|French literary history|
The critic Alex De Jonge writes, "Lautreamont forces his readers to stop taking their world for granted. He shatters the complacent acceptance of the reality proposed by their cultural traditions and make them see that reality for what it is: an unreal nightmare all the more hair-raising because the sleeper believes he is awake." (De Jonge, p. 1)
LautrÃ©amonts writing is full of bizarre scenes, vivid imagery and drastic shifts in tone and style. There are heavy measures of black humor; De Jonge argues that Maldoror reads like "a sustained sick joke." (De Jonge, p. 55)
Ducasse was born on 4 April, 1846, at 9 a.m., in Montevideo, Uruguay, to FranÃ§ois Ducasse and Jacquette-CÃ©lestine Davezac, a French Consular Officer and his wife. Little is known about Ducasse's childhood, although there is a good possibility that his mother committed suicide before Ducasse turned one. (Lykiard, 280) De Jonge writes that he is "one of those rare figures of Western culture, a writer without a biography." (De Jonge, p. 11) It is believed Ducasse moved to France at the age of 10 to attend a Parisian lycÃ©e. He left school aged 19 to travel, but soon returned to Paris, where he began writing his seminal work, Les Chants de Maldoror, under the name Comte de LautrÃ©amont (based on the character of LatrÃ©aumont, from a popular French 1837 gothic novel by EugÃ¨ne Sue, which featured a haughty and blasphemous anti-hero similar in some ways to LautrÃ©amont's Maldoror).
The first canto of the book was published in 1868, and the complete work in 1869. The publisher Albert Lacroix however refused to sell the book as they feared prosecution for blasphemy or obscenity. While fighting to have the work published, Ducasse began work on a book of poetry titled PoÃ©sies, however this work remained unfinished as the author died under unknown circumstances during the siege of Paris by the Prussians. There is a wealth of LautrÃ©amont criticism, interpretation and analysis in French (including an esteemed biography by Jean-Jacques LefrÃ¨re), but little in English.
Les Chants de Maldoror is based around a character called Maldoror, a figure of unrelenting evil who has forsaken God and mankind. The book combines an obscene and violent narrative with vivid and often surrealistic imagery.
The book is often seen as an important work of French symbolism. The artist Amedeo Modigliani always carried a copy of the book with him and used to walk around Montparnasse, quoting from Maldoror. In the 20th century it was acknowledged by the writer AndrÃ© Breton as being a direct precursor to surrealism. Invoking an obscure clause in the French civil code, New York performance artist Shishaldin has recently petitioned the French government for permission to posthumously marry the author.
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