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Black Venus

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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 of the Left Bank. Among the bohemians, the young Charles Baudelaire stood out―dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems that he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city. One woman would catch his eye―a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems―leading to the banning of his masterwork, Les Fleurs du Mal, and a scandalous public trial for obscenity. James MacManus's Black Venus re-creates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published February 27, 2013

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About the author

James MacManus

15 books72 followers
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 lover Jeanne Duval, the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems, set in nineteenth-century Paris. Duckworth will publish the UK edition of Black Venus on February 27th 2014.The UK edition follows the successful launch of the novel in the US by Thomas Dunne books of New York.

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5 stars
26 (13%)
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53 (26%)
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80 (40%)
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32 (16%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 48 reviews
Profile Image for Beth Diiorio.
195 reviews2 followers
May 9, 2013
I thought Black Venus was a truly great read...you 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 Charles be addicted to someone so unpredictable? Would Mom be able to convince Charles of Apollonie as a better choice? Who else should Charles be wary of in his arrogant existence? I loved the imagery of the clothing and customs during this historical period in France.

Charles' connection to his mother:
"They hardly left each other's company in those years after his father died. At night he refused to go to sleep without the good-night kiss and the longed-for embrace. She [mother] would tell him stories about two swallows flying to Africa when winter came to Europe. The stories were always about the same two swallows, although the adventures were different. The swallows were lucky, she told him. They could fly so far on their tiny wings that they never knew winter but lived in summer all year long."

"There were goldfish in the garden pond at Neuilly, big lazy creatures that hung motionless just below the surface, their mouths opening in little O's. He [Baudelaire] would spend hours staring at them, rippling the water with his fingers to make them move. On one occasion he had fallen in, trying to catch them. After that, his mother had turned the pond into a rockery."

Signs of the times:
"The young man gripped his cane more tightly and walked into the dark underbelly of the city. Huddled between the great public buildings and large private houses were the dwellings of the poor: wattle-and-daub wooden houses separated by narrow lanes running with filth."

"Baudelaire signed the document. The old man took a stick of sealing wax and held one end into the flame of the candle on the table. He waited a second, then held the dripping wax over the paper until a large blob had formed below the signature. Baudelaire took off his ring, pushed it into the wax, held it for a second, then put the ring back in his waistcoat pocket..."

Jeanne Duval's passion for Paris:
"Even in a dark alleyway reeking of sewage and slippery with horse dung, Paris was the center of her universe. She loved the city. It had given her freedom, the right to make her own life, to live on her wits and her charm. This was the city that had inspired her own people in Haiti to rise up against the French plantation owners. The slave revolt had followed the heroic example of the mob that had stormed the Bastille."

Baudelaire's arrogance:
"Baudelaire and his friends gathered...for a meeting of the Lost and Doomed Souls Club. They had chosen the name to signal to the literary establishment and society in general their disillusionment with the politics of avarice and poverty...Several literary magazines in Paris responded with the unkind observation that the Pompous and Pretentious Club would be a more suitable name..."

"Baudelaire sat at the desk in his apartment writing with one of the thick nibbed pens that had only recently replaced quills. Every few minutes he would pause, chew the wooden end of the pen, and then resume writing. As he finished each page, he pushed it onto the floor and drew a fresh sheet from the top drawer...Poulet-Malassis [Baudelaire's publisher] sat on a chair in the corner of the room reading through a pile of papers...'You have insulted the Church, made a mockery of the authorities, and portrayed women as sexual mannequins.' Baudelaire laughed and turned in his chair. 'So you like my little poems?' "
October 29, 2013
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 relationship between French poet Charles Baudelaire and his muse Haitian cabaret singer Jeanne Duval. The story presented here is of a complex relationship that grew within the decadent world of Parisian artists, poets and performers.
I found this book intriguing and fascinating on one level, but Charles and Jeanne's story strange and disturbing on another. Cant really explain why without giving too much away...always like trying something different and the author did a great job on Historical details with a clear narrative that didn't leave me lost so for that I add a half more to my rating.
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,998 reviews1,209 followers
Want to read
October 17, 2018
I have a new found interest to read this book!
Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,445 reviews203 followers
May 28, 2013
"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 ones that I'm not so familiar with. I also really enjoyed that the book was set in Paris, which is definitely one of my favorite stories to read about. You get a good sense of what the city was like during Baudelaire's time.

