The Late Professor Emeritus Kang Sung-wook donated a first edition of
“Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil)” by Charles Baudelaire
The KU Library has a separate section for “Kang’s Special Collection of Baudelaire’s Work”, a Priceless Literary Resource of Great Rarity and International Significance.
The Late Professor Emeritus Kang Sung-wook (Department of French Language and Literature), who passed away in 2005, donated a first edition of Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), a French poetry collection by Charles Baudelaire, to the Korea University Library.
Les Fleurs du mal is Charles Baudelaire’s only collection of poems, and it contains many of his most famous works. The collection is also well known for being the first of its kind in Western history for its influence on the Symbolist movement.
Although Charles Baudelaire composed a series of prose poems such as Le Spleen de Paris (Paris Spleen), Les Fleurs du mal is his sole poetry collection.
Although the volume was published in 1857, Baudelaire was prosecuted for obscenity, which led the French court to order the publisher to remove six of his poems from the collection on moral grounds. Six poems were deleted from his original collection, which was comprised of eighty poems. This prompted Baudelaire to write nearly forty more poems out of anger, making his collection’s second edition even thicker. Indeed, his poetry volume is quite thick when compared to others. New editions were published after his death; however, the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal is still considered as the official copy.
The first edition printed at Alençon had a run of 1,100 copies. In Korea, the collection has been translated and published by Moonji Publishing. Although there are also some versions by Minumsa Publishing, they are only partial translations, while Moonji Publishing possesses the complete translation.
The late Professor Emeritus Kang Sung-wook (1931-2005) was a researcher who marked a new era in the study of Baudelaire’s work in Korea. He advised his students to develop a strict attitude toward research and undertook studies of French Symbolism, including Baudelaire’s work.
The late Kang considered careful and intensive reading to be a researcher’s most important virtue. He had the idea that precious works of French literature should also be kept in Korea. This very idea led him to visit France and purchase the first edition of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal in 1974, of which only a few copies remain in the world.
Baudelaire researchers in Japan once asked him for the volume for their overseas book exhibition in Japan; however, he rejected their request. This shows how much he cherished the collection. His former student the late Professor Hwang Hyun-san (1945-2018) preciously kept the volume safe for all these years and, following the late Kang’s will, he donated the book to the Korea University Library before he passed away in March.
The first edition of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal will now be kept safely in the Korea University Library. This valuable volume will become a proud legacy and source of pride for the community studying French literature in Korea.
The late Professor Kang, renowned for his scholarship of the French poet Baudelaire (1821-1867), graduated from the University of Tokyo, Japan and served as a professor at the Department of French language and literature at Korea University from 1966 to 1996. He is regarded as a scholar who established the framework of contemporary French poetry based on Baudelaire’s work.
The late Kang possessed more than 20,000 books on French literature as well as the humanities in his office room, library, and living room. In particular, the first edition of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, published in 1857, is considered one of the rarest and highly valuable literary resources in the world.
He was a scholar who lived solely for the study of French literature throughout his entire life. He was famous for an anecdote regarding his enthusiastic attitude toward research. According to his students, he was famous for expressing his disappointment and regret about studying for only eight hours a day when he was in his seventies. Kang’s deceased student, Professor Emeritus Hwang, mentioned how he admired Kang’s passion toward his research. Hwang said, “If you look at Kang’s collections, you will be able to understand the direction of Baudelaire’s work as well as the overall study of French literature.”
Shortly after his death, the Department of French Language and Literature organized “Professor Kang Sung-wook’s Book List Committee”. After archiving his book list for 7 years, Korea University Press published “Professor Kang Sung-wook’s Collection” which is 716 pages long. The list has serial numbers reflecting the order in which his resources were kept and recorded based on the titles, authors’ names, publishers’ names, publication years, and numbers of pages. Most of the resources on the list were donated to the Korea University Library. Kang kept approximately 18,000 volumes of French literature. Of them, some books and resources (975 books and 627 documents) are currently kept in the separate “Kang Sung-wook’s Special Collection of Baudelaire’s Work” section at the Korea University Library.