Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

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Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Born(1804-12-23)23 December 1804
Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Died13 October 1869(1869-10-13) (aged 64)
Occupation Literary critic
Alma materCollège Charlemagne
Notable worksPort-Royal

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (French:  [sɛ̃t bœv] ; 23 December 1804 13 October 1869) was a literary critic of French literature.


Personal and public life

Early years

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 newspaper Globe , and in 1827 he came, by a review of Victor Hugo's Odes et Ballades, into close association with Hugo and the Cénacle, the literary circle that strove to define the ideas of the rising Romanticism and struggle against classical formalism. Sainte-Beuve became friendly with Hugo after publishing a favourable review of the author's work but later had an affair with Hugo's wife, Adèle Foucher, which resulted in their estrangement. Curiously, when Sainte-Beuve was made a member of the French Academy in 1845, the ceremonial duty of giving the reception speech fell upon Hugo.


Sainte-Beuve published collections of poems and the partly autobiographical novel Volupté in 1834. His articles and essays were collected the volumes Port-Royal and Portraits littéraires.

Commemorative plaque, 11 Rue du Montparnasse, Paris. Plaque Sainte-Beuve, 11 rue du Montparnasse, Paris 6.jpg
Commemorative plaque, 11 Rue du Montparnasse, Paris.

During the rebellions of 1848 in Europe, he lectured at Liège on Chateaubriand and his literary circle. He returned to Paris in 1849 and began his series of topical columns, Causeries du lundi ('Monday Chats') in the newspaper, Le 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.


After several books of poetry and a couple of failed novels, Sainte-Beuve began to do literary research, of which the most important publication resulting is Port-Royal. He continued to contribute to La Revue contemporaine .

Port-Royal (1837–1859), probably Sainte-Beuve's masterpiece, is an exhaustive history of the Jansenist abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs, near Paris. It not only influenced the historiography of religious belief, i.e., the method of such research, but also the philosophy of history and the history of esthetics.

He was made Senator in 1865, in which capacity he distinguished himself by his pleas for freedom of speech and of the press. According to Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, "Sainte-Beuve was a clever man with the temper of a turkey!" In his last years, he was an acute sufferer and lived much in retirement.

One of Sainte-Beuve's critical contentions was that, in order to understand an artist and his work, it was necessary to understand that artist's biography. Marcel Proust took issue with this notion and repudiated it in a set of essays, Contre Sainte-Beuve ("Against Sainte-Beuve"). Proust developed the ideas first voiced in those essays in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).


In 1880 Friedrich Nietzsche, though an avowed opponent of Sainte-Beuve, prompted the wife of his friend Franz Overbeck, Ida Overbeck, to translate the Causeries du lundi into German. Until then, Sainte-Beuve was never published in German despite his great importance in France, since it was considered representative of a French way of thinking detested in Germany. Ida Overbeck's translation appeared in 1880 under the title Die Menschen des XVIII. Jahrhunderts (Men of the 18th Century). Nietzsche wrote to Ida Overbeck on August 18, 1880: "An hour ago I received the Die Menschen des XVIII. Jahrhunderts, [...] It is just a marvellous book. I think I've cried." Ida Overbeck's translation is an important document of the cultural transfer between Germany and France in a period of strong tension, but it was largely ignored. It was not until 2014 that a critical and annotated edition of this translation appeared in print. [1]

Sainte-Beuve died in Paris, aged 64.





In English translation

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  1. Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Menschen des XVIII. Jahrhunderts. Übersetzt von Ida Overbeck, initiiert von Friedrich Nietzsche. Mit frisch entdeckten Aufzeichnungen von Ida Overbeck neu ediert von Andreas Urs Sommer. 423 pp. Berlin: Die Andere Bibliothek, 2014. ISBN   978-3-8477-0355-6


  • Nicolson, Harold George (1957). Sainte-Beuve. London: Constable.
  • Williams, Roger L. (1957). "Sainte-Beuve, Sultan of Literature". In: Gaslight and Shadow: The World of Napoleon III. New York: Macmillan.

Further reading