François Villon is sometimes called the original poète maudit. This isn’t quite right. There’s no doubt he lived a fast life, faster than either Verlaine or Rimbaud ever would. He killed a priest (either by a stab to the groin or a rock to the face—it’s unknown which wound was the fatal one), stole 500 gold écus from the Collège de Navarre, and was implicated in both a second robbery and a second death before he was banished from Paris for ten years in lieu of being hanged.

What excludes Villon from the designation of poète maudit—at least as Verlaine used the term—is not a lack of moral deviance. It is a lack of pretension. Verlaine cursed himself. He rejected moral and poetic conventions and wrote against the insufferable bourgeois, in part, because such a break allowed him to see himself as a...


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François Villon
Northwestern University Press, 304 pages, $21.95

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