You can tell that the author spent a lot of time doing research on the poet and his times. Sometimes the narrative felt more non-fiction than fiction and veered into simply reporting on Baudelaire and Duval rather than bringing the reader into the story.

It was also very difficult to tell how much time passed between various events as there really was not any marking of time. I think marking the passing of time could have added a little bit more context to the story, especially for those who are not very familiar with Baudelaire like myself.

Overall, this was a good foray into Baudelaire's love life!
Profile Image for Natalie.
196 reviews6 followers
May 13, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Mirella.
Author 76 books72 followers
May 22, 2013
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 cabaret, he met the woman who would become his obsession, an alluring Creole woman from Haiti named Jeanne Duval. He dubbed her his Black Venus. She captivated him in every way and he wanted to possess her at all costs. She inspired his poetry - graphically sexual, explicit, and descriptive. She used Charles as a means to raise her own status in life. Jeanne even made clothing purchases at elite shops and charged them to Charles’ mother. Jeanne took everything she could from the relationship that was tumultuous and lasted for decades.

The novel truly takes the reader in the 19th century France, the fear of the revolution, the artists, the cafes. The poems Duval inspired were published, but due to their sexuality, were banned by the government, bankrupting his publisher and rendering Charles a very poor man indeed. Edward Manet befriends Charles and soon Manet paints Jeanne. Unlike Charles, however, his work brought Manet fame and wealth, and increased Duval’s fame.

Black Venus is a poignant novel, heart-breaking and forlorn, almost a tragedy. It is a tale of betrayal, jealousy, obsession, and forbidden love. A magnetic story to say the least!
Profile Image for Diana | Book of Secrets.
797 reviews595 followers
May 17, 2013
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 (The Flowers of Evil).

This was a well-researched book, and I enjoyed how it presented a vivid account of life in Paris during that time. I loved stepping back into the world of bohemian artists and writers of the time, and seeing the social and political unrest that influenced their work. I thought that Baudelaire's obsenity trial and its outcome was particularly interesting, and also the fate of his publisher who believed in him.

In life, Baudelaire and Duval were troubled souls, and that came through in the book. However, the characters in the book fell a bit flat for me, and I never felt the strong, passionate connection that was supposedly between them. Something was missing. Since I'm a character-driven reader, I had a difficult time getting into the story because of that. Still, I liked journeying back to the streets of turbulent 19th century Paris - Paris itself was my favorite character in this book - with its beauty, cruelty, and vivacity. 3-stars.

SOURCE: I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookTrib for participating in the author's blog tour.
Profile Image for Fran.
Author 45 books124 followers
May 7, 2013
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. Flowers often look like they want to create a story or tell one of their own from the moment they are placed in a vase until they final pedal or leave is wilted and they are replaced with more. Life often takes on the same journey but in a unique and different way. Flowers begin as simple seeds, they bloom and the end result can be magnificent. Flowers are here for a short time. One day they are vibrant and beautiful and the next day they are dried up.

Life takes on different meanings for people. Some spend their whole lives trying to attach some meaning to just their existence. Black Venus is not just the story about Charles Baudelaire and his relationship with Jean Duval. It’s more. Charles Baudelaire spent his life trying to live up to what he thought the world needed and wanted him to be. Struggling with his own identity, wanting to rise above his fellow comrades, Charles led a double life in many ways. Born to Francois Baudelaire and Caroline Archimbaut, Charles learned at an early age that the finer things in life would cost and whatever it takes he would find a way to not only have the luxuries he felt he should be afforded, but become famous in a way that would shake the literary world, might cause him create criticism and earn him a reputation that most would think scandalous but would give anything for.

Charles never thought anything about overspending, gambling, taking chances with his money, using women for his own pleasures and experimenting with opium and drugs. Throughout the beginning of the novel we learn more about Charles, his early life, education and how he accumulated so much debt that his mother and stepfather would not disinherit him, but would administer an allowance to him rather than giving him all that his father left. The huge inheritance would have funded his addictions, passions and given him the freedom to not work, allow him to spend his time in cafes with his friends lamenting over their troubles, the world, the new revolution in France and visit art galleries while hoping to become a world famous poet.

