Literary daybook, July 10

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published July 10, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On July 10, Gandalf is imprisoned in Orthanc.
-- "The Fellowship of the Ring" (1954)
by J.R.R. Tolkien

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1873, Paul Verlaine shot Arthur Rimbaud in a Brussels hotel, wounding him in the wrist. Although not yet two years old, their relationship was in such sexual, emotional, financial and absinthe confusion that no specific motive seems relevant, but the Belgian courts were determined to convict Verlaine of assault, and gave him the maximum two-year sentence. Rimbaud's attempts to testify on Verlaine's behalf, and then to withdraw charges, were ignored; condemnations from Verlaine's jilted wife were entertained, as were political charges relayed from Paris; and given even greater sway was the report of the police doctors, which attested, in great anatomical detail, "that P. Verlaine bears on his person traces of habitual pederasty, both active and passive."

The police report on Rimbaud that was forwarded from Paris for the trial makes it clear that, for reasons of rhyme or lifestyle, everyone would have been happy if the two poets had managed to kill each other:

"In morality and talent, this Raimbaud [sic], aged between 15 and 16, was and is a monster. He can construct poems like no one else, but his works are completely incomprehensible and repulsive.
Verlaine fell in love with Raimbaud, who shared his ardour, and they went off to Belgium to savour their happiness and what follows.
Verlaine had abandoned his wife with unparalleled glee; yet she is said to be very likeable and well-mannered ...
A short while ago, Mme Verlaine went to look for her husband to try to bring him back. Verlaine retorted that it was too late, that they could not live together again and that in any case he was no longer his own man. 'Married life is abhorrent to me,' he cried. 'We love each other like tigers!' And, so saying, he bared his chest in front of his wife. It was bruised and tattooed with knife wounds administered by his friend Raimbaud ...
Discouraged, Mme Verlaine returned to Paris."

Though short and over, the Verlaine-Rimbaud relationship was productive. While in prison, Verlaine completed and published "Songs Without Words," a collection that didn't sell a single copy when first published in 1874, but was seen as revolutionary within a decade. Rimbaud published "A Season in Hell" in the same year, and then gave up on Europe and literature for the quieter life of gun running in Africa.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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