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The Parisian Prowler  
By Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Edward K. Kaplan

168 pp.
University of Georgia Press. US$19.95
ISBN-10: 0820318795 / ISBN-13: 9780820318790

The Parisian Prowler is a small volume that contains an extraordinary treasure of 50 short works of the French poet Charles Baudelaire. These are prose poems, so they are more like very short stories or tiny vignettes, small glimpses of life whose meaning is hinted at but not spelled out. The stories are framed by a common narrator, an anonymous wanderer of the 1850s Paris streets. The musings of this unknown traveler touch on the grotesque and the urbane, the macabre and the evocative.

Baudelaire is generally known for the darkness in his work. This excellent translation has retained his dark mood and employed a phraseology that is pertinent to the modern reader. Previous translations contained a certain floweriness of prose that many readers today would find distracting. The language is in this translation simple and stark, yet lyric.

For example, in a story called "The Double Room," the nameless narrator is in "a room that resembles a reverie, a truly spiritual room, where the stagnant atmosphere is lightly tinged with pink and blue. Here, the soul takes a bath of laziness, perfumed with regret and desire. -- Something like twilight, bluish and pinkish; a dream of voluptuous pleasure during an eclipse."

Later, though, a darker, even horrific element intrudes into the room in the form of a policemen: "...an awful, heavy knock resounded on the door, and, just like in a bedeviled dream, I felt a pickax strike me in the stomach. And then a Specter entered. He is a bailiff come to torment me in the name of the law..."

Baudelaire has much to offer the modern reader. He lived in what is essentially the same modern age as we do. His morality, troubled outlook, and concerns about urbanism and alienation mirror the experiences of many people today.

Charles Baudelaire was a nineteenth-century French poet whose works are classics of French literature. Translator Edward Kaplan won the Lewis Galantiere Prize of the American Translators Association for this splendid volume. His translation will keep The Parisian Prowler from becoming a lost literary treasure.

Sylvia Breau, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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