One simple evening spent in a cabaret called Le Reve, would change more than just his perspective on life but bring excitement to him that would have long range effects that some might say created a furor with far reaching and lasting effects. Alluring, exotic, Creole woman, who came from Haiti and managed to find her way to Paris by stowing away on a boat and using her skills as a woman and singer to pay for her passage. When Charles viewed her in this packed room of rowdy men, the air changed, his life seemed to bloom in a different direction and the impact was like a freshly bloomed flower. Her captivating dark eyes, her breathtaking quality would keep him coming back for more. But, Charles spent much time with his friends discussing politics of avarice, poverty and the Romantic Movement. Charles dressed to the hilt and although he and his friends frequented many places all too often the proprietors would allow them free reign in many respects. Charles seemed obsessed with Duval. Duval and her friend Simone create colorful experiences as she pursues her dreams with Charles in her own way, uses her wiles to get what she wants and cleverly manages to stupefy a saleswoman in an elegant shop when she purchases several items and charges them to his mother.

Charles created an image for himself and insisted to his mother he will become a famous poet because he sees things he states that “other people don’t see.” Confrontation with his mother over his excessive spending, learning more about Duval we find out how this creative man decides to keep her as you might say a kept woman for special services rendered to him. Her father a wealthy coffee planter and her mother a slave Duval lived the life of a slave and never contacted her father. Meeting Simone Clarimont who came from a small village would afforded her the one and only friend she had. Their talks were frank, yet sometimes not entirely truthful but they were true friends. The scene in the boutique is priceless and the end result will definitely make you smile and applaud for Duval.

Poulet-Malassis was a publisher who wanted to revive his company by finding an author that would create a new wave look, sound to soar his company to success. The bohemians dedicated themselves as the author relates to “the proposition that their art prevailed over such mundane necessities of life as earning money, food, or clothes or rent.” To this type of life Charles decided to descend as he was able along with his friends to frequent many places and the owners or proprietors of these cafes allowed them to treat their establishments as their own private clubs. The discussions would be interesting and when this publisher met with Charles we learn more about his thoughts, his newfound idea for a fresh, earthy and unique approach to his poetry and we find it addressed as almost obscene. The Flowers Of Evil: his title. The collection would not be filled with romantic poetry but would tantalize society, create a stir as the themes focused on despair, alienation, lust, sex, earthiness and much more. His publications were printed in journals and in 1857, Auguste Poulet-Malassis published the first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal creating more than just a bit of notoriety for Charles.

Sexual content, explicit language, graphic descriptions and an urban flavor, Charles Baudelaire would either set the bar for others or find himself set apart. His break from the form of verse, his style of writing, his themes about urban corruption, lost innocence and alcohol, did not alienate followers but increased them. But, Jean Duval provided as we learn the inspiration for his writing and they would remain together in a stormy relationship for two decades.

Charles was captivated by Duval’s appearance, her scent like that of a flower that would never dissipate or disappear and her exotic appearance so individual he could hardly resist her.

Throughout the novel we get different perspectives on the times, the government, the revolution and the literary scene. Charles tries to immerse himself in many aspects of the scene by frequenting different cafes, cabarets and many other places where he and his friends can discuss their work, their ideas, ideals and their hopes for the future. Within this novel we get learn how his poetry was published, the harsh realities he had to face when society shunned his thoughts, did not understand what his message was and decidedly branded him. Accused and prosecuted for writing poems that were considered obscene, some even read to those assembled in court, many wanted to hear more, others pretended to be mortified but the end result would cost not only Charles his career and money but many others would lose too. With a mother who controlled his money, tried to program his social life so that it would meet what she wanted and be accepted by society, Charles Baudelaire’s life would take on a different complexion learning that friends are sometimes what you care fair weather ones, many could not risk their own careers or advancements to come forward for him and a new friend, Edward Manet is comes on the horizon. Their friendship and work paralleled each other’s as Manet thought his poetry was expressive, hit the mark and he hoped his paintings would eventually express similar themes. But, throughout this entire ordeal, although Duval came to what you might say the rescue with a starling revelation during the trial the end result would change for both of them. Imagine learning first hand that Manet was about to paint Duval. Seeing the remarkable sketches and the way she was depicted were truly amazing. The brought both him and Duval much notoriety and a portrait that would create quite a stir and make Manet a fortune and fame.

