Charles Baudelaire wrote the finest poetry in the French language, the first modern poetry in any language and helped shape the literature of the 21st century. His reputation rests on a slim volume of poems Les Fleurs du Mal several of which were banned after an obscenity trial. For most of his adult life he lived with, and was obsessed by, a woman to whom he dedicated his poetry, who inspired his every artistic endeavour and who was loathed by his family, friends and his publisher. He called her his Black Venus. Jeanne Duval was a striking Creole from Haiti, with a voluptuous figure, an addiction to alcohol and opium and, being barely literate, scant regard for her lover's poetry. Although Baudelaire's muse and mistress, she took her own lovers and became infamous in a decidedly decadent society. As a result rising artists such as Manet and indeed Baudelaire himself, painted her portrait.
This book tells the true story of a relationship that puzzled Paris society in the mid 19th century has pre-occupied critics ever since:
What secret lay at the heart of Charles Baudelaire's obsessive love for a muse that destroyed him.? Jeanne Duval betrayed Baudelaire in every way. Her extravagance drove him into debt, she turned him into an opium addict and slept with his friends. Yet without her he could not write a word. Towards the end of his life Baudelaire said :"I only have had only two responsibilities in my life. To my art and to my Black Venus."