Baudelaire’s “Argot Plastique”
Poetic Caricature and Modernism

Ainslie Armstrong McLees


“This study represents a refreshingly new approach to the reading of Baudelaire . . . [and] suggests a new way of reading the best-known French poet, and shows how brilliantly he anticipated the themes and techniques of modern art. It represents an important contribution to Baudelaire studies.”
French Review

“McLees has written an intriguing addition to French studies, a combination of art history, art theory, cultural aesthetics and literary analysis. This small gem of a book . . . helps us see clearly the complex artistic theory behind Baudelaire’s work and [McLees] adds her own touches to the critical portrait of this poet.”
Nineteenth-Century French Studies

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Exploring the poet’s fascination with the affective power of caricature, Baudelaire’s “Argot Plastique” charts the movement in Baudelaire’s poetry toward a language of visual distortion. McLees demonstrates that caricature, graphically and culturally a vehicle of sharp wit and social commentary, became in Baudelaire’s works a poetic expression of the human condition itself. Using its capacity for deflating commentary to subvert the poetic conventions of his age, transferring its range of subjects into a poetry that celebrated the underclass, Baudelaire ultimately focused the lens of poetic caricature on the relation of subject, artist, and viewer. Richly illustrated with lithographs, etchings, and drawings by Goya, Daumier, Grandville, Gavarni, and other caricaturists, Baudelaire’s “Argot Plastique” reveals the importance of caricature as a model for Baudelaire’s poetry.
Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $25.95

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Ainslie Armstrong McLees is a senior faculty member in the Department of Languges at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies and a lecturer on art and literature at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.