Jealousies, betrayals, deceits, lies and loneliness were just some of what Charles felt as he watched Duval’s fame come front and center, angered by what he witnesses and finally the end result would be how she wanted the “ladies of France to see her.” How she was painted the lighting and more the reader will learn when you read Chapter 24. How they ended it you decide.

What about his friendship with Appollinie Sabatier? Would renewing that bring him some stability? How would Charles redeem himself with the publisher? Could he ever write poems that would not be condemned? Author James MacManus takes readers back in time to Paris and allows us to witness the revolution, the changes within the many different literary communities and hear the voices of both Charles and Jean as the go through the motions in some respects of their rocky, torrid and smoky relationship. How would each of these figures turn their corner on their lives. Who would they ask for assistance? Would this publisher be able to reunite Duval with Charles? Where she decides to go and what happens will surprise you and the end result still remains to be seen. As Charles and Poulet-Malassis try to recover some of what they had and hopefully winning their appeal. The result will definitely be not what the reader will expect.

Jean Duval’s ending was created by fate. Hoping to go to America something would end her dreams. Could Duval ever be a happy person? Could she be a productive artist if she and Charles had a more traditional life together? Traveling back home, Charles reconnecting with her what the end result brings is one exotic woman whose individuality was often compromised in order to please crowds, others and not herself. She was for the most part her own person but struggled to find her place in the world. Black Venus he called her. Whose final journey will we learn about? What about the poems in the new edition of Les FLeurs du Mal? Would they sell? What was Jean’s final request of her friend Simone?

Like a flower that blooms and the leaves shine for some time the days of their lives flourish and then the pedals, stems and the final results like every beautiful flower when life comes to an end. Black Venus is a compelling, heartbreaking story of two people whose love was forbidden, scorned, whose lives intertwined with so many and whose love of the arts, although different was paramount to both. This is a definite must read.

Fran Lewis: reviewer

Profile Image for Jill.
857 reviews1 follower
November 27, 2019
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.
300 reviews
February 20, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Edward.
Author 3 books10 followers
March 20, 2018
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.
46 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Mieneke.
782 reviews85 followers
May 16, 2013
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 gives us anything but a conventional romance in his latest novel Black Venus. Instead he gives us a strange blend of fiction and history book, which while fascinating left me feeling largely unconnected to its protagonists.

This disconnect was increased by the fact that neither Baudelaire nor Duval is portrayed as very sympathetic. I never really got a sense of why these two had fallen in love or even if they had in fact fallen in love, rather than in lust. What we do see is a portrait of a toxic relationship without equal, where two people bring each other to the brink and even if neither of them actually took up a weapon and killed the other, it is their mutual obsession and their addiction to drugs and alcohol that kills them in the end. MacManus portrays the relationship without judgement and without choosing sides, rather choosing to keep emotion at a remove and so give an objective – or as objective as possible – account of events. Only towards the end of the novel once they have lost everything, have left each other and are both ill and dying, do they become a little more sympathetic, Jeanne more so than Baudelaire. But in some ways it's too little, too late and there is the sense that those around them had similar feelings.

MacManus' love of Paris practically drips from the book's pages; his Paris is well-described and when he takes his characters for a walk I could almost follow along, especially once I got out my Paris A-Z book (and yes, yes I did, don't judge me!) He captures Paris in one of its most dynamic times building-wise, when the city moves from the medieval city to the large avenue-ed, quarry-stone built metropolis we know and love today. It was startling to realise that this uniform building style and layout of the city was so relatively recent. The book runs from the time Baudelaire and Duval meet in around 1842 until just before Jeanne's death in 1862. MacManus covers this time by taking large jumps in time in short descriptive passages. There are also quite a lot of history lessons in the book. In other books I'd call them info-dumps, here they seem to be part of the writing style, which seems more formal – though, I hasten to say, by no means dry – for example, Baudelaire, Duval and many of the secondary characters are mainly referred to by their last names instead of their first names. While the large amount of expositional passages did look like part of the writing style, at times there was a 'look at all the stuff I discovered'-vibe about some of the details, especially the descriptions of some of the restaurants and hotels. Being somewhat of a history geek, I didn't really mind this, but I could see this being a problem for the casual historical fiction reader.

