I love, pale one, your lifted eyebrows bridging
Twin darknesses of flowing depth.
But however deep they are, they carry me
Another way than that of death . .
by James McManus
Thomas Dunne Books
Pub. Date: May 7, 2013
Book received from: Publisher
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover: Catches the eye and captures the feeling
Characters: Really came to life
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Worth the read? Yes. It brings to life real people about whom not much is known.
About the book:
The illicit love affair that revolutionized modern poetry.
Baudelaire’s fortunes rose and fell under the influence of his ‘Venus Noir’
Addictive as opium the voluptuous Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval tortured and inspired Charles Baudelaire to create poetry that would forever change the world of literature. Their love played out against the backdrop of 19th-century Paris in the Left Bank cafes and taverns frequented by such giants as Édouard Manet, Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas. Reviled by Baudelaire’s family, friends and publisher, Duval was Baudelaire’s muse, leading him to create the poetry whose dark and passionate imagery forever changed and influenced modern literature.
Baudelaire was squandering his small fortune on alcohol and women when he met Duval, who he called Black Venus and claimed as his mistress. Their fiery relationship became the catalyst for his work—without her he couldn’t write a word. Ironically, Duval scorned Les Fleurs de Mal—The Flowers of Evil—the slim volume of poems she inspired that outraged French morals causing Baudelaire and his publisher to be forced into a scandalous public trial for obscenity. What hold did she have on him that he allowed her to betray him in every possible way, driving him into debt and opium addiction even as she openly slept with his friends?
Author James MacManus brings the world of the Left Bank vividly to life in his novel Black Venus based on the historic facts surrounding their torrid love affair even as the arts flourished in Paris’s most decadent and prolific period.
The Short & Sweet of It: I have been intrigued by Baudelaire for some time now, mostly due to the grandmother of punk, Patti Smith, as she has been heavily influenced by his work and mentions him quite often. So, when I saw this novel coming out, I was immediately interested. I feel there is not much known about the interesting character that is the scandalous poet, and this story really brings him to life in a whole new way. It becomes immediately clear just how important Duval was to his success- for better or worse.
McManus manages to focus on the romance, the scandal, and also show exactly what kind of person Baudelaire was. He is depicted as being a rich and pretty well spoiled ladies’ man who was very much a ‘mama’s boy’ due to his father leaving the picture when he was young. Black Venus follows his numerous poor decisions, his frivolity, his flamboyancy, and his romanticism, and sets it well within the context of the time and place. There is a very tangible atmosphere created with mentions of other important figures of the time, intertwined with depictions of the darker and grittier side of the city and society as well.
I do have to say that after reading this, I understand the characters, but I really did not like them all that much. But, of course, they were real people who are more naturally flawed than the characters of fiction, so it is difficult to judge within the same context. As it stands, the poetry produced out of this affair has withstood the test of time and has become somewhat iconic, as well as the people behind the prose. And that, it abundantly clear in McManus’s work. I absolutely recommend Black Venus, although slow in parts, if you have any interest in Baudelaire or banned/scandalous writing at all.
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