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   Volume II, Issue 3
February 2006   

Whidden on Rimbaud: Scholarship @ Falvey series features

Dr. Seth Whidden

On February 12, Dr. Seth Whidden, assistant professor of French and member of the classical and modern languages and literatures department, gave a brief but dynamic presentation on the meteoric career (as the poet Mallarmé described it) of Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and about his own recently published book, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters, a Bilingual Edition (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 2005). Dr. Whidden’s volume is an updated and revised version of Wallace Fowlie’s authoritative literal translation of the poet’s works, originally published in 1966. 

Riding the wave of effervescence and optimism surrounding the Paris Commune of 1871, Rimbaud envisioned nothing less than a thorough rejuvenation of French poetry. This “modern” poetry would be created by a new breed of poet, the “seer,” engaged in “reaching the unknown by the derangement of all the senses.”

In the few short years that followed, Rimbaud produced experimental verse, prose poems and the first free verse composed in French. At the age of 20, having published Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell), he handed his friend and lover Paul Verlaine the manuscript of what would eventually be published as The Illuminations, and abruptly abandoned both poetry and France. After a variegated and not-so-successful career as soldier, engineer and gun-runner in Africa, Rimbaud returned to France, where he died at the age of 37. 

Fowlie’s masterful literal translations allow the English-language reader to encounter Rimbaud’s original French as closely as possible. However, facsimiles and manuscripts have come to light over the past forty years that have superseded many of the previously established texts. These, together with inevitable changes in English vocabulary, necessitated a revisiting of Fowlie’s work. Dr. Whidden’s critically acclaimed efforts let the eternal youth of Rimbaud shine through.

Dr. Whidden's lecture was part of Falvey’s Scholarship@Villanova series, formerly Falvey Book Talks, which highlight recent publications by Villanova faculty.

Contributed by Barbara Quintiliano, who is Instructional Design Librarian and a member of the liaison team to the department of classical and modern languages and literatures; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer