Attila Jozsef (1905-1937) was a Hungarian poet, and one of the major European poets of the first half of the 20th century. He spent most of his life in great poverty, and also suffered from mental illness. He was left-wing, and joined the Hungarian Communist Party at a time when it was outlawed. Here he is on a 1980 Hungarian stamp for the 75th anniversary of his birth, SG 3317.
Victor Hugo on a 1976 Luxemburg stamp, SG 983. Today in the English-speaking world he is probably best known as author of Les Misérables because of the musical: it is a very long novel - how many of you have read it? And how many, of you who have done so, have read it right through without skipping what are, frankly, some pretty tedious pages? Be honest! When I was young, we knew Hugo most for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, filmed a number of times - including a 1939 version with Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara which I still remember vividly from my childhood. From 1851 to 1870 he lived in exile because of opposition to Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), most of the time in Guernsey. In 1870, when Paris was besieged by the Germans, he ate animals given to him by the Paris zoo. He did much to help establish international copyright. Besides being a novelist, he was a major poet and a playwright. 1830 performances of his play Hernani were the scene of near-riots between his supporters, champions of the romantic school of literature, and classicists, both sides dressed fairly extravagantly: ostensibly, one immediate cause of the fisticuffs was that Hugo deliberately broke one of the rules of French classical versification, which required a break at a certain point in each line, by carrying a word over across where the break would be - to us a trivial excuse for blows; really, it was an unsuccessful attempt by champions of the 18th-century style to try and stifle plays written by the romantic movement.
The great German writer Goethe on a 1976 Luxemburg stamp, SG 981. His greatest work, Faust (in 2 parts), uses a huge variety of verse-forms, to such an extent that it can almost serve as a manual of German versification.
In 1951 France issued a set of 3 stamps showing poets of the second half of the 19th century. Here is Baudelaire, SG 1129. Baudelaire (1821-1867) revolutionised the subject-matter of French poetry, writing about urban disillusion, vice, and sensual pleasure. His most famous collection is Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), for the original edition of which he and his publisher were successfully prosecuted for offending public decency: he was fined, and 6 of the poems in the collection were banned until as late as 1949. A second edition was published, minus the 6 prohibited poems, but with 35 additional poems. It is difficult to underestimate the influence of Baudelaire on later 19th-century French - and indeed much European (especially British) - poetry. He wrote some beautiful poems about unbeautiful subjects. A number of his poems were set to music by French composers, or inspired instrumental and other compositions. In addition to metrical poems, he wrote a large number of prose poems - a genre which has been used by many French poets but is less common in the English-speaking world. Besides being a poet, he was one of the most influential art critics of his time. He spent his last years in relative poverty - not helped by the bankruptcy of his publisher - and great ill-health, exacerbated by excessive use of laudanum (an opium-based medicine widely used at the time) and alcohol, and died heavily in debt after a period of semi-paralysis brought on by a stroke.
Last Edit: Feb 14, 2015 13:54:59 GMT -5 by Deleted
The second stamp, SG 1130, in the French 1951 series shows Verlaine (1844-1896). His poems mostly use very simple language and verse-forms to haunting effect. They are suffused with melancholy, and extremely sonorific. It is not surprising that a number of major French composers set some of them to music, including Fauré and Debussy. He was a major influence of late 19th-century British poets. Besides his verse, he is famous for a tempestuous love-affair with Rimbaud - he was arrested in Belgium in 1873 for wounding Rimbaud in a fit of jealousy. In prison, he rediscovered Roman Catholicism, and some of his later poems have a strong religious character. He wrote two collections of erotic poems. In his later years he was a drug addict and alcoholic, and his behaviour was erratic. Despite this he was widely respected, and the Paris police had orders never to arrest him because of his literary eminence. One curious fact is that his parents preserved the foetus of a previous miscarried pregnancy in a jar of alcohol.
The third stamp, SG 1131, in the French 1951 set shows Rimbaud (1854-1891), the poet with whom Verlaine had a tempestuous love-affair, bingeing on absinthe and hashish. Almost all his poems date from his late teens, and he abruptly stopped writing poems before he was 21. In 1876 Rimbaud joined the Dutch army, so that he could travel to the East Indies: he quickly deserted and returned incognito to France. In 1878 he worked as a quarry fireman in Cyprus, but soon came back to France suffering from typhus. In 1880 he went to the Arabian peninsula, where he became a merchant until the year of his death. He died from cancer of the leg in France. Among his poems are Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) about a boat whose crew are killed and which comes to realise it is subsequently being guided to the "poem of the sea"; and Les Illuminations, a set of mainly prose poems many of which are about the lure - and horror - of modern urban life, and some of which were memorably set to music in one of Benjamin Britten's masterpieces.
Call me Ishmael! Here is Herman Melville, the great 19th-century American novelist, on a US stamp, SG 2091 (1984). But be honest - how many of you American Bears have read every word of Moby Dick and not skipped anything? Personally, I have found some of his long short stories a lot easier going!
Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) was a French writer and politician. He was the first major French romantic poet. His best-known poem is Le Lac, in which a widower looks back on the love he and his wife had for each other. He made his literary name overnight with an 1820 collection called Les Méditations Poétiques. He became a Deputy in the French Parliament in 1833. During the 1848 French Revolution he was for three months President of France, heading a provisional government while preparations were made for a general election. Among other things, he helped to ensure that the tricolour was the permanent flag of the country. Towards the end of 1848 he stood unsuccessfully in presidential elections, winning less than 20,000 votes - the winner was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of Emperor Napoleon, who went on to mount a coup at the end of 1851 and establish a politically repressive Second Empire. During the Second Republic (1848-51) Lamartine promoted the abolition both of slavery in French-controlled territories and of the death penalty. He was an orientalist, and travelled in the Middle East in the early 1830s: a valley in Lebanon is named after him, and there is a cedar tree in Lebanon called the Lamartine cedar, under which Lamartine is said to have sat. In religion he seems to have been something of a Universalist - seeing truth not just in Christianity but in other religions, and greatly admiring Mohammed. In 1948 France issued a set of semi-postal stamps in aid of the National Relief Fund and marking the centenary of the 1848 Revolution: Lamartine appears on one of them, SG 1028.
François Villon (1431 to ?1463) was one of the major French pre-Renaissance poets, and also a notorious criminal, engaging in violence and robbery. His masterpiece is a collection of poems, Le Testament, dated 1461 and at least partly written in prison. Most of the poems are in the form of ballades, a French verse-form for songs. The main themes are the passage of time, the prospect of death for everyone, attacks on his enemies and a bishop who had him imprisoned, and religion. His best-known line is "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?", "Where are the snows of last year?", from a poem about how a succession of famous women are no more. Many poems are full of slang and criminals' jargon. Nobody knows how or when he died - the last record of him is early 1463. Some people think he was eventually hanged, others that he died in a brawl, others that he met a wretched death lying drunk on straw in a room in a tavern. The 1489 death date on the stamp is pure speculation, and he probably died much earlier. He appears on a 1946 French semi-postal stamp, SG 985, issued for the National Relief Fund.
Philippe de Commines (1447-1511) was a historian and diplomat. Born in Flanders, he became a favourite of one of the Dukes of Burgundy, and led some diplomatic missions for the Duke. In 1472, possibly to escape heavy debts, possibly because he had been made an offer he could not refuse, he fled to the court of Louis XI of France, marrying a French aristocratic heiress the following year. He is one of the ancestors of Louis XV. He was able to provide Louis XI with inside knowledge of Burgundian affairs, but came under a cloud in 1478 for allegedly accepting too many bribes. The cloud soon passed and he was sent on diplomatic missions to Italy. He remained on the French royal council after the death of Louis XI in 1483, while Louis's successor was still a minor, but lost much of his influence and ceased to be on the council in 1485. That year he joined a rebellion by a group of lords against the French regency, but was captured in January 1487 and imprisoned for over two years, being confined to a cage for part of that time. On his release he was exiled to his estates, where he wrote his Memoirs, which give a unique first-hand insight into the events and politics of his time. The Memoirs include the cynical phrase, "For the honours always go to the winners." He appears on one of the stamps from the French 1946 semi-postal set in aid of the National Relief Fund, SG 987.
François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) was a French writer, politician and diplomat. He wrote novels influenced by the Romantic movement in European literature, but is best known today for his autobiography, Mémoires d'outre-tombe (Memoirs from beyond the Grave). He went into exile during the French Revolution, living in poverty in London, but returned to France under an amnesty of 1800. For a time he supported Napoleon, leading an embassy to the Vatican and then serving as a government minister, but the two men soon vehemently disagreed. After travelling in Greece and the Middle East, he went on to publish a savage critique of Napoleon, which led Napoleon to comment that he would like to see Chateaubriand run through with a sabre on the steps of the Tuileries: he was banished from Paris. An ardent royalist, after the restoration of the French monarchy he was elevated to the peerage and again became a government minister, but was sacked in 1824 over policy disagreements and joined the liberal opposition. His political career ended in 1830 when he refused to support the new king, Louis-Philippe. A 1948 French stamp marked the centenary of his death.
For the 50th anniversary of the death of the prolific writer Jules Verne, France issued this stamp, SG 1251. In the background is Captain Nemo standing on the Nautilus, the submarine in one of Verne's most famous novels, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.
Think of the Belgian-born writer Georges Simenon (1903-1989) and you no doubt think of Inspector Maigret. France issued SG 3227 for the 5th anniversary of his death. Simenon wrote an incredible number of novels - almost 200, some under pseudonyms of which he had more than 20. Maigret features in 75 of his novels and almost 30 short stories: but he also wrote psychological novels. He used a deliberately restricted vocabulary - if I remember correctly, some 2000 words in total for most of his fiction - to help ensure his works were accessible to a wide audience. Some suspect him of collaboration with the Germans during World War 2, but the evidence is not clear. From 1945 to 1955 he lived in North America. In 1977 he claimed that since he was 13 he had made love to 10,000 different women: if you do your maths, that is an average of some 200 different women a year. I don't think anyone has checked out this claim. The splendid postmark on the stamp is from Albertville, a small town in the French Alps which hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics.
