Charles Baudelaire by Édouard Manet


Monologue by Janie Reynolds '22

Major: Business Administration

Fall 2020

            Well hello there. My name is Charles Baudelaire. I am here to share my tale of love and heartbreak. My journey through trust and distrust. The building of friendships and the pain when they fracture open, spilling the guts of your truest self for all to see.

            I met my dear friend Édouard Manet in 1858. I was living in Paris, having barely escaped from the oppressive expectations of my stepfather. Manet was controversial then and was certainly not the company that my family envisioned for their son. But then again, my family never understood much about me and my way of life. But that’s getting ahead of myself. If you’re going to hear the full story, we must start from the beginning.

            My relationship with my father can only be described as brief. He passed when I was a mere six years old. How much can one really know about their father when they’re six years old. I was not yet of the age where he laid his heavy expectations onto my shoulders nor was I old enough to appreciate the craft that he and his family had perfected for generations. Woodworkers, winegrowers, and craftsman were to be my legacy of which I knew naught. My mother became what held me together. As she grieved for my father, I drew more and more into her. I became dependent upon her. She was the only thing in my world that mattered. But I was not the only thing in hers.

            A year after my father’s passing, Jacques Aupick entered my life. He and my mother married after a very short courtship, following which she gave birth to my stillborn step sibling. The complete takeover of my life and my mother by Aupick was tedious. His life was the focus of our lives suddenly, when mine had always been my mother’s priority. I was jealous to say the least.

            Growing up, I never had much respect for my stepfather’s authority. We got along fine, but our relationship was nothing more than that. An unspoken agreement to be cordial for my mother’s sake, with no love lost between us. We operated like this until my 21st birthday when I was granted access to my sizable fortune. In my opinion, one must live life to the fullest, regardless of petty burdens like lack of a sustainable lifestyle or overspending. My stepfather, being the coldhearted penny pincher he was, did not support my lavish living. He sought legal action against me, limiting my spending to a miniscule yearly salary. When I fought him on this, he swindled my mother into forcing me on a long voyage from which I barely escaped. I jumped ship, literally, in Ile Bourbon and from there fled to Paris. Which gets us to the moment of the inception of my friendship with Manet.

            Having just fled my obtrusive stepfather and ended up in Paris as a means of escape, I found myself in a world of culture and art. Manet had been ruthlessly rejected from the Paris Salon, though he was breaking ground in the art world, allowing for the transition from Realism to Impressionism to begin. Manet was the founder of Impressionism. We immediately understood each other. Two people, whose art had never been appreciated as it should be. His paintings having been rejected from the Salon and my poetry had yet to break through as a legitimate form of work rather than the leisure activity of an aristocrat.

            It was at this moment that my life took a turn. Jeanne Duval entered my life and afterwards it was never the same again. As many a musician will cite in their work, we all have that one person in our lives, that no matter how poorly our relationship goes, we will always go back to them. Jeanne was mine. Know that it takes great pain for me to relay our story of love as those who were nearest to us did not want us to be together, a modern Romeo and Juliet is the only proper description for our feelings.

            I attended a ball given in the honor of the great artists of the day and that was where I first saw her. Stunning in a gown of pale pink, a contrast to her warm, dark skin. I was immediately taken to her. The potential of approaching her to ask for a dance had me standing stark still. Edouard has always been the more charming of the two of us. He was the star of the ball, dancing with every eligible girl there. I, being more of a wallflower, had spoken only to those I already knew and didn’t have the guts to approach Jeanne. I watched her throughout the evening, our eyes meeting in passing over and over. Each time our eyes locked I felt sparks. She was it.

            Through the next few weeks I attended everything I received an invitation to. Countless teas, dinners, luncheons, and the like in hopes of seeing her again. But to no avail. She was nowhere to be found. All hope seemed lost. I finally revealed my feeling to Edouard, and he laughed at me. He said “you expect I did not already know this? I’ve never seen you take on the social scene with such fervor. And the staring at the ball was anything but discrete.” Nonetheless he agreed to help me. He sent out invitations to a ball he would throw with all of societies best in attendance. Jeanne came to the ball. As she arrived, she approached Manet and myself to thank him for the kind invitation, a moment I remember to this day. She moved with the upmost grace. My mother and stepfather also attended and after watching our interaction they approached me.

            “What do you think you’re doing with that girl” my stepfather said. “You should not associate with someone of a lesser status than yourself. It is detrimental to your image and will hurt your prospects when considered with your lack of financial responsibility.”

            I was horrified. How could Aupick already have heard of this fleeting love. Both mother and stepfather demanded that I never interact with her again, they could see it on my face. I was lost already.

            Later in the evening I approached her. Never before has conversation flowed more smoothly with an individual. But soon into our conversation, tragedy struck. She told me that she was promised to another. Her beauty being the renown of Paris, a wealthier gentleman had already secured her as his wife. What was I to do? I spent the remainder of the evening lost in my own mind. Devastated at the idea that we could never be.

            As the night was winding down, and by night, I mean early morning. Around 5 am. Jeanne approached me again. I had sequestered myself into a back room, hidden away from the prying eyes of society. She held out her hand to me, requesting the dance that I had denied her upon our first meeting. I had no choice but to oblige. My life would never be the same after that moment. Being the only thing in her sight made me the center of the universe. No one else could make me feel so whole. The feeling I’d been searching my whole life for through indulging in the delicacies of the day was finally real. All because of her.

            Our affair began that evening and continued for the next 20 years of my life. The push and pull of who had the power was constant. She was the most magnetic being in the world. Manet was so moved by our attachment to each other that he rendered this etching of me in that same early morning that the affair began. He did it to put down concretely the start of this portion of our lives, which he knew then would be tumultuous and ultimately destructive, something that I myself had yet to understand. So, there you have it. The one moment that changed my way of existence. Was it for the better you may ask? I cannot say. But I do know that I would never have wanted to have it any other way.