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Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  473 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
The distinguished biographer, novelist, and memoirist Edmund White brings his literary mastery to a new biography of Arthur Rimbaud.

Poet and prodigy Arthur Rimbaud led a life that was startlingly short, but just as dramatically eventful and accomplished. Even today, over a century after his death in 1891, his visionary poetry has continued to influence everyone from Jim Mo
Kindle Edition
Published (first published October 9th 2008)
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Oct 13, 2008 Tosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edmund White comes through again. A very informative and entertaining short biography on Arthur Rimbaud. Through a confession of sort in the first part of the book, White has a personal interest in the relationship between Rimbaud and the poet Paul Verlaine. In other words, what a couple! But a relationship that really had an affect on contemporary literature.

Rimbaud is really the first punk rock figure. A total asshole who wrote like an angel. His beauty and his sometimes ugliness really added
Apr 16, 2011 ~riaria~ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, biography, rimbaud
The first biographical book I have ever read about my teenage obsession/idol, Arthur Rimbaud. I still think he is a fascinating figure and an amazing poet. If you are interested in learning more about his short and turbulent life, his relationship with Verlaine or his mother and other interesting trivia, I highly recommend this book by Edmund White.

White really touched me, when he said that he used to sneak out in the night to read Rimbaud's poetry in the bathroom of his strict all-boys boardin
Al Bità
Nov 24, 2012 Al Bità rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The French homosexual poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) had a significant influence on major early 20th-c writers, musicians and artists, despite the fact that his own writing covers at most the five year period from when he was 16 to 21 years of age (at which time he swore off poetry forever). His influence on the Symbolists, Dadaists and Surrealists, who took his cold, cruel, often deliberately ugly descriptions of reality as he saw it, was extensive. It was used, perhaps, to express and give cr ...more
Corey Ryan
Mar 20, 2011 Corey Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
"In order to become a true poet, Rimbaud wrote, the writer must turn himself into a seer. 'The poet becomes a seer through a long, immense and carefully reasoned disordering of all the senses.' The poet must subject himself to a self-instigated torture; he must undergo all the agonies of love, suffering and madness. 'He needs all his faith, all his superhuman force, and he will become the great sick man, the great criminal, the great cursed sinner-and the supreme Wise Man, since he'll have reach ...more
Ian Drew Forsyth
The author lays it all out for you here, he personally identified with Rimbaud his youth dealing with his own homosexuality and desire for escape. He does all the translations of poems he quotes. He gives his suggestions of the best translations and originals, best books on Rimbaud in French and English, and all while not lingering too long over anything. Enjoyable, clear-eyed, steady read.


As Paul Valery declared, "Before Rimbaud all literature was written in the language of common sense
Stephen Curran
Feb 01, 2016 Stephen Curran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It probably takes a gap of around 150 years to be able to read about the life of someone as unpleasant as Rimbaud without wanting to bathe yourself in disinfectant afterwards. He really was an absolute bastard. One story about him that isn't mentioned in this biography concerns him secretly spiking an acquaintance's glass of milk with his semen.

About ten years ago I read Graham Robb's excellent and detailed biography of the poet. Edmund White's short book has served as a bracing refresher. The w
Mel Bossa
Jul 30, 2015 Mel Bossa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0006-lgbtq
What an incredible existence Rimbaud led. I pity bisexual and married man Verlaine. He didn't stand a chance.

How could he resist such a force of nature?

Beauty, fierceness, genius, madness, integrity, self-loathing, duality, ideas of grandeur, intelligence, curiosity, youth, and tragedy--Rimbaud had it all and must have been impossible to ignore, love or forget.

