Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


Toutes les monstruosités violent les gestes atroces d’Hortense. Sa
solitude est la mécanique érotique, sa lassitude, la dynamique
amoureuse. Sous la surveillance d’une enfance elle a été, à des
époques nombreuses, l’ardente hygiène des races. Sa porte est
ouverte à la misère. Là, la moralité des êtres actuels se décorpore en
sa passion ou en son action––Ô terrible frisson des amours novices
sur le sol sanglant et par l’hydrogène clarteux! trouvez Hortense.


All that is unnatural violates the atrocious gestures of Hortense. Her
solitude is erotic mechanics, her weariness, love’s dynamic. Under a
childhood’s supervision she has been, in several eras, the ardent
hygiene of the races. Her door is open to destitution. There, the
morality of present beings is disembodied in her passion or her
action––O terrible trembling of novice loves on the blood-soaked
ground and in the milky hydrogen! work out who is Hortense.

Arthur Rimbaud was born in the provincial town of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes département in northeastern France. He was the second child of Frédéric Rimbaud (7 October 1814 – 16 November 1878)[6] and Marie Catherine Vitalie Cuif (10 March 1825 – 16 November 1907).[7]

Rimbaud’s father, a Burgundian of Provençal extraction, was an infantry captain risen from the ranks; he had spent much of his army career abroad.[8] From 1844 to 1850, he participated in the conquest of Algeria, and in 1854 was awarded the Légion d’honneur[8] “by Imperial decree”.[9] Captain Rimbaud was described as “good-tempered, easy-going and generous”.[10] with the long moustaches and goatee of a Chasseur officer.[11]

In October 1852, Captain Rimbaud, then aged 38, was transferred to Mézières where he met Vitalie Cuif, 11 years his junior, while on a Sunday stroll.[12] She came from a “solidly established Ardennais family”,[13] but one with its share of bohemians; two of her brothers were alcoholics.[13] Her personality was the “exact opposite” of Captain Rimbaud’s; she was narrowminded, “stingy and … completely lacking in a sense of humour”.[10] When Charles Houin, an early biographer, interviewed her, he found her “withdrawn, stubborn and taciturn”.[14] Arthur Rimbaud’s private name for her was “Mouth of Darkness” (bouche d’ombre).