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Black Venus

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  49 reviews
A vivid novel of Charles Baudelaire and his lover Jeanne Duval, the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems, set in nineteenth-century Paris.

For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published February 27th 2013)
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Average rating 3.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  191 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Beth Diiorio
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thought Black Venus was a truly great can't go wrong when the story contains the famous Charles Baudelaire, the pampered-mama's-boy-over-indulged-poet, Jeanne Duval, the classic femme-fatale-exotic-cabaret-mistress, Auguste Poulet-Malassis, friend and publisher, and mother's-favorite Apollonie Sabatier, all interacting within the intriguing culture of Paris in the 1800's. I had many wonderings throughout the story...What would Jeanne do next to help or hurt Charles? How could Charle ...more
Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
Setting: 1842 Paris

3 1/2 stars

In 1842, Charles arrives in Paris planning to use his inheritance to fund his writing. He takes one look at Jeanne and became obsessed with his "Black Venus" It isn't just love Charles feels for her,but a need to possess her mind and spirit and bring that into his poetry. Jeanne the daughter of a French plantation owner and a slave there,disdains Charles work which only makes him more determined to use her as his inspiration. This story explores the obsessive relati
Oct 17, 2018 marked it as to-read
I have a new found interest to read this book!
Meg - A Bookish Affair
"Black Venus" is a historical fiction novel focused on the relationship between infamous French poet, Baudelaire, and his Haitian mistress, Jeanne Duval. Duval became the inspiration for some of the poet's raciest and most shocking poems. I didn't know much about either of these people before this book but the book gives good insight into what their very stormy relationship was like.

Overall, the story is very interesting. I love historical fiction that takes on real-life characters, especially o
May 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
This reads like a flowery Wikipedia entry (this happened and then this happened, etc.). I was hoping for something that might offer some true and/or provocative insights on anything (such as race or love or art or sex or gender). Alas. I should probably read some Jean Rhys or Maryse Conde to cleanse my brain.
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Black Venus is a novel about Charles Baudelaire and his mistress, Jeanne Duval. Charles Baudelaire was not a man of affluence, however, he yearned to be so. He desired the luxuries of life and strived for it, even at the risk of his own reputation. He spent money lavishly, gambling and womanizing, even indulging in drink and drugs. His mother and stepfather often came to his rescue when his debts got out of control and imposed a strict allowance, severely restricting him.

And then in an obscure
Diana | Book of Secrets
BLACK VENUS is a fictional account of the volatile relationship between French poet Charles Baudelaire and his muse, Jeanne Duval. Duval was his greatest joy, yet also the cause of much pain and grief in life. She was the daughter of a French plantation owner and Hatian slave, who made her way to Paris in the mid-1800s. Baudelaire first became infatuated with her while she was working as a cabaret singer, soon becoming his inspiration for his most famous and controversial work, Les Fleurs du Mal ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Black Venus: James MacManus

Flowers have a certain alluring aroma when they are newly placed in a vase. The scent is pure, the color perfect and the stems perfectly straight and pronounced. But, after a while the color loses its luster, the scent fades and the odor might become rancid or more pungent. The stem begins to wilt and the flower might begin to crumble. But, in between the flower creates a spirit or mind of its own as the owner watches it take on its own life, breath and personality. Fl
Nov 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Based on the life of Charles Baudelaire and his lover, the Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval this well-researched novel is a vivid account of life in Paris in the mid 19th century. While focusing on the sad lives of its two protagonists it also captures the hypocritical values and social and political unrest of the time.
Mary Lou
Feb 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Well researched and written novel set in Paris during a turbulent time. I found it so depressing though that I struggled with it. In no way does this mean it isn't a good book, just that the subject matter was dark, complex and sad.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bitter sweet fictional story of the relationship between Jeanne Duval and the poet, Charles Baudelaire. It is a good read, albeit, not pleasant at times.
Anya Siddiqi
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Although they probably were unsympathetic, striking, extraordinary and desperate people in real life, the unfolding and telling of their stories certainly made me appreciative of Baudelaire's idiosyncratic poetical art, but little sympathy for him as a person. The author though did a good job of showing the links between being a surrogate lover to his mother and his sexual and pornographic addictions. ...more
May 11, 2013 rated it liked it
When I read the synopsis for Black Venus, it immediately grabbed my attention, with its mentions of Paris, artists, and bohemians, I immediately thought Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge. It turns out I was thinking a couple of decades too late, as Baudelaire lived from 1821 until 1867 and Toulouse-Lautrec was only born in 1864, but the spark of interest had been lit. The subject matter of Charles Baudelaire and his muse Jeanne Duval would suggest a romantic story; however, James MacManus gi ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beaudelaire in nineteenth century Paris- a Bohemian haven for artists...

