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Rimbaud: A Biography

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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, and the list of his known crimes is longer than the list of his published poems. But his posthumous career is even more astonishing: saint t 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, and 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; a major influence on artists from Picasso to Bob Dylan.


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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, and the list of his known crimes is longer than the list of his published poems. But his posthumous career is even more astonishing: saint t 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, and 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; a major influence on artists from Picasso to Bob Dylan.

30 review for Rimbaud: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eddie Watkins

    There will never be a single biography that does Rimbaud total justice, and that's as it should be being the mystery man he was. Rimbaud lived his entire life on the "edge", be it the edge of meaning or the edge of civilization and "civilized" behavior; and because of this he himself didn't have the time or desire for looking back or specifying in retrospect what he was up to. He was always riding the wave of the Present Tense (or even ahead of it, in the never-attained Future) as long as he liv There will never be a single biography that does Rimbaud total justice, and that's as it should be being the mystery man he was. Rimbaud lived his entire life on the "edge", be it the edge of meaning or the edge of civilization and "civilized" behavior; and because of this he himself didn't have the time or desire for looking back or specifying in retrospect what he was up to. He was always riding the wave of the Present Tense (or even ahead of it, in the never-attained Future) as long as he lived, full of contradictions only to those who want(ed) to figure him out. Robb presents Rimbaud and his 19th c. in a very earthy, gritty, smelly, fecal, lice-infested way via a prose that is itself kind of coarse and craggy. He doesn't have much patience with the "angelic" Rimbaud all wrapped up in metaphysical transcendence and arcane possibly occult theories. His Rimbaud is a much bigger drinker, drug user, and buggeree than I previously thought, and a vile prankster (jerking off in his housemate's glass of milk, poisoning dogs, shitting on a table during a party and running his hands through it, etc.). But his Rimbaud is also a much better businessman with an iron core of practicality and shrewdness. His Rimbaud, even through his later miseries, was a supremely detached individual, someone whose youthful pronouncement "I is another" was a precept he carried with him throughout his life, so that even while mired in his most pessimistic bitterness after losing his leg was still able to view himself with detachment and maintain an extremely cynical sense of humor. This is as complete a biography as one could want, enriched by scholarship and a real feel for the times and places, and free of the "Rimbaud worship" I've read in other accounts; but Robb's Rimbaud is not my Rimbaud, which is how it should be, because in many ways Rimbaud will forever be an at least partially closed book. Some of us will be puzzling over him forever.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John

