Total Eclipse (1995)




Director:     Agnieszka Holland.

Starring:     Leonardo DiCaprio (Arthur Rimbaud), David Thewlis (PaulVerlaine), Romane Bohringer (Mathilde Maute), Dominique Blanc (Isabelle Rimbaud), Felicie Pasotti Cabarbaye (Isabelle, as a child), Nita Klein (Rimbaud's mother), James Thiιrrιe (Frederic), Emmanuelle Oppo (Vitalie), Denise Chalem (Mrs. Maute De Fleurville), Andrzej Seweryn (Mr. Maute De Fleurville), Christopher Thompson (Carjat), Bruce Van Barthold (Aicard), Christopher Chaplin (Charles Cros), Christopher Hampton (The Judge), Mathias Jung (Andre).


This is an interesting story, but my wife and I found ourselves constantly shaking our heads over the behavior of the two famous French poets.  Paul Verlaine is shown abusing his wife (setting her hair on fire) and his new born infant, then crying over his sadistic behavior.  Rimbaud is arrogant, egomaniacal, rude, crude, completely idealistic.   Both men gave the impression of being crazy.  They both seem to have multiple personality disorders.

Verlaine appears to be bisexual, with a dominance of homosexuality, and Rimbaud just homosexual.  The relationship is constantly up and down and one wonders how they can stand their lives.  (One also feels sorry for Verlaine's young wife.)  A sad movie, but still worth it. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


French poet and leader of the Symbolist movement in poetry. Paul Verlaine's life style wavered between criminality and naive innocence.

With Stephane Mallarme and Charles Baudelaire he formed the so-called Decadents. In Verlaine's works two impressions predominate: that only self is important, and that the function of poetry is to preserve moments of extreme sensation and unique impressions.

In spite of the 'vagueness' of his poetry, Verlaine showed a careful craftsmanship in his compositions, using simple, musical language. He maintained the outward form of classical poetry, but his work opened the way for free verse.

1844 – Paul Verlaine was born in Metz, northeast France, where his father, an infantry captain, happened to be stationed. Verlaine was the only child, but there lived also with the family an orphan cousin, Elisa Dιhee, whom the young poet later loved passionately.

1851 – at 7 years of age, the family moved to Paris, where he was sent to the lycιe.

1858 – at the age of 14 he read Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal, which influenced deeply his writing aspirations. He studied law, but gave up after two years and entered the civil service at the City Hall.

1862 – at age 18, Verlaine received his bachelor's degree.

Among Verlaine's friends were a number of Parnassian poets, Leconte de Lisle, Thιodore de Banville, Louis Xavier de Ricard, Catulle MendPs, and Franηois Cippιe. At the ale houses of the rue Soufflot he found company for long discussions and for drinking absinthe - the drink that was eventually to lead him to a hospital bed. His father refused to finance his life style - drinking and writing.

1866 – his first book, POOMES SATURNIENS, appeared.

1869 – FKTES GALANTES was published after the death of his beloved cousin. Although Verlaine had homosexual tendencies.

1870 – he married a young girl. He married Mathilde Mautι de Fleurville, and shared the same dwelling sometimes with his wife, his in-laws, and with the younger poet Arthur Rimbaud.

1870 – For Mathilde Verlaine wrote LA BONNE CHANSON (1870), revealing his anxieties and hopes for happiness, but he also showed a violent temper, attacked his wife and once he hurled his infant son Georges against a wall.

When Verlaine started an affair with Rimbaud, the marriage was shattered.

1871 – Franco-Prussian War.

1872 (Feb) – Mathilde demanded a separation. To calm his outraged wife, Verlaine asked an indignant Rimbaud to leave.

1872 (July) – he had made good his escape, for the adolescent had held greater sway, and the two lovers were soon on the road to Brussels. And although Mathilde made an attempt at reconciliation, Rimbaud and Verlaine had already left for London.

1873 -- Verlaine, recently married and father of a son he later abandoned, infatuated by the brilliance of the adolescent Rimbaud, was wanted by the police for his part in the insurrection of the Paris Commune; naturally he sought exile in the Belgian Ardennes.

In this impossible situation Verlaine left his family to live a Bohemian life with his poet friend in London and Brussels.

