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Black Venus: A Novel Hardcover – May 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250014239
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250014238
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,576,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Beautifully capturing bohemian Paris in the late nineteenth century, Black Venus follows the rise and fall of the poet and translator Charles Baudelaire and his tempestuous relationship with his Haitian mistress, Jeanne Duval. The gritty streets of Paris’ Left Bank, the opulent life of aristocrats, and the dingy cabaret clubs combine to provide a rich backdrop to the love-hate story that unfolds between Baudelaire and Duval. Muse of many Parisian artists, Duval sits for paintings by Manet and inspires some of Baudelaire’s finest erotic poems, becoming one of the most mysterious beauties of her time. Meanwhile, Baudelaire seeks to defend his famous collection of poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal, against public charges of obscenity while at the same time sinking into an opium- and alcohol-induced depression. MacManus, managing director of the Times Literary Supplement, creates a gritty and engrossing world in this beautifully crafted narrative, which will leave readers swooning—and reaching for their favorite recording of La Bohème. --Heather Paulson

Review

Praise for Black Venus:
 

“Beautifully capturing bohemian Paris in the late nineteenth century, Black Venus follows the rise and fall of the poet and translator Charles Baudelaire and his tempestuous relationship with his Haitian mistress, Jeanne Duval. … MacManus, managing director of the Times Literary Supplement, creates a gritty and engrossing world in this beautifully crafted narrative, which will leave readers swooning—and reaching for their favorite recording of La Bohème.” —Booklist (starred review)

 

“Historical romance fans with an interest in Baudelaire or a penchant for 19th-century Paris will enjoy this novel.” —Library Journal

 

“Through the clear narrative, readers are presented with a portrait of a complex relationship that grew within the decadent world of Parisian artists, poets and performers.” —RT Book Reviews
 

“Very engaging and evocative of the Decadent Movement of Paris in the late 19th century, … I would recommend this book to any who are interested in Baudelaire, his poetry, reclaimed women’s history, or late 19th-century Paris.” —Historical Novels Review

 

“This was a captivating novel that shed light on more than just what we already knew on Baudelaire. 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.” —The Examiner

"Captures the avant-garde scene of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century…. MacManus skillfully recreates Baudelaire’s world with verve and imagination and renders a believable fictional interpretation of two very tempestuous personalities and their motives." —The Hudson Review

"A beautiful and gripping novel. A world that will entice you in and keep you reading until the end." —Kate Williams, author of The Pleasures of Men

"A wonderful book." —Imogen Robertson, author of The Paris Winter

"An engrossing, moving portrait of doomed love and genius." —The Sunday Times (UK)

"A vivid portrait of Paris during a turbulent period in its history, as well as an insightful exploration of the often self-destructive nature of genius." —Daily Mail (UK)
 
Praise for The Language of the Sea:

"Blending mystical fantasy with contemporary science, MacManus weaves an otherworldly tale of one man’s frenzied search for identity and fantastic quest for survival." —Booklist

“This is one of those rare things, a passionate book, written with feeling. Gripping drama plus well-drawn characters and a wonderfully absorbing and moving read.”
—Daily Mail (UK)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Book of Secrets VINE VOICE on June 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
SOURCE: I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookTrib for participating in the author's blog tour.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Hartling on June 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
My Thoughts:

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Kirkland VINE VOICE on June 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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