    I must state at the outset that my comments here do not constitute a review of Graham Robb’s biography of Rimbaud – not in any strict sense that I know, not entirely, that is. I, for one, am unable to form any conception of another life that might approach a clear and accurate approximation of past reality by grappling with only one biography. The reasons are many, and I need not recount them here. In the present case my remarks arise from a sense of the man that is a concoction of ingredients f I must state at the outset that my comments here do not constitute a review of Graham Robb’s biography of Rimbaud – not in any strict sense that I know, not entirely, that is. I, for one, am unable to form any conception of another life that might approach a clear and accurate approximation of past reality by grappling with only one biography. The reasons are many, and I need not recount them here. In the present case my remarks arise from a sense of the man that is a concoction of ingredients from at least three sources: Robb’s Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Nicholl’s, Somebody Else, and the elements of a biographical narrative that I formulate in response to absences and silences in these other sources. This is so, because I want most of all to end my encounter with Rimbaud, once and for all time, I hope, with a tenuous grasp of the sort of person he was and a rather definite - if speculative and erroneous - outline of the trajectory of this very interesting man’s life. Regarding Arthur Rimbaud – my confection. AR was, of course, a highly intelligent, imaginative and verbally gifted individual, who was born to parents of the worst possible sort – his father an absence, his mother - grasping, avaricious, narrow, mean-spirited, bigoted, cracker filth of the lowest order, a joyfully sadistic killer of souls. A woman of wealthy peasant stock, just the type that the most fervent of Joseph Stalin’s propagandists have depicted in their harshest caricatures of kulaks – except that in the case of Madame R. caricature is realistic representation. So after papa abandons his family – small wonder – mama fixes her considerable energy and attention upon “raising” four powerless little ones, of whom AR is the second in birth order. And how does he cope? How does he manage to forefend soul-murder and save a vestige of himself for another day? First he uses his considerable powers of observation, which extreme necessity renders even more acute, to take the measure of the very dangerous world he inhabits, which he knows is fixed and settled, a world he is utterly powerless to alter or amend. And in his early years he learns that in his very dangerous world the self is vulnerable to extermination, extinction – in every imaginable way. And in such a world how does one survive? By hypocrisy, lies, cunning – always. But cunning is multiform. One develops the capacity to generate forms and approaches to cunning as circumstances require, given one’s own powers, which change as one – and the Other – ages, in response to threats that pervade one’s immediate environment. As a child, AR – like Margret Fuller – went into hiding, in compartments. In one persona he becomes an outwardly compliant little boy, an altogether brilliant student, etc. He cultivates his verbal gifts, which he deployed with genius. He also develops an inviolate private sphere of the mind. “He,” the real Rimbaud retreats and hides there. What happens in that private sphere is AR’s development and preservation of self who thinks his own thoughts fearlessly – in secret. He also cultivated boundless rage, which he employed, when he could a bit later in life, in order to destroy all convention, all constraints to the self. Every threat – a target, which he engaged relentlessly, unremittingly, without concern for consequences and without remorse. Every form of extreme behavior he ever enacted is also a precise reflection (and measure) of the abuse he endured. And so he lives a life devoted to preservation of a vulnerable and fragile self, whom he is always already at the point of loosing. But this loss is also multiform. First one can loose oneself to bourgeois convention – and so one asserts the self in ways that defy, undermine bourgeois convention, with the intent of obliterating convention altogether, or if not that, then demonstrating in one’s own life that convention is simply that – the work of persons of a rather low, contemptible sort, certainly not the order that some absolute, transcendent being creates and imposes on man. But then, over time, life in extremis, at least of this particular life in extremis, becomes familiar, known – rather tedious, boring, and well, conventional in its own way. In Nicholl’s brilliant insight (p. 149), “A sense of disappointment and defeat, of the entropic dwindling of the unknown into familiarity”. Life that at first enacted a sense of the authentic self becomes conventional, scripted, a litany, and a threat. A threatening sense of self under siege, now under attack from another quadrant, builds. It may well be that only persons who have been the targets of sadistic killers of souls can grasp the blinding terror and rage that such circumstances evoke. In any case, it is terrible and leads one to desperate responses. And so AR jettisons entirely whatever past his current way of life has accumulated – to the point of loosing memory of it. He escapes, seeks the unknown, a new life in unfamiliar extremes, yet once more, to retrieve his “actual nature” (Nicholls, p. 152) from circumstances that had become routine, engulfing and obliterative of the self. He escapes to “traffic in the unknown,” always in the harshest, physically most demanding and injuring conditions at the limits of human survival – Alpine blizzards, the most squalid ghettos of the urban underclasses that London or Brussels possess, jungles and deserts of other sorts, at the very farthest possible remove from a miserly peasant’s sordid, squalid, mucky little world – and LaMother, the Mouth of Darkness – where she will never seek him – now that he is gone. And the cycle returns – and returns. In the end, AR becomes his mother in certain ways – a rather grasping, cunning trader and coffee merchant in Africa. But with this telling and vital difference – he is well known for his eager assimilation into the cultures and societies he inhabits; he is continually and unstintingly generous to those at the edges of survival. They did not need to solicit anything. AR sees, observes, understands and gives open-handedly. And then he dies. Regarding Graham Robb's Biography. I'm not quite sure why it is the case that biographers seem reluctant to delineate the trajectory of their subject's life - how does it all cohere? how do even the discontinuities connect? What evidence allows one to present such a conclusion? To what evidentiary standard does that evidence rise? [I wrote more extensively on this question in my remarks on Nicholl's "Somebody Else.} I can't say that Robb doesn't try, in part, but then again, I'm not entirely sure that he does, at least not in any straightforward way that I can detect. He seems content with rather vague notions. I am not. But then, that's my problem, not Robb's, apparently. In any case, I'll outline my take-aways, and I'm not entirely sure at this point, how much of this is Robb's, or Nicholl's, and how much of this is my elaborations on Robb's/Nicholl's conclusions and how much is my own filling in of blanks. [It's interesting, isn't it, how our sense of other persons is such a collation and confection of this, that and the other thing.] It seems to me that throughout his life - Rimbaud's project was himself - to the exclusion, I think it fair to say, of almost any other consideration or value. It also seems to me that one might see him working out this project in three different phases of his life. First there was the task of surviving his childhood - as I've outlined above. This focus on himself at this stage was inseparable from self-preservation into adolescence and adulthood. And I also think that he must have realized that, in parent-child relationships of the kind he survived, power shifts from the parent to the child over time - a little bit every day - as both the parent and the child age. Then comes the second phase, when AR had come to realize that he had the power to smash his compartmented life. It might mean that he would have to endure every sort of privation, but when he left home for the first time, he also signaled (1) his willingness to endure whatever must be endured to live his life "from the inside out," as I say, irrespective of consequences, (2) his confidence, I suspect, that he could "succeed," which in this context meant, smashing constraints and in the process, "change life," and (3) his confidence that he could manage/manipulate his mother. And of course, his assessments were correct. He succeeds - and poetry was merely a tool, a means that he laid aside with not so much as a second thought when he didn't need it any longer or find it particularly useful to achieve his larger purposes. Just not worth the bother. At some point in his late adolescence he enters a third phase of his life - most effectively presented in Nicholls, "Somebody Else". In this phase, he tires of all this smashing of convention and constraint. It had become rather routine, and well - tedious and boring, I'd say. I would say that he began to think that all this smashing was really rather easy for him, didn't present much of a challenge, actually. He realizes that there is much more in him than he had already discovered. Then he came to need an understanding of the circumstances under which life would become hard for him, really, really hard, as hard as any he could survive. Was there in him the stuff of survival under the harshest conditions that he could contrive to encounter? Here again we see in operation the sort of questions/motivations familiar to him since birth - survival and self-assertion. Perhaps this need was instinctual by that point in his life. Perhaps it didn't occur to him that life could be lived in any other way. And then he devoted the years remaining to him and all his extraordinary energy, vitality and altogether towering, preternatural, strength of will, to discovering exactly what he was made of. This segment of his project is entirely clear in Nicholl's account of Rimbaud's life in Africa. And then he died - in bed - from cancer of the bone, it appears. Disease and the unimaginable suffering he endured in his last months turned him into somebody else altogether - but that person wasn't AR.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

