Sainte-Beuve's Livre d'amour as Poetry

Based on Sainte-Beuve's love affair with Adèle Hugo, the Livre d'amour, privately printed in 1843, was first published in 1906 and was treated not as a literary work but as a biographical document, a piece of evidence in the "trial" of the author, accused of betraying Victor Hugo's friendship and dishonoring his wife's reputation. Viewed here for the first time as a work of poetry by a very conscious artist, the book reveals a greater unity of form than his other verse collections, thanks to its theme of the growth and decline of a passion and also, to its resemblance to a novel in verse, with characters, action, settings, and atmosphere. The relatively joyless image of love that it projects is offset by strong ennobling qualities: the association of love with religion and with examples of lovers consecrated by poetic tradition, and the reshaping of experience through memory in conjunction with imagination. In technique the author seeks to perfect his "élégie d'analyse," blending "tendresse et pureté" with "réalité." Though hardly a neglected masterpiece, the book contains a modest number of successful poems and deserves restoring to the canon of Sainte-Beuve's poetry. (RMC)

Chadbourne, Rîchard M
Volume 1974-1975 Fall-Winter; 3(1-2) 80-96.