|French literary history|
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (December 23, 1804 – October 13, 1869) was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history.
He was born in Boulogne, educated there, and studied medicine at the Collège Charlemagne in Paris (1824-27). In 1828, he served in the St. Louis Hospital. Beginning in 1824, he contributed literary articles, the Premier lundis of his collected Works, to the Globe newspaper, and in 1827 he came, through a review of Hugo's Odes et ballads, into close association with that poet and the Cénacle. He became friendly with Victor Hugo after publishing a favourable review of the author's work, and had an affair with Hugo's wife.
Sainte-Beuve was made a member of the French Academy in 1845. During the turmoil of 1848 in Europe, he lectured at Liège on Chateaubriand et son groupe littéraire. He returned to Paris in 1849 and began his series of Monday chats (Causeries du lundi) in the Constitutionnel. When Louis Napoleon became Emperor he made Sainte-Beuve professor of Latin poetry at the Collège de France, but anti-Imperialist students hissed him and he resigned. He was made Senator in 1865, in which capacity he distinguished himself by his pleas for freedom of speech and of the press. In his last years he was an acute sufferer and lived much in retirement.
Sainte-Beuve had vast knowledge, wonderful tact, and acute perception of what was vital and significant in his subjects. A selection of the Causeries in English appeared as English Portraits (New York, 1875) and another as Essays on Men and Women (London, 1890). E. J. Trechmann published a translation (eight volumes, New York, 1909-11).
One of Sainte-Beuve's major critical contentions was that in order to understand an artist it was first necessary to understand that artist's biography. Marcel Proust took issue with this contention and began an essay meant to refute it. Proust's essay eventually developed into À la recherche du temps perdu, ironically a very autobiographical work.
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