    I don't think there are many people in this world that have the ability to simutaneously allure and repulse, but based on Robb's biography, I would assign Rimbaud to this category. I read biographies because in many instances it's the only way to feel as if you're meeting someone you can never meet - because of life circumstances or, of course, death. When I hear of someone that I find interesting, I make it a point to find out more about him/her and sometimes the only way to do that is to read/w I don't think there are many people in this world that have the ability to simutaneously allure and repulse, but based on Robb's biography, I would assign Rimbaud to this category. I read biographies because in many instances it's the only way to feel as if you're meeting someone you can never meet - because of life circumstances or, of course, death. When I hear of someone that I find interesting, I make it a point to find out more about him/her and sometimes the only way to do that is to read/watch his/her work (if that's an option) or find a solid biography of that individual's life. Of course, much of the supposition of that individual's personality has to be drawn from acquaintances, correspondence, and choices. So we make a lot of inferences, but I think Robb does a bang-up job of presenting a very human idea of what Rimbaud was like. Despite the fact that he's obviously a fan of Rimbaud's work, he never parks Rimbaud on a pedestal. We have a tendency to romanticize individuals after death, to somehow make them more saint-like or pure than they could have ever been in life. With the posthumous success of Rimbaud's poetry, I think many individuals have done just that - freezing Rimbaud at the tender age of 17. Forever trapping him in the role of boy poet and Verlaine's tempestuous lover. And it is precisely that typecasting that I think Rimbaud spent the remainder of his life trying to desert. I think he would loathe that his legacy has less to do with those actions he was actually proud to have accomplished - his explorer's spirit - than his adolescent years as a troubled poet. Robb definitely leaves us with the distinct impression that Rimbaud was always pushing some boundary, somehow striving to achieve more, to expand upon limits of what society deemed worthwhile or normal. It was precisely because of this that he always seemed a step ahead of his peers and colleagues and was misunderstood, misrepresented, and unable to be fully appreciated for his contributions - both to literature and to exploration. And I think he struggled between his disdain for man for not being able to ascend to his level of forward thinking and chose the life of a loner, a life of mystery, a life in which it always seemed he was looking down on everyone from a lofty height. Rimbaud's terseness and unpleasantness are conflicted with stories from acquaintances regarding his verbosity and pleasantness. However, I do think that Rimbaud had the ability to play many different roles as it suited his needs. Above all else, he was adaptable and resourceful. There is something so tough about Rimbaud - which is evidenced by his correspondence, his demanding nature, and his forceful "requests" to family and friends when he needed help. Yet there is something very vulnerable at the heart of Rimbaud and that quality is what has drawn people to his work and life even over 100 years after his death.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    A few weeks ago I picked up John Ashbery's celebrated translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations and as I was browsing through it I realized I had only the sketchiest notion of Rimbaud's life – essentially a few mangled fragments from Enid Starkie's 1968 doorstop and some noxious images from Total Eclipse. All I knew was that he'd written a handful of iconoclastic poems, had filthy sex with Verlaine, then pitched it all aside and wandered off to Africa to die. Graham Robb's biography, as I expected a A few weeks ago I picked up John Ashbery's celebrated translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations and as I was browsing through it I realized I had only the sketchiest notion of Rimbaud's life – essentially a few mangled fragments from Enid Starkie's 1968 doorstop and some noxious images from Total Eclipse. All I knew was that he'd written a handful of iconoclastic poems, had filthy sex with Verlaine, then pitched it all aside and wandered off to Africa to die. Graham Robb's biography, as I expected after reading Strangers last summer, is superb. Robb embraces the full context of Rimbaud's short life, reaching beyond the mythic Satanic adolescent to include the equally intrepid imperialist/explorer. "I have tried at least to allow Rimbaud to grow up," Robb begins. Whatever your aesthetic or political investment, Rimbaud's brilliant brutal life (and death) is astonishing, disgusting and grimly funny. Robb is also quite funny, especially when he's dissing all the Rimbaud biographies which preceded his own. My only complaint with this mostly well-designed book is the abysmal quality of the photographs, which look like copies made from copies on a cheap office machine. Someone at Norton should be slapped. Anyway, our life is misery, endless misery! So why do we exist? Send me your news. Best wishes. – Rimbaud writing from the Marseilles hospital where he died.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

