Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, toFrançois Ducasse, a French Consular Officer and his wife, Célestine Davezac. His mother died when he was 18 months old, a suspected suicide. His youth in Uruguay remains a mystery, though we know that during this Ducasse's youth civil wars and outbreaks of cholera beset the region. When Isidore was 10, his father returned to France briefly and left young Ducasse with relatives in Tarbes to finish school.
Isidore attended a couple of lycées in Tarbes and Pau where he was remembered as sullen introvert with a sharp voice and a distant, haughty demeanor. At school, Lucien displayed a dislike for Latin and Mathematics, but showed interest in literature. He dismayed his teachers with "excesses of thought and style", which, oddly, would later earn him a permanent place in French literature.
After leaving school at 19, it is speculated that Ducasse traveled, perhaps to visit his father in Uruguay or in the Bordeaux region in France where he may have made literary contacts. Lucien received an allowance from his father that ensured him a comfortable living situation during his travels.
In 1867 or 1868, Lucien moved to Paris to study at the Polytechnic or School of Mines, though no enrollment records exist. While in Paris, most scholars assume he began composing Les Chants de Maldoror, under the name Comte de Lautréamont (based on a character from a popular French gothic novel).
The first canto of the book was published in 1868, and the complete work in 1869. The publisher Lacroix however refused to sell the book as they feared prosecution for blasphemy or obscenity. While fighting to have the work published, Ducasse began work on a book of poetry titled Poesies, however this work remained unfinished as the author died under unknown circumstances.
A year later, Lautréamont wrote a new collection of poems, a seeming negation of Maldoror that spoke of 'hope, faith, calm, happiness and duty.' Lautréamont did not complete this work, nor did he see his Maldoror available to the public during his lifetime. Lautréamont died in a Paris hotel room at the age of 24.
In 1874, after the publishing house changed hands, Lautréamont's works were finally made available to the public, but this initial publication met with little commercial success.
It was not until a Belgian literary journal published Lautréamont's work in 1885 that his work began to emerge from obscurity and find an audience among the literary avant-garde. It was the 1927 publication of Lautréamont at Any Cost by the Surrealists Philippe Soupault and Andre Breton that assured Lautréamont a permanent place in French literature and the status of patron saint to the Surrealist movement.
Les Chants de Maldoror is based around a character called Maldoror, a figure of unrelenting evil who has forsaken God and mankind. The book combines an obscene and violent narrative with vivid and often surrealistic imagery.
The book is often seen as an important work of French symbolism. The artist Amedeo Modigliani always carried a copy of the book with him and used to walk around Montparnasse, quoting from Maldoror. In the 20th century it was acknowledged by the writer André Breton as being a direct precursor to surrealism. Invoking an obscure clause in the French civil code, New York performance artist Shishaldin has recently petitioned the French government for permission to posthumously marry the author...