While I found the book interesting, Black Venus never really connected emotionally or ignited my initial spark of interest into a flame of passion for the story, which is rather strange for a book about one of the most passionate love affairs of bohemian Paris. Still, if you enjoy a well-researched tale and don't mind the strange mixture of fiction and non-fiction, then you might well enjoy Black Venus very much. For me though the book never got beyond its setting, I'll remember MacManus' Paris far more than his Baudelaire or Duval.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Profile Image for Lucy Bertoldi.
111 reviews32 followers
May 26, 2013
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 relationship of a slave and her white master, Jeanne would endure the hardships of non-acceptance by both races. She flees Haiti at a tender age when she witnesses her mother being brutally attacked by a gang of men.
In Paris, Jeanne was a night club singer whose sultry voice lured men into buying more drinks. The fact that she was extraordinarily beautiful, strong minded, aloof, sultry and exotic, made Jeanne all the more desirable. Along comes Beaudelaire to win her heart, mind and soul. Theirs however, was not a match made in heaven...

Love aside, Jeanne was the poet's muse. And perhaps the fact that she never enjoyed or gave much credit to his work, that in itself may have been motivation enough to send Beaudelaire to the limits of his passion. That, unfortunately for him was carried through to his poetry- and consequently to a public trial denouncing his work as obscene.

There was nothing ordinary about their relationship. Theirs was an all consuming rage that bordered infinite carnal desire with mind games- all that, lived through poverty, drugs, alcohol, adultery, and ultimately, betrayal. His muse, his love and decidedly in more ways than one; his destruction.
This was a captivating novel that shed light on more than just what we already knew on Beaudelaire. But what I appreciated most was this new portrayal of history's much maligned Jeanne Duval. James MacManus brought forth a side of Jeanne that was easier to understand and even have compassion for.

BLACK VENUS is an exquisite read.
Profile Image for Sandie.
1,452 reviews18 followers
June 12, 2013
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 had made her way to nineteenth-century Paris to make her way in the world, using her voice and beauty to make her living.

But meet they did and started a love affair that was the talk of the city. They loved and fought, lusted and cheated on each other, parted and reunited for years. Beaudelaire called her his 'Black Venus', the inspiration for his poetry. That poetry broke new ground, frank, sensual and above all scandalous. Their affair gained even more notoriety when he was arrested and tried on obscenity charges due to the content of the poems published. As the years went on, they fell into poverty and illness, but never were able to forget each other and the part each played in the others' lives.

James MacManus has written an arresting tale that brings nineteenth-century Paris to life. Everything was changing. There was political turmoil, and new ways of experiencing the world. Breakthroughs were happening in art, in music, in the written word, and Beaudelaire occupied a large part in this new milieu. His disdain for a society that rejected him and his poetry for its frank discussion of sexual pleasure while indulging in sexual alliances was clear, but he paid dearly for it. Jeanne was one of the new women who were determined to make their way, regardless of what they had to do to earn a living. Together they changed their world. This book is recommended for those readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as for those interested in this epic change in society and the rise of the individual over the strictures of society.
Profile Image for Paula Sealey.
515 reviews75 followers
March 25, 2014
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 many years. She becomes the inspiration for his daring new works of poetry that are like nothing else of the time, and end up being banned from print, leaving Baudelaire and his publisher broke.

Knowing nothing of either character before 'Black Venus', I was enticed to read further about their lives, a really good sign that I've taken a book to heart. I enjoyed the portrayal of their rocky relationship, and the descriptive backdrop of France. I didn't quite 'feel' the passion that kept Baudelaire and Duval together during the difficult times though, especially as Duval appeared very capable of surviving on her own, and would have appreciated more indepth writing about the hold they had over each other.