    Another brilliant biography from Robb.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bookthesp1

    This whizzes into my Top ten Best Ever Biography (you don't get that in High Fidelity) because Robb manages to write sublime caustic prose that corrects both the record and the myth that surrounds Rimbaud. Robb knows his stuff and writes beautiful lyrical prose whilst also being alive to the obsfuscations and mistakes made by earlier writers. We see Rimbaud as an enfant terrible writing poetry that both harked back to the remnants of romanticism but also looked forward to modernism and beyond. W This whizzes into my Top ten Best Ever Biography (you don't get that in High Fidelity) because Robb manages to write sublime caustic prose that corrects both the record and the myth that surrounds Rimbaud. Robb knows his stuff and writes beautiful lyrical prose whilst also being alive to the obsfuscations and mistakes made by earlier writers. We see Rimbaud as an enfant terrible writing poetry that both harked back to the remnants of romanticism but also looked forward to modernism and beyond. We see his relationship with Verlaine and the self destructive tendencies of both- his relationships with family- an absent father, a controlling mother. His endless restless wandering and a search for meaning or an abandonment of that search as meaningless. Nihilism, solipsism, dalliances with homosexuality and the search for an income as his reputation fizzed and fizzled. The duality of his life is clearer in the final sections in Africa, where Rimbaud writes home in a downbeat, constantly negative voice, whilst being recognized by those around him as a jolly fellow, ferociously efficient at his job, be it gun-running, storage hire or the like. It served Rimbaud well to present different facets to different people (as we all do) but he seems to have abandoned poetry whilst keeping an eye on a growing cult reputation in France. Robb reignites the debate about his complicity in slavery seeing his job as being impossible with out it- nothing could be done in the region he was in without using slave labour of some sort. Robb sees his way to correct other unforced or lazy research- some previous writers have had no knowledge at all of the geography of the areas Rimbaud worked in. A sad ending to his life- leg amputation and the furious last illness, counterpointed by the myth that was built around him and the growing spread of his poetry. I sometimes read biography because of a curiosity about the biographer as well as the subject. I had heard alot about Graham Robb and this biography confirms the blurb on the front of the book from Will Self - "the best (biographer) of his generation". I suspect its hard to argue with that. This Rimbaud biography is...... something else..

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kaye

    3star more for the subject matter than the writing. Robb is an excellent writer. Rimbaud is a terrible subject. Raised by a horrible mother, as a teenager he seemed dedicated to ruining as many lives as possible for the sake of some bizarre artistic principle. "Morality is the weakness of the brain." I feel dirty having spent time in his company. Then he stopped writing poetry, went to Africa, far from mommy dearest and French weather, and because a respected trader and explorer. Then he died fr 3star more for the subject matter than the writing. Robb is an excellent writer. Rimbaud is a terrible subject. Raised by a horrible mother, as a teenager he seemed dedicated to ruining as many lives as possible for the sake of some bizarre artistic principle. "Morality is the weakness of the brain." I feel dirty having spent time in his company. Then he stopped writing poetry, went to Africa, far from mommy dearest and French weather, and because a respected trader and explorer. Then he died from bone cancer.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Will

