Sainte-Beuve's Livre d'amour as Poetry

Citation metadata

Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110)
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,027 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date fall-winter 1974-75) In the following essay, Chadbourne argues that Sainte-Beuve's most neglected and maligned volume of poetry, Livre d'amour, possesses a structural unity not seen in his other volumes and should be accorded equal importance in the canon of Sainte-Beuve's work.]

J'ai la conscience que je ne suis pas encore jugé comme poète(Pensées et maximes, p. 262)

In the preface to the first edition of his Pensées d'août (1837), Sainte-Beuve refers obliquely to an additional volume of verse which he has completed, for which he has a special fondness, but which discretion (la pudeur) will not allow him to publish "for a very long time." Continuing the game of hide-and-seek in a postscript added in December 1844 to the original preface, he states: "L'auteur a composé en tout quatre recueils de vers, dans chacun desquels, n'aimant pas trop à se répéter, il aurait voulu avoir fait quelque chose de nouveau et de distinct. On a dans Joseph Delorme et les Consolations les deux premiers de ces recueils; les Pensées d'août sont le quatrième."1

The mysterious missing link was, of course, none other than the Livre d'amour, inspired by the poet's love affair with Madame Victor (Adèle) Hugo, which lasted approximately from 1830 to the winter of 1836-1837 and which also stimulated two other imaginative works of his, the novel Volupté (1834) and the short story Madame de Pontivy (1837). By 1844, however, the Livre d'amour had already begun to emerge from secrecy. In 1843 Sainte-Beuve had authorized the printing of 500 copies, anonymously; he had given a few to intimate friends and had preserved a few others, before destroying the rest.2 Vanity had won a concession from la pudeur; to some extent the vanity of a man not averse to letting it be known that he had been the successful rival of Victor Hugo; to a greater extent, probably, the vanity of an artist unwilling to leave unpublished any portion of his work that he judged to have merit.

The first true edition of the Livre d'amour appeared in 1906, long after the deaths of Adèle Hugo (1868), the author himself (1869), and Victor Hugo (1885). To justify his publication of the complete text, Jules Troubat, Sainte-Beuve's last secretary, quotes from a manuscript dictated to him by the master and designed to serve as a preface for the book: "Ce sont ici des vers d'amour composés autrefois, en ce temps où l'on avait le bonheur de la jeunesse, des vrais plaisirs et des vrais tourments. On s'est décidé à en assurer l'existence, parce qu'ils ont été faits, de l'aveu des deux êtres intéressés, pour consacrer le souvenir de leur lien. Ils portent avec eux, d'ailleurs, leur explication plus que suffisante, et n'en souffrent pas d'autre ici."3 Sainte-Beuve was resolved that in one form or another his book must survive: "Mon intention expresse est que ce livre ne périsse pas" (p. 17).4 On the annotated copy that he gave to his friend Paul Chéron, who...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100937