A Season in Hell is the only work that Arthur Rimbaud has made published personally. It was written in a painful moment of his life. It was started in April 1873 after Arthur was back from England, when his relation with Paul Verlaine was becoming worse. It was finished in August after their final break-up.
It reports his sufferings close to madness which led him to the gates of death, the failure of his experiment to become a seer poet. It speaks about his disillusions and his doubts but also about his hopes.
In April 1873, Arthur was back to Roche and in May, he wrote a letter to his friend Ernest Delahaye telling: "[...] I make small stories in prose, general title: Pagan book, or Negro book. It is stupid and innocent. O innocence! innocence, innocence, innoc..., plague![...]
I feel terribly uncomfortable. Not a book, not an inn that I can reach, not an incident in the street. What an horror that French countryside is! My fate depends on that book, for which a half-dozen of atrocious stories are still to invent. How to invent atrocities here! I do not send you the stories though I already have three of them done, that costs so much! At last, that is! [... ]"
At the end of May, Rimbaud and Verlaine went to Belgium then they embarked for England where they stayed until July. On 3rd July, following a violent argument, Verlaine left Rimbaud and went to Brussels, with the hope to be finally reconciled with his wife. On 8th July, Rimbaud joined him over there, and on 10th July, as he absolutely wanted to leave for Paris, Verlaine fired two shots of revolver at him. Verlaine was imprisoned for 2 years. Slightly wounded in the left wrist, Arthur went back to Roche on 20th July, after a few days spent at hospital (read all the details in the Documents section).
According to the memories of his wife Isabelle Rimbaud, Paterne Berrichon told that Arthur was hardly came back, without answering any welcome words, that he slumped on a chair and burst into tears, saying: "O Verlaine!...Verlaine". Then locked up in the loft of the farm with his despair, he finished to write "A Season in Hell", groaning, sniggering, with cries of anger and curses.
He obtained financial help from his mother to have his book published. She tried to read the manuscript, but as she did not understand anything, she asked him: "What did you want to say?". He answered: "I wanted to say what it said, literally and in all the senses".
The book was published in October at the Belgian printer Jacques Poot and Co and Arthur went to Brussels to take some copies. He left one signed specimen for Verlaine in prison. He gave one to Delahaye, one to Millot, another friend of Charleville, and sent 3 or 4 of them to Forain and his Parisian friends. He also went to Paris, but because of his bad reputation and the scandal of Brussels, his old acquaintances avoided him.
Back to Roche, disgusted, he burnt in the fireplace the last copies he had, and some rough works, letters and papers, in front of his mother and his sister Isabelle. Being unable to pay for the printer, he abandoned the edition of his book. So in 1901, five-hundred other specimens were found by Leon Losseau, a Belgian scholar, in the printing works warehouse.
Index of poems
- Once, if my memory serves me well...
- Bad Blood
- Night in Hell
- First Delirium: Foolish Virgin
- Second Delirium: Alchemy of the Word
- The Impossible
- Notice by Catherine.
- Source: "Rimbaud Oeuvres", edition of Suzanne Bernard and André Guyaux, Classiques Garnier 1993.
- Excerpt of the letter coming from "Rimbaud, les lettres manuscrites: commentaires, transcriptions et cheminements" by Claude Jeancolas.