    re-reading for a fourth time. this is one of my favorite biographies from one of my favorite biographers. robb's portrait cuts through the lice, filth, and mythos surrounding the late 19th century vagabond demigogue and symbolist poet. highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    I came to Rimbaud the opposite way to most people I suspect. I I had heard his life story before knowing any of his poetry. Robb had written a fascinating, well researched and well written biography of a life that is full of controversy and unknowns. When you read a biography you always have to realise you are only getting part of the picture - but as far as is possible Robb's book at least seems balanced. The Rimbaud of this book is a smart, energetic genius and a fascinating, if not always app I came to Rimbaud the opposite way to most people I suspect. I I had heard his life story before knowing any of his poetry. Robb had written a fascinating, well researched and well written biography of a life that is full of controversy and unknowns. When you read a biography you always have to realise you are only getting part of the picture - but as far as is possible Robb's book at least seems balanced. The Rimbaud of this book is a smart, energetic genius and a fascinating, if not always appealing, character. Given the passion Rimbaud generates I suspect some people will hate any biography as it will not align with their image of the man. Which image is correct I certainly don't know - but this is an excellent biography - whether you are an existing Rimbaud fan or not.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Grall

    This is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Rimbaud was as fascinating as he was unlikable. Graham Robb's balanced portrayal of Rimbaud and his dry humour, in the form of wry observations, make this a great read. Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Burton-Rose

    Includes a thoroughly unromantic depiction of Rimbaud's creepy dealings in East Africa.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This book is beautifully written and completely intoxicating. I am pulled into Rimbaud's life each time I opened the book. Reading this biography along side the poetry was especially gratifying.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Henry Sturcke

    Arthur Rimbaud is one of those writers whose life of mythic proportion influences more people than his writing. The demonic youth who mastered poetic styles like a virtuoso and then invented his own before the age of 21, only to disappear into the searing heat of Africa to seek his fortune as a merchant, seems to have led two disjointed lifetimes. A challenge to any prospective biographer; there have been many. Was there a need for one more when this appeared in 2000? As Graham Robb writes: “Many Arthur Rimbaud is one of those writers whose life of mythic proportion influences more people than his writing. The demonic youth who mastered poetic styles like a virtuoso and then invented his own before the age of 21, only to disappear into the searing heat of Africa to seek his fortune as a merchant, seems to have led two disjointed lifetimes. A challenge to any prospective biographer; there have been many. Was there a need for one more when this appeared in 2000? As Graham Robb writes: “Many biographers of Rimbaud obviously preferred the sentimental, schoolboy adventure stories of Rimbaud’s early memorialists to the poet’s own savage cynicism. . . . I have tried at least to allow Rimbaud to grow up” (xvi). To me, he succeeded. Robb is an excellent writer. Among his strengths are the amount of research he conducts and his skill at creating the overall arc of his account. This is the second of his books that I’ve read. In the first, The Discovery of France, his strength was mitigated by a curious feature of his writing: the logic of the structure of some of his paragraphs is difficult to scan; I had to re-read them to get the sense. While this bothers me less than its opposite, verbosity, this trait slows me down. There were fewer instances of this quirk in this book than in Discovery, but here’s an example: When Robb writes in the middle of a paragraph “This may not be entirely misleading . . . ” (6), I had to read the paragraph twice to see that “this” was not an explication of what came before, but was the introduction of what was to follow. I grow impatient when my grammar software busts me for what it calls an “unclear antecedent,” now I see what that means. Here’s a slightly different example, from the introduction (xiv): “Unlike so many privately respectable anti-heroes, Rimbaud led an exemplary life.” When I read it the second time, I realized Robb had subverted the ordinary usage of “exemplary life.” To me, it indicates that Robb is not a sloppy writer; he has a lot to say, and he’s meticulous about what he writes. It sometimes feels, though, as if too many contrasting thoughts are packed into one paragraph. Robb’s love of antithesis often pays off, however. Here’s an example, describing the school Arthur and his brother began to attend: “If the environment had reflected its pedagogical aims, the Institute Rossat would have been preparing its pupils for a life in prison. It was Arthur’s first taste of freedom . . .” (17). This thought returns hauntingly during Rimbaud’s final years in Abyssinia, where the slave-trade was still rampant in the late nineteenth century, but it is Rimbaud who complains incessantly of being enslaved. The twin poles of freedom and captivity formed the core of Rimbaud’s personality, so Robb, with his love of paradox and antithesis, in addition to his profound knowledge of French literature, is his ideal biographer. He traces the conflict and compulsion in Rimbaud's nature to his family constellation: the absent father, the demanding mother who withheld love. Some readers may feel this makes the book an exercise in psycho-biography, yet Robb cites contemporaries who observed that, if one knew the mother, it was understandable that Arthur took to the road. Harder to comprehend, perhaps, is how regularly he returned, including in his final illness, after more than a decade in East Africa. Robb researches his books thoroughly. In this one, he has digested a wealth of primary and secondary literature about an author whose output, in comparison, was minuscule. Robb interacts particularly with Enid Starkie, who wrote eight decades ago what was long the standard biography in English. In some cases, based on evidence, he differs from Starkie; in at least one other case, again based on assiduous research, he defends Starkie on a point on which others have sharply disagreed with her. The broad outlines of Rimbaud’s bi-polar life—path-breaking poet in his youth, African gun-runner in his maturity—are familiar to any of the millions, such as I, for whom the poet was an intensely private adolescent discovery. Robb convincingly revises the tale of the second half. The conventional view, rooted in Rimbaud’s letters home, written in his chronically discontented and self-condemning manner, is that his time in Abyssinia brought paltry returns. Robb investigates and finds that Rimbaud reaped enormous profits. Enormous profit of a different kind is what I reaped in reading this masterpiece of biography.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Keenan

