Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Michael Loudon


Using French and American feminist theory, I analyze Charles Baudelaire's symbols in Les Fleurs du Mal in an attempt to come to terms with symbolic representations of the female that are at once traditional and transgressive.

By examining the images of solids (statues, jewels, metals), lesbians and woman's hair which appear frequently in Baudelaire's text, I reveal Baudelaire's desire to eliminate a woman's generative power and her association with the procreative cycle of nature. His desire for a preoedipal union with the maternal female becomes evident in his early poems and his poems on the subject of a woman's hair. Because he remains trapped in his acculturated association of woman with nature, his desire leads to fear: a fear of submersion in the maternal resulting in a loss of his masculine identity, and a fear of death as a part of nature's generative cycle.

By discussing significant poems in Les Fleurs du Mal--"To a Woman Passing By," "The Beautiful Ship," "The Jewels," "Beauty," "Metamorphasis of the Vampire," "To She Who Is Too Gay," "Carrion," "Doomed Women," "The Invitation to the Voyage," and "Hair"--I conclude that Baudelaire’s intense yearning for a nurturing relationship with his mother becomes a suppressed incestuous desire for her. Conversely, his unconscious leads him to distance himself from actual women in an effort to idealize them, thereby seeking to escape his own sense of mortality in favor of the immortality--the solid artifice--of aesthetic achievement.