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This article is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

Edgell Rickword's 'Faustus' Charles Hobday

When Edgell Rickword was writing his life of Rimbaud he came to see him as a Faustian figure. The comparison was an inevitable one, when writing of a boy who at sixteen eagerly read books on magic and aspired to make himself 'le grand malade, le grand criminel, le grand maudit, - et le suprême Savant!' When Rickword referred to Faustus, although like Rimbaud he had no doubt read Goethe in translation, it was always Marlowe's Dr Faustus which he had in mind - 'a book which may move only a few,' he called it, 'but for those it is one of the greatest of all books'. In the preface to his biography he wrote: 'The impulse which Marlowe translated so superbly in the physical symbolism of Dr Faustus was the same as that which tormented Rimbaud in a metaphysical hell. The desire for more power, more joy, and more entire perfection, in short, for the absolutes of duration and sensation which lure us in Helen's fabled face, is enough to damn a man to suffering in this life with no need for the metaphor of hell. And so universally true is the Faustus myth that Rimbaud, hypnotized by the idea of absolute perfection, rebelled against the gods of order and tradition and sought in unlawful means, in nihilism and destruction, the power which the normal faculties denied him.' In the final pages of the book he returned to the same theme: 'Although Une Saison en Enfer is a ...

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