    One star off for the atrocious picture of the author in the book jacket. I was constantly wondering what back alley photographer he hired for his community theatre publicity photo. Does that seem unfair, or perhaps random? Welcome to Rimbaud! A child wunderkind who is best known for lifting poetry from the parlour rooms of aristocrats to the bohemian underbellies of city ghettos, for his public displays of homosexuality in the modern era, for quitting all writing after age 21, and for (view spoil One star off for the atrocious picture of the author in the book jacket. I was constantly wondering what back alley photographer he hired for his community theatre publicity photo. Does that seem unfair, or perhaps random? Welcome to Rimbaud! A child wunderkind who is best known for lifting poetry from the parlour rooms of aristocrats to the bohemian underbellies of city ghettos, for his public displays of homosexuality in the modern era, for quitting all writing after age 21, and for (view spoiler)[shitting on the table at dinner parties, slitting his friends' wrists for fun, and trying to give people pneumonia (hide spoiler)] . It can be hard to make sense of such a twisted and unique character, but Robb does a good job adding a narrative to Rimbaud's story, some much needed context, and some perspective into the crazy life of this much beloved poet. By the end of the book you'll feel a sort of connection with the kid who somehow reached the top of Maslow's Pyramid without ever really stepping foot on the bottom. You'll have to do some of your own research while reading this book. Don't expect the author to hold your hand and explain to you who Baudelaire or Hugo or Napoleon III are. Don't expect a history of French literary history leading up to 1850 either. Come into this book with enough background and a few hours to kill and you'll have more fun than (view spoiler)[lighting your wife's hair on fire (this actually happened) (hide spoiler)]

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kathe Koja

    A great biography is an achievement, but when the gifted, wry, and far-seeing Robb meets the combustible Rimbaud, it's straight-up bliss for the reader. Understanding, not hagiography; insight, not historical regurgitation; and a kind of admiring humor for the lonely, ferocious, precocious poet and hardass businessman that Rimbaud was and became - this is rue literary biography, its writer a match and complement to its subject. Well worth the read even if you don't give a shit about Rimbaud or F A great biography is an achievement, but when the gifted, wry, and far-seeing Robb meets the combustible Rimbaud, it's straight-up bliss for the reader. Understanding, not hagiography; insight, not historical regurgitation; and a kind of admiring humor for the lonely, ferocious, precocious poet and hardass businessman that Rimbaud was and became - this is rue literary biography, its writer a match and complement to its subject. Well worth the read even if you don't give a shit about Rimbaud or French poetry.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Feels like reading a mystery, so little is known of Rimbaud's life. Precocious beginning and early skill in poetry writing, later life Africa travels and fortune, sad death in Marseilles after right leg amputation. He was 37.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Peter Clarke

    Perhaps by trying to avoid being anecdotal there’s a lack of emphasis which meant I pottered along barely noticing the remarkable.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Edward Amato

    A thorough biography that is well written. I appreciated that the author also talked about some of the misconceptions and lies of Rimbaud.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Solor