1873 – their relationship ended on July 12 when Verlaine, drunk and desolate, tried to shoot Rimbaud in the wrist after a quarrel. He was jailed for 18 months. When he was examined by the court physicians they noted that his "anus can be dilated rather significantly by a moderate separation of the buttocks," and he "bears on his person the signs of active and passive pederastic habits."

Verlaine was visited by a priest who interrupted his confession and asked: "You've never been with animals?"

1874 – during his imprisonment Verlaine studied Shakespeare and Don Quixote and wrote ROMANCES SANS PAROLES (1874). "And here is my heart which beats only for you." The collection is considered the masterpiece where he finally found his poetic voice.

1875 (Feb 13) – Rimbaud went to Stuttgart, Germany to be a tutor.

1875 (March) – Verlaine joined him. After 2 and a half days they separated never to see each other again.

After being released, Verlaine again met Rimbaud, who soon found out that his former friend was a Catholic. Rimbaud first proceeded to get Verlaine drunk and make him blaspheme against his faith. According to one story he then knocked him down with a club.


Verlaine moved to England where he taught French.

1877 – returned to France to teach at the college of Rethel. From this period date most of the poems in SAGESSE. It contains verse of religious sentiment that reflects the poet's conversion to Roman Catholicism.

1879 – he gave up teaching, adopted a pupil, Lucien Lιtinois, and they ran a farm together. The farm went bankrupt, and Verlaine returned to Paris. His second attempt to live in the country, this time at Coulommes, also ended in bankruptcy.

1879 – living with his new lover, Lucien Lιtinois, a former pupil at the school at which Verlaine had taught for two years at Rethel, in the Ardennes. They had been expelled due to their "particular friendship".

1880 – at Coulommes near Rethel, the poet bought a farmstead for Lιtinois. Together, they decided to give rural life a try and, once again, there was failure, separation and alcohol.

1881 – Verlaine returned to Paris to live with his mother, rue de la Roquette... Gone were the days of young lovers.

1883 – Verlaine's favorite pupil died of typhus.

1884 – he published such critical works as LES POOTES MAUDITS, short biographical studies of poets, short stories and sacred and profane verse.

1886 – his mother died. Although relapsing into drink, Verlaine was celebrated at the same time as the leading poet of France.

1888 – his poem AMOUR (1888) looked back to Lucien's death. He was for long periods in public hospitals, continued to drink, slept in slums, and spent a month in prison. He also suffered from rheumatism, cirrhosis, gastritis, jaundice, diabetes, and cardiac hypertrophy. At Broussais Hospital he was visited by Andrι Gide and told him that he was at the moment working on a "series of masturbatory poems".

In his last years, Verlaine wasted whatever royalties he earned on two middle-aged women prostitutes he lived with alternately, while remembering to praise the beauty of each. He also frequented a gay man, Bibi-la-Purιe, who was an occasional thief. Bibi had become especially famous for stealing umbrellas. "For me, Rimbaud is an ever-living reality," Verlaine once said to his friend, "a sun that burns inside me that does not want to be put out..."

In his autobiographical writings he denied any sexual relationship with Rimbaud.

Verlaine's life style started to attract reluctant admiration, his early collections of poetry were rediscovered.

1891 – death of Arthur Rimbaud at 37 years of age.

1894 – he was elected France's Prince of Poets, after the death of Leconte de Lisle.

1896 – Verlaine died in Paris at the age of 52.

His funeral was a public event, with thousands of Parisians following the casket to the Batignolles cemetery. Despite his fame, Verlaine died in poverty.


1854 – Rimbaud born in Charleville in the Ardennes.

The father left his wife and family.

1865 – at age 11, Charleville College.

1869 – at age 15, he won first prize in a contest.

1871 – Franco-Prussian War.

1871 – ran away again.

1871 (August) – wrote and sent poems to Verlaine.

1871 (mid-Sept) – invited by Verlain, he goes to Paris. Rimbaud caused a scandal in the family because his manner was rude, untidy and insulting.

1872 (July) – together they left for Brussels. Trying to get him back, Mrs. Verlaine joined them along with her mother. But it was not to be. He left her there.

1891 – died at 37 years of age.



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