Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Black Venus by James MacManus

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.

For more information, there is an interview with the author here

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