Gun that nearly killed poet Rimbaud fetches $460,000
The most famous gun in French literary history, the revolver with which Paul Verlaine tried to kill his lover and fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud, sold for $460,000 at auction in Paris on Wednesday.
The staggering price for the 7 mm six-shooter — which almost changed the course of world literature — was more than seven times the estimate, auctioneers Christie’s said.
Verlaine bought the weapon in Brussels on July 10, 1873, determined to put an end to his torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover.
The 29-year-old poet had abandoned his young wife and child to be with Rimbaud, who would later become the symbol of rebellious youth, idolized by 1960s singers like Jim Morrison.
But after an opium- and absinthe-soaked stay in London, which would inspire Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, Verlaine wanted to go back to his wife.
It was in a hotel room there at 2 pm where, after the lovers had rowed, cried and got drunk — according to Rimbaud — that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol.
“Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!” he shouted before firing twice at Rimbaud.
One bullet hit him in the wrist while the other struck the wall and then ricocheted into the chimney.
But Rimbaud still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Having been bandaged up in hospital he again begged the author of Poemes saturniens not to leave him.
Verlaine — who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life — pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.
He was arrested by a pass- ing policeman and sentenced to two years in jail with hard labor where — much to Rimbaud’s fury — he embraced Catholicism.
In prison, he wrote 32 poems that would later appear in some of his best-known collections, Sagesse, Jadis et naguere and Invectives.
Rimbaud moved back in with his domineering mother and finished A Season in Hell.
His hometown CharlevilleMezieres in eastern France had set up a fund to buy the gun but was outbid by an unnamed telephone bidder.
The revolver is displayed in Paris on Wednesday.