Jennifer Yee

Jennifer Yee

French House Virtual Lecture Series: Jennifer Yee

Baudelaire’s Melancholy Orientalism
Oct 27, 12:45 PM
Free and open to the public

Charles Baudelaire’s exoticism is mediated by his passion for the visual arts. His admiration for the colourist, painterly style of Eugène Delacroix was deep and long-lasting, and he was particularly fascinated by the monumental Death of Sardanapalus and the two versions of Women of Algiers in their Apartment. Baudelaire’s response to Delacroix thus provides a key to understanding the Orientalism that underlies his exotic writings more widely. Among the many things that make us uneasy in Baudelaire’s works are his treatment of slavery, his ‘othering’ of the East and of women, and his fascination with cruelty and violence. But we should also not lose sight of the fact that his writing aims deliberately to unsettle and confront the ‘hypocrite lecteur’ (hypocritical reader): we too are the cruel Oriental Despot.

This paper explores the melancholy nature of Baudelaire’s poetic Orientalism, which simultaneously invokes the fantasy of exotic wish-fulfillment and reveals it to be impossible. Situating this Orientalism in the specific context of nineteenth-century France – when the geopolitical background of the ‘Question d’Orient’ overlaps with anxieties about the place of the individual in emerging capitalist, bourgeois modernity – may give us a key to understanding the ‘secret douloureux’ (the painful secret) of ‘La Vie antérieure.’

Please register in advance for this event.

Jennifer Yee is a Professor of Literature in French at the University of Oxford (Christ Church), and Deputy Chair of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.

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