There are purely mundane stories, completely unsuited for a frivolous bedtime reading, that nevertheless appear in an anthology among its much more appropriate peers. “The Bad Glazier” by Charles Baudelaire does not fall into this category; it is whimsical and absurd, and just the sort of story to pull you from the approaching midterm black hole. The narrator—though somewhere between a protagonist and antagonist—describes a creature so bizarre and flighty that the reader may think he must live in the imaginations of the likes of Rowling or Disney, and yet resonates in a strangely familiar manner. He then proceeds to recount a time when he was one of these characters, led by his impulses alone and inclined towards the particular kind of practical joke that borders on cruelty. Caught up in a fit of ecstasy, the main character taunts a glazier peddling his wares on the street below his apartment. After calling him up several narrow flights of stairs, our valiant hero rejects the glazier and his depressing lack of “colored glass, magical glass, or even the glass of paradise.” Not to end on such an anticlimactic note, he then proceeds to drop a potted plant on the poor man’s head once he had returned to the street, causing him to topple over on top of his livelihood.
The tone of this piece is what has captured my attention so thoroughly in every read and re-read. From the very first sentence to the conclusion, Baudelaire’s attitude towards his subject and to the reader is one of comical disdain. His tone reflects the nature of the piece, which is absurd and abrupt all at the same time. The author creates a magnificent sense of flippancy that mirrors the actions of the main character. By having the narrator scorn a certain group of people and then immediately fall into that category of people, he creates a paradox that is so observant to the reader, yet seemingly the protagonist is ignorant of it. He treats the actions of “these lazy, voluptuous souls” with almost tangible contempt, while at the same time being moved by the same irrational tendencies they experience. This is perhaps strongest at the story’s ending with the lines, “And, drunk with my folly, I shouted at him, madly, ‘The beauty of life! The beauty of life!’ These nervous pleasantries are now without danger, and sometimes quite costly. But what’s an eternity of damnation to one who has found in such an instant infinite satisfaction?” The author has brought the speaker full-circle now by not only including him with the ludicrous actions of others, but damning himself to hell with them, all for a brief moment. It is the perfect ending to the piece: at once making the reader scoff with incredulity and smile in contentment.