Last Edit: Mar 27, 2015 11:12:19 GMT -5 by Deleted
André Malraux (1901-76) was one of the major French novelists of the 20th century. His best-known novel is La Condition Humaine (The Human Condition), which won the Prix Goncourt and is set in Shanghai during an unsuccessful 1927 Communist rising. He spent part of the 1920s in Indo-China, where he was very critical of French colonial policy. During the Spanish Civil War he fought for the Republicans; in WW2 he joined the French Resistance, and was captured by the Gestapo in 1944. After the end of the war he was appointed a minister in two governments led by Charles de Gaulle. In 1996 France issued SG 3358 for the 20th anniversary of his death.
Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) was the leading French symbolist poet of the late 19th century. His work is characterised by an exquisite sense of sonority, and several poems have inspired important pieces of music, including Debussy's symphonic poem Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. In one of his longer works, Un Coup de Dés (A Throw of the Dice) different typefaces are used, and words and phrases are carefully spaced out over the pages in 2-page spreads, with lots of blank space. For the centenary of his death France issued SG 3516.
Alexandre Dumas (1802-70) needs little introduction. Although his writing career commenced with successful plays, it is for his novels that he is remembered today. His most famous works include The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was extremely prolific - his collected works come to some 100,000 pages. His love life was also fairly prolific - besides an actress-wife, he had over his life almost 40 mistresses, and no doubt some shorter-term liaisons. He was also active politically: in 1830 he took part in the revolution which replaced King Charles X with Louis-Philippe. In the 1860s he was active in the movement to unify Italy. Despite his fame and literary success, he faced some racial discrimination: his parents were a French aristocrat and an Africa slave-woman. In 2002 France issued SG 3871 for the bicentenary of his birth.
Saint-Pol-Roux (1861-1940) was an important but nowadays somewhat neglected French symbolist poet. Born in Marseilles, he moved to Paris to make his name, and attended the salon of Stéphane Mallarmé. He played around with a succession of pseudonyms - his real name was Pierre Roux - before settling, with typical immodesty, on Saint-Pol-Roux le Magnifique (Saint-Pol-Roux the Magnificent). He left Paris in 1898, having upset people by his arrogance and needing to escape creditors. Eventually he settled on the coast of Brittany, living off royalties from his contribution to the libretto of a popular opera, Louise, by Charpentier. In 1940 a drunk German soldier invaded his house, killed the family governess, and raped his daughter, wounding her with a bullet. Saint-Pol-Roux himself was injured in the incident. While he was in hospital his home burnt down, with all his unpublished manuscripts inside, and he lost the will to live. The surrealist and communist poet Louis Aragon wrote a poem almost immediately after his death about what he called the "assassination" of Saint-Pol-Roux: the poem was predictably censored by the Vichy regime. Saint-Pol-Roux appears on a French Red Cross Fund stamp of 1968, SG 1784.
Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was a poet, playwright and diplomat. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature no less than 6 times. He wrote free verse with long lines. His most famous works are probably Cinq Grands Odes, five long and often ecstatic poems; the plays Le Partage de Midi (The Break of Noon), L'Annonce faite à Marie (The Tidings Brought to Mary), both full of Roman Catholic spirituality; and Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher (Joan of Arc at the Stake), the text for an opera-oratorio with music by Arthur Honegger. He was a career diplomat who served in various countries around the world. Politically, he was pretty right-wing, as were many leading French Catholics of his time, and this has damaged his subsequent reputation, especially as in 1940 he addressed a laudatory poem to Marshal Pétain, who headed the Vichy regime. He did, though, openly condemn Nazi anti-semitism. Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was his sister: she was a sculptress and also model and lover of the sculptor Rodin: she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and in 1913 Paul Claudel had her confined to a psychiatric institution. Paul Claudel features on this Red Cross Stamp of 1968, the centenary of his birth - SG 1785 - along with Joan of Arc, the subject of the Claudel/Honegger opera-oratorio.
Albert Camus (1913-60), shown on SG 1738 of 1967, was one of the major French novelists of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Initially a communist, he joined the French anarchist movement after being expelled for alleged Trotskyist sympathies. His best-known works are three novels, L'Étranger (The Outsider), about a French Algerian who kills an Arab after his mother's funeral, where he shows no grief; La Peste (The Plague), centred on an outbreak of plague in the Algerian city of Oran; and La Chute (The Fall), about a French lawyer: and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), an essay about the absurdity of the human quest for meaning.
Louis Aragon (1897-1982) was a leading French surrealist poet and novelist.. Politically, he was a communist, and during WW2 he was an active member of the French Resistance. This 1991 stamp, SG 3015, reproduces a drawing of him by the famous French artist Matisse. The cancellation has the poet's name.
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