Pierre Jean de Béranger
Béranger, Pierre Jean de
Born Aug. 19, 1780, in Paris; died there July 16, 1857. French poet. Raised by his grandfather, a tailor.
While still a child, Béranger absorbed the emancipatory ideas of the great French Revolution. In his first poetic experiments he imitated the genres of so-called high classicism, but he soon turned his attention to the song. Béranger brought the traditional folkloric stanza and refrain up to the level of professional art. He lent variety of genre and of composition to the song, along with an unprecedented flexibility, making it possible to turn a song into any “lofty” genre by the touch of his pen—whether it be an ode, a hymn, or a dithyramb. Béranger wrote songs that were marches, calls to arms, or lampoons, as well as satirical, publicistic, elegiac, and erotic love songs. Some of his songs are constructed in the form of lyric monologues, oratorical presentations, or miniature genre paintings. Sometimes a song of Béranger’s is a thumbnail sketch of a portrait or a short story.
During the First Empire (1804–14), Béranger’s songs were characterized by epicurianism and good-natured humor.
Political satire was encountered only rarely—for example, in the song “The King of Yvetot” (1813), which allegorically ridiculed Napoleon I. The tone of Béranger’s songs changed sharply during the Restoration. The poet became the mouthpiece of popular hatred for the Bourbons and for the Catholic and aristocratic reaction; his political satire reached its peak. With caustic mockery and plebeian forthrightness Béranger flayed the monarchical power (“The Endlessly Small”), the self-seeking blockheads among the aristocratic émigrés (“Le Marquis de Carabas” and “The White Cockade”), and the Catholic clergy and Jesuits (“Holy Fathers” and “The Death of Satan”), counterposing to them the figures of Napoleonic soldiers (“The Old Sergeant” and “The Old Corporal”). Béranger was twice brought to trial and imprisoned for collections of his songs (in 1821 and 1828). The leaders of the official opposition, the bourgeois liberals, betrayed him more than once. Nevertheless, Béranger remained unshakably committed to his struggle and firm in the belief that the Restoration regime would fall (“The Fourteenth of July”).
Béranger participated in the July Revolution of 1830 and sang its praises in his songs, but he soon saw that the bourgeois monarchy had not improved the lot of the people (“Jacques” and “The Old Tramp”). In his search for a solution, he turned to Utopian socialism and praised those who propounded it (“Madmen”). His revulsion against the domination of the financial aristocracy, expressed in his sharply antibourgeois songs such as “Bondy,” brought the poet back to thoughts of a new revolution (“Idea”). The rise of popular discontent in the 1840’s was reflected in Béranger’s song “The Deluge,” which foretokened the Revolution of 1848.
K. Marx referred to Béranger as “immortal.” The Russian revolutionary democrats V. G. Belinskii, N. G. Cher-nyshevskii, and N. A. Dobroliubov greatly valued his heritage. In the 1850’s and 1860’s translations of Béranger’s songs by V. S. Kurochkin and M. L. Mikhailov brought him enormous popularity in Russia. Soviet poets have also translated a great deal of Béranger—for example, P. Antokol’skii, V. Dmitriev, V. Levik, and V. Rozhdestvenskii.
WORKSOeuvres complètes, vols. 1–4. Paris, 1868–78.
Ma biographie. Paris, 1857.
Correspondance, vols. 1–4. Paris, 1860.
In Russian translation:
Polnoe sobr. pesen ν perevodakh russkikh poetov. Tiflis, 1893.
Poln. sobr. pesen, 2nd rev. ed., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1936.
Sochineniia. Moscow, 1957.
REFERENCESGorbov, D. Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo Beranzhe. Moscow, 1925.
Danilin, Iu. Beranzhe i ego pesni. Moscow, 1958.
Velikovskii, S. “P. Zh. Beranzhe.” In Pisateli Frantsii. Moscow, 1964.
Staritsyna, Z. A. Beranzhe v Rossii: XIX vek. Moscow, 1969.
Boiteau, P. Vie de Béranger. Paris, 1861.
Arnould, A. Béranger, ses amis, ses ennemis et ses critiques, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1864.
Fischer, J. O. Pierre-Jean de Béranger. Berlin, .
Touchard, J. La gloire de Béranger, [vols.] 1–2. Paris, 1968. (Contains a bibliography.)
IU. I. DANILIN