    'I became a fabulous opera.. Morality is a weakness of the brain..I’ve created all the feasts, all the triumphs, all the dramas. I’ve tried to invent new flowers; new stars, new flesh, new languages. I believed I’d gained supernatural powers. Ah well! I must bury my imagination and my memories! Sweet glory as an artist and story-teller swept away!.....' By the end of 1888, most of foreign trade in southern Abyssinia revolves around Arthur Rimbaud. He is importer, exporter, financier, main man for 'I became a fabulous opera.. Morality is a weakness of the brain..I’ve created all the feasts, all the triumphs, all the dramas. I’ve tried to invent new flowers; new stars, new flesh, new languages. I believed I’d gained supernatural powers. Ah well! I must bury my imagination and my memories! Sweet glory as an artist and story-teller swept away!.....' By the end of 1888, most of foreign trade in southern Abyssinia revolves around Arthur Rimbaud. He is importer, exporter, financier, main man for arms importer and main suppliers of the Swiss engineer mastermind of king Menelik new nation. By the age of sixteen the little prodigy, l'enfant terrible of French literary Avant-garde, had taken Paris by storm with his unpredictable, despicable behavior and his unparalleled genius. 'La saison en Enfer' marks the beginning of Modernity in western Poetry. Rimbaud couldn't care less and at 23, he gave up his prestigious career and his perverted debauching, to become an adventurer and a capitalist. '...One evening I sat Beauty on my knees – And I found her bitter – And I reviled her. I armed myself against Justice...'. Rimbaud life could well have been borne out of monsieur Voltaire's imagination. Robb, who read Rimbaud at Oxford, proves to be very well versed in the poet's art and life. He produces a remarkable book who strives to dispel all false myths surrounding this legendary character who set alight Europe literature. '...I'll return with iron limbs; dark skin, a furious look: from my mask I'll be judged as of mighty race. I'll have gold: I'll be idle and brutal....'.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Das Bear

    Wow. What an amazing book. If only every historian/biographer had the prose of Graham Robb.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Obrigewitsch

    Rimbaud casts a large (and largely mythical) shadow over poetry. He lived a life akin to how Tristan Tzara described dada - a life "with neither bedroom slippers nor parallels." Rimbaud taps into an outside power, and expresses a future poetry. His poetry is so startling and outlandish because it comes from beyond all that is human, filtered through words like the absinthe that Rimbaud loved. As he grew, he departed more and more from forms and traditions - his words wandered further and further Rimbaud casts a large (and largely mythical) shadow over poetry. He lived a life akin to how Tristan Tzara described dada - a life "with neither bedroom slippers nor parallels." Rimbaud taps into an outside power, and expresses a future poetry. His poetry is so startling and outlandish because it comes from beyond all that is human, filtered through words like the absinthe that Rimbaud loved. As he grew, he departed more and more from forms and traditions - his words wandered further and further out. And then the great renunciation of poetry - the final rupture or break which, beyond us, beyond understanding, was perhaps nothing but a beginning, a different path. Graham Robb does well in clearing away the myths and falsities that have accrued around Rimbaud's mysterious, wandering life. Well researched and eminently readable, this work is a great aid in attempting to follow Rimbaud down his wending pathway towards the outside, to the future poetry that he opened the space for through his expirimental, experiential writing.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    p. 322: "Anyway, let's hope we can enjoy a few years of true repose in this life; and it's a good thing that this life is the only one and that it's obvious that it is, since it's impossible to imagine another life more tedious than this!" So why did Rimbaud suddenly give up writing creatively? He got bored of it and moved on. Story of his life. This is an excellent biography on the "enfant terrible" Arthur Rimbaud, from his days as a filthy, lice-infested anarchic boy genius who wrote avant-gard p. 322: "Anyway, let's hope we can enjoy a few years of true repose in this life; and it's a good thing that this life is the only one and that it's obvious that it is, since it's impossible to imagine another life more tedious than this!" So why did Rimbaud suddenly give up writing creatively? He got bored of it and moved on. Story of his life. This is an excellent biography on the "enfant terrible" Arthur Rimbaud, from his days as a filthy, lice-infested anarchic boy genius who wrote avant-garde poetry, to his later life of restlessly wandering the world before settling in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) as a merchant, selling antique firearms that eventually helped the Abyssinians overthrow their colonial overlords. This is a very academic biography, but still quite enjoyable to read. There's some beautiful pieces of prose here and there, and a lot of very entertaining anecdotal information, many including Rimbaud and Verlaine, but also excerpts from his letters from Abyssinia to his mother and sister back in France. Loved it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J.

    I look at others' responses to this book and I keep to wondering if they've read a different book than I did. I think that the problem here is that what Robb actually wanted to write was a book of literary criticism. Huge swaths of this book consist of Robb critiquing Rimbaud's works and/or responding to others' critique. There wouldn't be a problem with this, except that this book is not marketed as literary criticism. It is only barely a biography, and then almost begrudgingly. In both the lit I look at others' responses to this book and I keep to wondering if they've read a different book than I did. I think that the problem here is that what Robb actually wanted to write was a book of literary criticism. Huge swaths of this book consist of Robb critiquing Rimbaud's works and/or responding to others' critique. There wouldn't be a problem with this, except that this book is not marketed as literary criticism. It is only barely a biography, and then almost begrudgingly. In both the lit. crit. sections as well as the sections that cover Rimbaud's life, Robb assumes the reader already has some knowledge of the rumors and stories surrounding Rimbaud. Again, this would be okay, except that most of the history section is spent "correcting" what Robb feels are falsehoods rather than just telling the story of Rimbaud's life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ryal Woods