A very interesting book though, one I would be happy to recommend.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Profile Image for Marybeth.
66 reviews
October 27, 2015
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 16 years had gone by, without any sort of indication (besides Duval's internal narration saying "for sixteen years" or something, so that was jarring. If the novel had focused either on either the initial meeting between Baudelaire and Duval, or the obscenity trial, I think it would have worked better. As it was it just crammed too much in. Also, all the characters were felt oddly lacking in dimension. They came into the story and did their thing but then left again and I was left feeling like, why are any of these characters here, why do I care about any one in this novel?

Kind of a shame because I would have enjoyed a novelization about Baudelaire and I think there's a lot that could be explored wrt Duval's mixed race status at that time in Paris. sadly none of that really gets too explored and so the book just falls flat for me.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
135 reviews247 followers
April 5, 2013
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 Fleurs was published. Reading about the trial in which he was accused of creating an offense against public morals was compelling.

Certain books inspire me to learn more about the people and the settings contained therein. This was one of those books. I found myself looking up the clothes, the people, and the relationships described in Black Venus because I wanted more. That, to me, is a sign of a great book.

Black Venus is a bewitching and illuminating read that I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Sharon Chance.
Author 5 books43 followers
May 22, 2013
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 with the work of Baudelaire. I'd heard of him, but had never read any of his poetry. After absorbing the fascinating story of his rise and fall through the words of MacManus, I feel that I better understand the workings of the mind of the tormented poet. MacManus' characters are mesmerizing and he captures the chaotic atmosphere of Paris beautifully in this tale. Overall, it was an intriguing read.

I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy historical fiction.
Profile Image for Ashley .
166 reviews40 followers
June 5, 2015
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 research and tried to stick to the real account, but he just doesn't get that you can't just cut and paste characters in a book and list off the things they did and expect it to work. I promise you, potential reader, this will be a book that you'll check out, begin to read, and groan every time you realize that you're STILL NOT DONE YET. I'd love to read a better and more thought out account about Jeanne Duval and Charles Baudelaire.
Profile Image for Darlyn.
111 reviews43 followers
May 17, 2013
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 just about a person, its about how the character lived and move on. Charles went through so many hardships and scandalous moments. There were times I felt the book is so flat and there's so many details like been dragged too much. Nevertheless, I love reading a new thing like a historical romance/story.
Profile Image for Wynssa.
4 reviews
September 21, 2013
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, a capital whose best-loved playwright and popular novelist, Alexandre Dumas, was himself one quarter black. The poet's entourage of friends sounds like a roll call of art and letters. Baudelaire, France's foremost rebel poet, was also a passionate and devoted lover. This lovely book reads very much like a Puccini opera.
Profile Image for Jael.
465 reviews6 followers
May 27, 2013
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 companionship they sure acted like it.

Jeanne Duval was nicknamed "Black Venus," hence the title of this book. The book is a fictional take on their life together.

Read the rest of my review at: http://www.asiturnthepages.blogspot.c...
Profile Image for CassieV.
95 reviews
October 19, 2013
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 were confusing to follow. This could have been fixed by simply putting the date at the beginning of each new time period. Overall, disappointing and I would have given up except that it's a relatively short book and fit a few challenges I'm doing.
Profile Image for Agnese.
Author 3 books7 followers
May 28, 2014
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 Duval remain distant shapes that don’t belong to the story: they are reduced to ordinary soap-opera characters, stranger to the reader who cannot catch their complex personalities and intense emotional lives.
Profile Image for Teddy.
528 reviews77 followers
May 26, 2014
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 finished reading it but there were times I thought it really wasn’t worth it. Something kept me reading and it was like waiting for a train wreak to happen. So, was there a train wreak in the end? My lips are sealed in case anyone reading this decides to give Black Venus a try.
Profile Image for Maegan.
103 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2013
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 character in the book pouts their way through the whole thing. Everyone is wronged and misunderstood. Aren't we all?
Profile Image for Amy.
845 reviews21 followers
July 28, 2013
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 his publisher for his "obscene" poems.
Profile Image for Anne.
326 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2014
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 & feelings or experiences were explored in the detail I would have liked.
Profile Image for Kathy .
3,423 reviews
May 8, 2013
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.
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