequent 16-year career in Africa as a fledgling anthropologist and explorer. Rimbaud's childhood wanderings through the French countryside matured into caravans across the deserts. His youthful willingness to venture the unmapped lifestyle of the homosexual prepared him to encounter the exotic cultures of Abyssinia. His literary works, from "Le Bƒteau ivre" to "Voyelles" and "Une Saison en enfer," invariably focused on fluctuation, on moments of departure. According to Robb, these poems were crowbars that pried Rimbaud loose from family, tradition and society. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Though he did not live long and his artistic output was small, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was one of France's most influential poets. He had a great impact on the Surrealist movement and on many other poets and artists, including Pablo Picasso, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison. Robb (Victor Hugo; Balzac) here presents the many facets of Rimbaud's life, including his childhood in Charleville, rebellion against religion and conventional morality, development as a poet at an early age, and eventual abandonment of poetry at age 21 for a life of travel and exploration. He traces Rimbaud's attempts to redefine society and poetry by shocking many with his behavior and with his poetic voice, which they found incomprehensible. Robb also re-examines traditional interpretations of Rimbaud's life regarding such issues as his sexual orientation. Overall, this solid combination of biography and literary criticism is a necessary addition to literary collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

At last, a much-needed, thorough, and thoughtful English-language biography to supersede Enid Starkie's outdated Arthur Rimbaud (1938). Robb's portrait of the complex, adventuresome, and ever-fascinating Rimbaud incorporates the voluminous and indispensable scholarship of recent years, giving the reader a much clearer and sounder understanding of Rimbaud the person and his life, an understanding unencumbered by the myth and misinformation that has surrounded Rimbaud for too long. Robb chronicles the meteoric adolescent poet-prodigy, the restless traveler-wanderer, and the postliterary adventurer-tradesman active in the Horn of Africa. The author intelligently establishes the difficult correlation of Rimbaud's life experience before 1875 with some of his writings and convincingly brings to life Rimbaud's personality, complex and unpredictable as it was. Thus, the reader comes away with both knowledge and insight. The volume offers a good selection of photodocumentary illustrations, a detailed index, and useful appendixes, including maps of Rimbaud's Abyssinian haunts and the French texts of the passages cited. Recommended for general libraries and for students/scholars of French literature at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. J.-P. Cauvin; University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Part 1 (1854-1871)
1. Bad Bloodp. 3
2. Filthp. 15
3. 'Perfect Little Monster'p. 26
4. 'Mad Ambition'p. 33
5. Convictionsp. 46
6. Tour de Francep. 56
7. Needful Destructionp. 64
8. The Seerp. 81
9. Departurep. 96
Part 2 (1871-1874)
10. 'Nasty Fellows'p. 109
11. Savage of the Latin Quarterp. 120
12. 'Mlle Rimbaut'p. 131
13. Dogsp. 145
14. Songs of Innocencep. 154
15. 'The Good Disciple'p. 163
16. Fugitivesp. 172
17. Underworldp. 183
18. Paganp. 195
19. Household in Hellp. 207
20. 'No Serious Motive'?p. 214
21. Harvestp. 227
22. 'Metropolitain'p. 237
Part 3 (1874-1880)
23. Pigeonsp. 253
24. Philomathp. 262
25. Mr Holmesp. 276
26. John Arthur Rimbaudp. 287
27. Explosivep. 298
Part 4 (1880-1891)
28. Empiresp. 309
29. The Unknownp. 318
30. 'Poor Arthur'p. 330
31. Paradisep. 338
32. Abdo Rinbop. 352
33. Guns for Africap. 362
34. Horrorp. 371
35. Profitp. 383
36. At Homep. 393
37. 'Odious Tyranny'p. 404
38. Opportunitiesp. 414
39. 'Ferocious Invalid'p. 425
40. Maritimep. 435
Epiloguep. 441
I. Family Treep. 448
II. Poems by Rimbaud published in his lifetimep. 450
III. Historical Eventsp. 452
IV. Mapsp. 454
V. French Textsp. 456
Notesp. 473
Select Bibliographyp. 511
Indexp. 531