    I’ve been trying to write a review of Graham Robb’s biography of Arthur Rimbaud for my Goodreads page, and all I can come up with is “When I regress, I want to be Rimbaud.” read the rest of my thoughts on Rimbaud on my website stories for boys http://in2thewood.com/2012/07/03/ma-b... This is an excellent and thorough biography. I'm deducting one star because I would like to have seen examples of his poems included. This is a frustration when Robb talks about them in the text. Most likely those who I’ve been trying to write a review of Graham Robb’s biography of Arthur Rimbaud for my Goodreads page, and all I can come up with is “When I regress, I want to be Rimbaud.” read the rest of my thoughts on Rimbaud on my website stories for boys http://in2thewood.com/2012/07/03/ma-b... This is an excellent and thorough biography. I'm deducting one star because I would like to have seen examples of his poems included. This is a frustration when Robb talks about them in the text. Most likely those who take the trouble to read such a hefty volume are already familiar with Rimbaud's work and own books of his poetry, but it would be nice for those whose volumes don't include specific poems or those who aren't as familiar. Or those of us who are lazy, and don't want to trot off to the bookshelf to retrieve our copies.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hal

    A lengthy in depth biography of the poet Arthur Rimbaud. I had read "The Illuminations" one of his key works of poetry though I have to say did not remember much about it. Also Rimbaud was one of Jim Morrisons' literary models in his music and poetry. Rimbaud obviously was a genius but like many his life was one of great tumult and struggle. Much to his own making he lived his younger years in utter squalor, poverty, and rebellion. Later he drifted his way to east Africa to get involved in gun t A lengthy in depth biography of the poet Arthur Rimbaud. I had read "The Illuminations" one of his key works of poetry though I have to say did not remember much about it. Also Rimbaud was one of Jim Morrisons' literary models in his music and poetry. Rimbaud obviously was a genius but like many his life was one of great tumult and struggle. Much to his own making he lived his younger years in utter squalor, poverty, and rebellion. Later he drifted his way to east Africa to get involved in gun trading and other forms of commerce. Beyond his early writing he pretty much vacated poetry and though recognized by the poetic circles primarily of France he never amounted to much on a larger scale until after his death at a relative early age.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Quicksilver Quill

    I have read and enjoyed several books by Graham Robb, but this is still my favorite. If you are a fan of Arthur Rimbaud—or even if you have never read his work at all—this biography provides a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of this genius poet and vagabond. Rimbaud’s adventurous existence was every bit as engrossing as his visionary poems—and the author expertly traces his life from young French bohemian to gunrunning explorer in Africa. While this is the only Rimbaud bio I have rea I have read and enjoyed several books by Graham Robb, but this is still my favorite. If you are a fan of Arthur Rimbaud—or even if you have never read his work at all—this biography provides a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of this genius poet and vagabond. Rimbaud’s adventurous existence was every bit as engrossing as his visionary poems—and the author expertly traces his life from young French bohemian to gunrunning explorer in Africa. While this is the only Rimbaud bio I have read, I can’t say I would want or need to read another. The author’s style is fluid and his research thorough. To read these pages is truly to go back in time to walk the boulevards of 19th century Paris with Rimbaud and Verlaine. You may just find it illuminating.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jazzy Lemon

    What did we know about this teenage libertine poet with the brilliant blue eyes? What we didn't know about the rest of his life is probably more eye-opening. Here was a man who as a trader and explorer truly went where no one had ever gone before. Arthur was a beat poet long before Ginsberg and Kerouac, an artistic soul til he died, although he no longer wrote poetry, his letters were florid, and he had a keen eye for photography. A must-read for those who find their voice in his youthful works.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert Costic

    People who read biographies on Rimbaud do so because they're fascinated with his poetry, so they might be frustrated, as I was, when, as they read through this biography, they get all the gritty details of his life as a colonialist in the last third of the book. But it's to the author's credit that he provides a complete, unsentimental account of Rimbaud's life, an account that implies that the wildness and revolutionary posturing of Rimbaud in his youth wasn't unsustainable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Looking forward to Robb's Balzac and Hugo and anything else he has written or will write. Plenty of people can do exhaustive research, but few who have the persistence and patience for that work also have the talent, the flair, for turning the facts unearthed into an endlessly fascinating story such as this. Here's to more Robb!

  30. 5 out of 5

    and

    this biography isn't especially sympathetic w/ Rimbaud's political engagement, at one point calling "What's it to us" an ode to the hydrogen bomb. but he covers the latter part of Rimbaud's life & points out affinities between rimbaud's poetry & his expeditions in Harar/ Abyssinia, which is at times incredibly uncanny.

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