Rimbaud: "I'm leaving for Belgium."
Verlaine: "I was on my way to the pharmacy to buy my wife Mathilde her medication."
Rimbaud: "Leave u
Branden William
Dec 04, 2012 Branden William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written glimpse into the world of a true literary genius, from the perspective of a homosexual author, Edmund White. Exerting a strong influence on surrealism, as one of the most important poets of his time, whose 'power of incantation' Andre Breton found overwhelming-- and who would always remain a key source in the development of surrealist thought-- Rimbaud quickly felt that poetry must break with tradition and "usher in a new era of human history." He felt that all poetry was written ...more
Allen Levine
Dec 01, 2014 Allen Levine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Usually books I read get 3-4 stars. This is the result of picking books with subject matter that interests me, or books written by authors I enjoy reading. Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel is no exception. In this case, however, I didn't choose the book because I am a fan of Rimbaud - who, by all accounts wasn't a person you'd want to spend a lot of time with - or his poetry - in fact, I will confess to never having read any of his work. I picked up the book because the biographer, Edmund Whi ...more
Jody Mena
What a magnificent character Arthur Rimbaud must have been! He lived a strange, decadent, chaotic and lamentably short life. Like so many misunderstood poets, ahead of its time. Like a blazing star, he burned so brightly that he burned himself out. But in his short 37 years, he may have lived more than most who live twice as long. He was truly and s[spectacularly larger-than-life, yet at the same time, he is exceedingly, almost exaggeratedly human in his vices and other failings of character. Th ...more
I've been reading this at the bookstore as it just arrived--and , before i go further, should point out that it is written specifically for the Atlas series, whcih do not purport to be the kind of exhaustive bios--such as author Edmund White has written of Genet, for example--that others have penned regarding Rimbaud. (A recent french bio is over 1,200 pages; the best English language bio is Graham Robb's, which is over 500)--
so on that count, word count, don't expect the same kind of detail tha
Oct 12, 2010 Bianca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Arthur Rimbaud is probably one of the most fascinating people, to me, of all time. Everything about his life intrigues me, and his relationship with Paul Verlaine was both a thing of beauty and a treacherous, unhealthy addiction that neither of them could seem to break. I feel connected to Rimbaud through that typical, sad isolation; the kind only met when someone is too much like who they are idolizing but probably too unbelievable for anyone else to take notice.

Singlehandedly, Rimbaud pretty
Alexandra Petri
Jul 06, 2015 Alexandra Petri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Arthur Rimbaud's life was so exciting it was almost monotonous. Most people have periods of rest and dullness in which they gather up their spirits and plan their escapes. He escaped as a teenager and never looked back, packing more into 37 years than most of us do into double that number. His tempestuous relationship with Verlaine takes up most of the book, but it's a riveting read.

The trouble with his unstinting excitement is that you will wind up with a paragraph like "Rimbaud decided he wan
Strictly speaking this is not a biography of Rimbaud nor does White claim it to be. In fact he recommends the best biographies in English and French in his bibliography. He also states clearly that he is indebted for his research to Graham Robb's biography. He makes no claim to original research or insights but he does put a few of Enid Starkie's wilder claims to bed as being nothing but wild speculation or a fruit of whatever psychological theory happened to be in vogue at the time.

It is a simp
Mr. White has undertaken the task of dissecting and probing the elusive nature of Arthur Rimbaud, a progenitor of Surrealism and one of the influences behind the Decadent era. The book is thorough, exhaustive and spares no punches about its subject. Bratty, willful, cruel, needy, offensive, churlish, lazy and contradictory, Rimbaud affected everyone who met him—usually in the negative. He alienated his friends, offended strangers and engaged in a torrid affair with Paul Verlaine, the violent, mo ...more
Lewis Manalo
Dec 04, 2009 Lewis Manalo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Turning thirty-one is depressing because if you haven't become a professional athlete by that age, you know it's never going to happen. Similar could be said of turning nineteen: if you haven't become Arthur Rimbaud by that age, then it's never going to happen.

Edmund White's slim biography is pure entertainment with generous helpings of research and a dash of memoir. Rimbaud's biography is the stuff of literary legend: enfant terrible seducing an older poet, getting shot by said poet, walking aw
May 31, 2010 Josh rated it really liked it
This was an easy read, other than White's impressive vocabulary making me look up a word every few pages. I wanted to learn the scandal and the genius of Rimbaud, whose work I have never read. I enjoyed White's A Boy's Own Story so I sought out this biography. White steers clear, at least in these two books, of emotionality. His fiction does not suffer much for this; it's never less than compelling (though I think it would be unmatched if White could convey feeling as well as a Toni Morrison). T ...more
May 06, 2011 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modernism
This is an excellent book for what it is -- a very brief and readable biography of this remarkable figure, focused largely on his sick relationship with Verlaine; but also an intelligent meditation on Rimbaud's poetics, albeit in brief.

White thinks that Enid Starkie's biography is excellent and readable and almost novelistic -- but questions its accuracy. As one example, he shows how Starkie first infers the notorious gang-rape from one of Rimbaud's poems (there is no hard evidence for it), and
Aug 02, 2011 Scot rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, biography
I have long been fascinated by Rimbaud and all I knew seem to be scandalous heresay about his life even more than 100 years after his death and so when I saw this biography reviewed a couple years back I added it to my "to read" pile and finally got around to it. I think Edmund White lived vicariously through Rimbaud and so the focus was more on his exploration of homosexuality and his bizarre relationship with the poet Verlaine than the mystical/occult side of his poetry. Additionally, as with ...more
Jeff Buddle
Oct 30, 2016 Jeff Buddle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, it's fitting to read a bio of Rimbaud, who believed that the poet should be a seer, after finishing a bio of Henry Miller who considered the true artist to be a sage. There is another striking similarity between the two writers, both were anarchic personalities whose belief in personal freedom cost them dearly when it came to their personal lives and relationships.

