Ducasse was born inMontevideo,Uruguay, to François Ducasse, a Frenchconsular
officer, and his wife Jacquette-Célestine Davezac. Very little is known about Isidore'schildhood, except that he was baptized on 16 November 1847 in the cathedral of Montevideo and that his mother died soon afterwards, probably due to an epidemic. In1851, as a five-year-old, he experienced the end of the eight-year siege of Montevideo in theArgentine-Uruguayan war. He was brought up to speak three languages: French,
Spanish and English.In October 1859, at the age of thirteen, he was sent to high school in France by hisfather. He was trained in French education and technology at the ImperialLycéeinTarbes.In 1863 he enrolled in the Lycée Louis Barthou inPau, where he attended
classes in rhetoric and philosophy (under and uppergreat). He excelled at arithmetic anddrawing and showed extravagance in his thinking and style. Isidore was a reader of Edgar Allan Poeand particularly favoredPercy Bysshe ShelleyandByron,as well as
Adam Mickiewicz,Milton,Robert Southey, Alfred de Musset, andBaudelaire.During
school he was fascinated byRacineandCorneille, and by the scene of the blinding in
. According to his schoolmate Paul Lespès, he displayedobvious folly "by self-indulgent use of adjectives and an accumulation of terrible deathimages" in an essay. After graduation he lived in Tarbes, where he started a friendshipwith Georges Dazet, the son of his guardian, and decided to become a writer.
Years in Paris
After a brief stay with his father in Montevideo, Ducasse settled in Paris at the end of 1867. He began studies at theÉcole Polytechnique, only to abandon them one year later.Continuous allowances from his father made it possible for Ducasse to dedicate himself completely to his writing. He lived in the "Intellectual Quarter", in a hotel in the
, where he worked intensely on the firstcanto of
Les Chantsde Maldoror
. It is possible that he started this work before his passage to Montevideo,and also continued the work during his ocean journey.Ducasse was a frequent visitor to nearby libraries, where he readRomantic literature, as
well as scientific works and encyclopaedias. The publisher Léon Genonceaux describedhim as a "large, dark, young man, beardless, mercurial, neat and industrious" andreported that Ducasse wrote "only at night, sitting at his piano, declaiming wildly whilestriking the keys, and hammering out ever new verses to the sounds".In late 1868 Ducasse published—anonymously and at his own expense—the first cantoof
Les Chants de Maldoror
(Chant premier, par ***), a booklet of thirty-two pageswhich is considered by many to be a bold, taboo-defying poem concerning pain andcruelty.