Living off his inheritance, Beaudelaire is an aspiring poet who lives his life high on late nights filled with alcohol, drugs and ladies. Impeccably dressed, this distinguished-looking young man in his early twenties enjoys his nights out on the town- and especially this particular cabaret where he meets the love, and demise, of his life.

Jeanne Duval escaped Haiti with high hopes of becoming a famous singer. Born from the r
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
They were an unlikely pair to even meet. Charles Baudelaire was a French society gentleman, from a family with wealth and some social standing. He was part of the Bohemian crowd of artists and authors who frequented the Paris nightclubs to indulge their appetites and argue about art into the night. Men like Dumas, Balzac and Manet were his friends and acquaintances. Jeanne Duval was a Haitian cabaret singer, the product of a liaison between a French plantation owner and one of his slaves. She ha ...more
Paula Sealey
A fictional account of daring but impoverished poet Charles Baudelaire and his lover and muse, Jeanne Duval, Black Venus is an intriguing look at Paris of the 19th century, when ground breaking artists, writers and poets frequented cafes and nightclubs, feasting on drugs and alcohol and attempting to right the political world.

During one of his visits to a club, society gentleman Baudelaire meets captivating singer Duval and they embark upon an unlikely and stormy relationship that lasts for man
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
I read this because 19 y/o me was obsessed with Baudelaire because that's just what happens when you're 19. Anyhow this book was strangely boring and unemotional, given the tempestuous relationship between the two main characters that seemed so weird.

I think the biggest issue I had with this book is that it tries to tell the whole story but in doing so it gets lost and caught up in too many other stories and so it just doesn't come across well. I remember reading this and suddenly in the story
I knew little about Charles Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval. It was a pleasure to get to know them in Black Venus. They were a seductive and intriguing couple that needed one another. Sadly they also annihilated one another. Their tempestuous relationship is at the heart of this novel.

Jeanne Duval was essential to Baudelaire's poetry. Without her there would have been no Les Fleurs du Mal. The literary significance of that work cannot be understated.

Baudelaire was charged with obscenity after Les Fl
Sharon Chance
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
19th century Paris was a hotbed of creativity for both artists and writers alike. In his novel, "Black Venus," author James MacManus takes his readers deep into the heart of the era that saw the likes of Manet, Balzac, Dumas, Hugo rise to the top of their professions, while their contemporary, the poet Charles Baudelaire, struggled with infamy and scandal as he embarked on a tumultuous affair with the mysterious Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval.