This is a short biography, less than 200 pages to cover the short but packed life of Arthur Rimbaud. Edmund White does have a
May 17, 2009 Jenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in finding out what really made Arthur Rimbaud tick, start with this book by Edmund White. I didn't really know enough before picking this book up to have any misconceptions, but if you did, this will set you straight.(no pun intended)

From a 21st century American's perspective, AR and Paul Verlaine's story is definitely bizarre. Frequent journeys into gutters both domestic and foreign, abusive rampages and family members who funded said journeys and an absolute commitment t
Karen Renee Collins
Through no fault of the author, you are left wanting more. Rimbaud's bizarre short life has been preserved in a handful of letters, "The Drunken Boat", "Illuminations", "A Season in Hell", and a few additional scattered works. Much of his life is documented through the warped veil of Verlaine's eyes. Rimbuad's decision to completely change his life after his crazy, tumultuous affair with poetry (and Verlaine) is difficult to comprehend. From an obnoxious youth who managed to fit "merde" into eve ...more
Monty Milne
Edmund White is a fine writer, and his subject is fascinating, but this left me slightly underwhelmed. I think I was spoiled by reading Graham Robb's biography of Rimbaud first - which, despite its length, is an absorbing delight. White acknowledges his debt to Robb, but really Robb tells you all you could possibly want to know about Rimbaud, so if you've already read him, you don't really need to read this. On the other hand, this is a great appetite-whetter if you read it first. White also ass ...more
Dec 05, 2008 William rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
A short work (less than 200 pages) that just touches upon the greatest moments on the life of Rimbaud, from the early "deplorable behavior" of his late teen years to his different un-poetic persona (cut short by his death at the age of 37). Not enough text to fully satisfy one's curiosity about this amazing personality, but at least an introduction that makes one want to read more (such as the 1000+ pages of Lefrere's biography published in 2001). The author, White, has a tendency to let some of ...more
Robert Vaughan
Mar 26, 2016 Robert Vaughan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, a biography about Rimbaud by Edmund White, is a different perspective on a troubled writer, and helps to change a lot of misconceptions that have grown since Rimbaud's life was so shockingly shortened. I was turned on to his work in college, and only recently have returned to this young poet and his contribution to poetry overall. I'm thrilled that he may have been one of the first French poets to use "free verse" and to attempt what we now call prose poetry... and simply for his will ...more
Sean Carman
Oct 09, 2011 Sean Carman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This seems like the best introduction you could find to Rimbaud's life and work. White's biography moves at a brisk pace, describing Rimbaud's visionary approach to poetry and his intolerable personification of the Romantic artistic ideal -- it sounds great to achieve a "complete disordering of the senses" until you actually try it in your real life. Verlaine comes across as pathetic, Rimbaud as impossible. Maybe they were truly meant for each other. Naturally, I ordered the Modern Library paper ...more
Jan 21, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very engaging, relatively short, new biography of this very odd character--Rimbaud. I suspect more people find his life an interesting read rather than his poetry. I suppose that would include me...though his poetry--the few of his poems that I get anything from--is at time deeply affecting. At any rate, this biography seems well-researched and honest--something hard to come by in writing about Rimbaud's reckless and unusual life. But again, I suppose it is his unusual life that makes a Rimbaud ...more
Dec 19, 2012 cemg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent introduction to the life of Arthur Rimbaud. I knew nothing of the actual facts of his biography before beginning (other than a general sense of his enfant terrible-ness), but White's text gives an easily readable and informative look, balancing analysis and narrative well. Heartily recommended for anyone interested in lives of poets – particularly beautiful, bored genius poets.
Nov 28, 2012 Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edmund White is a brilliant, modern stylist. All his work is both easy to read and elegant. This one, about the French poet Rimbaud, is short but a distillation of the essence of Rimbaud, leaving you wanting more.
Like everything Edmund White writes, there is a clear-eyed honesty about this. I really like ihe way he refuses to romanticise Rimbaud but also shows the man who spent a huge amount of his life at home with his mother.
Jun 16, 2008 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is it better to burn out or fade away? I didn't realize that Rimbaud lived beyond the life of the bohemian poet. I assumed he died some romantic, consumptive death. Or committed suicide. Clearly, I had no idea. Somehow, I expected fireworks.

Edmund White's biography is an illuminating look at the life of this wildly influential poet who turned away from his poetry after four incendiary years of writing. The strange twist of his success is as compelling as the story of his youth.
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Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is now a New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University. He was also a membe ...more
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