Cover image for Arthur Rimbaud : presence of an enigma
Arthur Rimbaud : presence of an enigma
Steinmetz, Jean-Luc.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Arthur Rimbaud, une question de présence. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Welcome Rain Publishers, 2001.
Physical Description:
xv, 464 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Translated from the French.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
PQ2387.R5 Z885 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The life of Arthur Rimbaud, the "considerable passerby" (Mallarme), a man who gave up literature at the age of 25, remains as legendary as his poetic work. From the enigmatic poet's very first writings, his stormy relationship with the poet Paul Verlaine, and his bohemian existence in Paris and London, to his trip to Java and his life as a wandering trader in Arabia and Harar, Jean-Luc Steinmetz delivers here the first biography which, rather than dividing Rimbaud's life in two halves (as did all his previous biographers), brings out the spiritual and logical continuity underlying his 36-year long "pursuit of desire."

With perfect mastery of both Rimbaud's work, which he has edited, and of the scattered source material, Steinmetz makes sense of a hurried, tempestuous life and offers what should be the standard life of Rimbaud for many years to come.

Author Notes

Jean-Luc Steinmetz edited the 1989 Editions Flammarion edition of The Complete Works of Rimbaud. His biography of Stephane Mallarme (Fayard, 1998) was the first comprehensive biography of the poet in French in almost fifty years.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the foreword to his new biography of poet-adventurer Rimbaud, Steinmetz, who edited the 1989 Editions Flammarion Complete Works of Rimbaud, asserts that, as a narrator, he will allow Rimbaud's actions to give birth to their own significance, rather than overburden them with qualification. In practice, Steinmetz has as much difficulty refraining from laudatory remarks as a sportscaster. At a certain point in the development of his poetic style, Rimbaud quits the use of references to the Parisian Commune, which had saturated much of his previous work; according to Steinmetz, he is suddenly "on the same wavelength as eternity." The poet's constant irritation with his family is always considered just; his lack of sympathy for his lover, Paul Verlaine, is seen as the rightful rejection of a pathetic companion. Steinmetz allows as little interpretive leeway as conceivable in recounting a life that seethes with contradiction, spontaneity and violent longing. To his credit, Steinmetz is able to communicate the alternating spasms of self-love and self-loathing that seem to have animated Rimbaud's existence and driven him to devour, then abandon, creative media from poetry, to carnal desire, to compulsive travel. Yet, for all Steinmetz's enthusiasm, the real Rimbaud remains, as the biographer himself repeatedly asserts, "someone who cannot be found." These pages constitute a vivid retelling of the Rimbaud legend; but Rimbaud the human being, almost completely obscured by that legend, continues to evade definition. (Mar.) Forecast: Graham Robb's "robust" but equally mythologizing Rimbaud came out last October. Steinmetz, however, does a better job of communicating the sense of an erratic but exciting mind at work. This should appeal to readers of poetry and French literature. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Another new study of Rimbaud's life is given by Steinmetz, a leading French scholar on Rimbaud who edited his Complete Works. Originally published in France, this book won the Grand Prix de L'Academie Franaise in 1991. Steinmetz is critical of earlier biographies that have tended to split Rimbaud's life into two parts, his life as a writer and his life after he quit writing. He also rejects the tendency of biographers to compare the events of Rimbaud's life with his poetry. He seeks to avoid a detective-like report of Rimbaud's life and vies for a spectral approach instead. Unfortunately, the irritating use of the present tense (e.g., "So Rimbaud seeks passage in Semarang on a boat setting sail for Europe" or "Rimbaud hails a coach to take him to Aden") wears thin. Nonetheless, although it is less well structured than Robb's work (especially when tracking chronology), Steinmetz does present a meticulous study that digs deep into Rimbaud's life and work. Both books are recommended for literary collections and the Steinmetz book for academic collections especially. [Robb's biography was previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]DRon Ratliff, Kansas State Univ. Libs., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Rimbaud studies are "hot" these days. New biographies, editions of his works, and documentation are appearing at a brisk pace. Besides reflecting new research, they offer corrective perspectives on the man, his life, and his work, all of which have suffered in the past from excessive mythicizing (some of it induced by Rimbaud himself). On the heels of Graham Robb's excellent biography Rimbaud (CH, Apr'01) comes this English translation of a biography by a leading French scholar and editor of Rimbaud's complete works. First published in France in 1991 and winner of the Grand Prix de 1'Academie Francaise, this biography presents Rimbaud's life--most of which was, after all, not dedicated to literature--as a single adventure, a constant forward movement, a relentless quest for a never-to-be-resolved destiny. Much of Steinmetz's account is written in the present tense in order to give the reader a you-are-there actuality and a sense of its subject's extraordinary restlessness--a practice that, while prevalent in the French biographical style, can be disconcerting to the uninitiated. Scrupulously annotated, the narrative is augmented by a chronology. Recommended for academic readers at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. J.-P. Cauvin University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

Forewordp. IX
Part I A Schoolboy from Charleville
Pieces of Childhoodp. 3
The Humanitiesp. 15
A Professor Named Izambardp. 29
Historyp. 50
The New Poetryp. 63
Part II With the "Pitiful Brother"
In the Land of the Vilains Bonshommesp. 85
Martyrdom, Prayers, and the Way of the Crossp. 111
Two English "Seasons"p. 135
Roche, the Mecca of Absencep. 154
Falloutp. 165
Part III Here and Elsewhere
The Damned One's Notebookp. 183
A "Young Parisian" in Londonp. 194
1875: A Year in Tattersp. 204
The Javanesep. 222
The Flaky Travelerp. 238
Part IV Rimbaud the African
Aden, "A Frightful Rock"p. 257
Harar, City of Hyenasp. 267
The "Mind-Numbing Tasks"p. 282
An Arms Merchant in Shoap. 307
From Rest in Egypt to the Return to Hararp. 324
Suffering and Deathp. 356
Endnotesp. 381
Chronologyp. 429
Bibliographyp. 447
Indexp. 459