Before reading this novel, I was unfamiliar wit
Jan 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
MY GOD. I'm so ecstatic that I'm finished with this book. I felt such a responsibility towards it that I should finish and enjoy the history behind it, but I tell you, this book is frighteningly dull. I recall seeing a review on here that likened the book to a flowery Wikipedia excerpt: that's exactly what it is. This book dresses up a historical account with dialogue and inner monologue but it just fails to Immerse the reader into the stories of the characters. The author clearly did his resear ...more
May 17, 2013 rated it liked it
The book is totally a jurney that I thought it would never end. So much depth in it. I was facing a quite hard time to finish the book. It started quite boring at first and slowly blooming into something I love to be in. I love the Paris setting in it. The story brought me to many lovely places that I wish I would be. Paris is just lovely and I think it's a good place for some romance story to take place. Relationship between Charles and Jean for me, is so complex. The storyline is more than jus ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary recreation of literary and bohemian Paris in the mid-19th century. Fewer people know of Baudelaire than of novelists like Balzac or Hugo, whose sweeping stories traveled in a way that Baudelaire's poetry didn't. Almost none at all know that he spoke perfect English and translated Edgar Poe's stories so well into French that everyone, Poe included, considered the French version superior to the original. Baudelaire's love story with Jeanne Duval could only have happened in Paris, ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Before reading Black Venus by James MacManus I had never heard of poet Charles Baudelaire. His most famous work Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) was inspired by his Haitian mistress Jeanne Duval. As a white man living in Paris during the mid-1800s, it was quite scandalous for someone like Baudelaire to associate with such a woman. She was the product of a former slave and her owner, who made a life for herself as a nightclub singer. They were never married, but in a decade-plus of compani ...more
Jul 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
I vey rarely give one star and even now, I was torn between one and two stars. The descriptions of the period and setting were very good. I'm not very familiar with 1850s Paris, so I found those descriptions to be very helpful. Other than that, the story really fell flat. I wasn't able to get a good feel for the internal whys of Charles and Jeanne, it felt like I was simply watching a scene in a window. You see what's happening but you don't know why. Also, there were massive jumps in time that ...more
May 03, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographical
A biographical sketch that struggles unsuccessfully to become a novel of passions with a historical background. The story is fascinating but unfortunately it’s told in a conventional style that doesn’t convey the spirit of the place and time. In part it seems a romance written for 19th century teenagers, and when it tries to be “bohemian” in an effort to make the scenes more real it sounds vulgar. Most situations and dialogs would perfectly fit in a telenovela. The figures of Baudelaire and Duva ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
I have to say I ran hot and cold with this book. I found the characters memorable but all unlikable. They were all quite shallow, which I believe MacManus intended. The descriptions of the grittier side of Paris, France in the 19th century were great. However, I found the plot lacking and the pace boring in many places in the book.

When I was approached to review this book, I jumped at the chance. The description made it sound so good. However, for me, it was disappointing. I did preserver and fi
Jun 08, 2013 rated it liked it
I feel like I should have liked this book more. The characters were interesting and who could resist a fictionalized version of Baudelaire and his mistress, Jeanne Duval? It had lots of good things in it poetry, love, legal troubles, revolution, drugs and some nice writing, too, but for me, for some reason it seemed to leave out a lot of the answers to questions that I would have liked to have answered for me. And I would have liked to know more about Jeanne when she was younger.

Oh, and every c
Jul 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: france-paris
More like 2.5 stars. Within the first 50 pages, I couldn't stand Baudelaire, but even by the end of the book, I didn't feel very connected with Jeanne Duval either. The time shifts confused me too. The overall arc of the story didn't hold my attention well, but the author did a nice job bringing discrete scenes to life. Also the background is interesting--mid-19th century Paris was chaotic, the bohemians--even Manet--did more drugs than I realized, and there's the trial against Baudelaire and hi ...more
Mar 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I liked the description of 19th century Paris & the seedy clubs & underworld scene & that this was based on real historical figures. However I would have like liked more insight into the characters feelings & motivations, especially about Jeanne. It must have been terribly hard for her as a mixed race woman with no family, coming from a slave colony into 19th century Paris but I don't feel her thoughts &
Mar 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Black Venus is a mesmerizing fictionalized novel about French poet Charles Baudelaire and his oftentimes turbulent relationship with his mistress and muse Jeanne Duval. James MacManus brilliantly incorporates fact and fiction into an incredibly fascinating story that I found impossible to put down. Please click HERE to read my review in its entirety. ...more
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Sep 30, 2015 11:41AM  

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James MacManus has worked in the newspaper business for 46 years. He is currently the Managing Director of the Times Literary Supplement.

He is the author of On the Broken Shore (The Language of the Sea, UK edition), and Ocean Devil: The Life and Legend of George Hogg which was made into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers

His latest book, Black Venus, is a vivid novel of Charles Baudelaire and his

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