Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Black Venus" by Angela Carter. Plus Salmon Rushdie's Favorite Angela Carter Short Stories

The details for Angela Carter Week can be found here, along with lots of good reading suggestions.

Yesterday I was asked to list, from his introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Angela Carter, Salmon Rushdie's choices for her best stories.  Of her several anthologies, he says by far the best is The Bloody Chamber, and he says the title story of that book is for sure among her very best stories.  Here are the other Salmon Rushdie Best of Angela Carter Picks:

1.  Courtship of Mr Lyon
2.   The Werewolf
3.    The Story of Momotaro
4.    Black Venus. 
5.   The Snow Child
6.    "The Fall River Murders"
7.   Wolf Alice
8.   Peter and the Wolf

"Black Venus", the title story in the 1985 collection of that name, centers on Jeannie Duval (1820 to 1862, born in Haiti, of mixed French and African parentage) who was years a mistress and muse for the poet Charles Baudelaire.  Carter uses this basic material to demythologize the legend of the life of Baudelaire.  It also deals deeply with issues relating colonialism, sexual objectifying in Paris of women of mixed ancestors as animalistic and more voluptuous than French women.  To have a mistress with African French Colonial roots made a man seem and feel more manly, wilder, a breaker of conventional mores.  The story focuses on how Jeannie Duval felt about herself.  She was  at one point in her life a prostitute and would it seems turn back to this upon returning to the French Caribean when Baudelaire moved on from her.  Of course as she ponders her relationship to Baudelaire, who she calls, "The Poet" she wonders what she really was to him.   

The prose is just exquisite.  Carter is a master at making connections between high culture of the west and the cruel infrastructures that hold up those societies.  She makes us see the slave plantations and the overseers that financed high culture.  She loves French high literary culture, as do I, no less so for seeing the fathomless cruelty that held it up.  

I want to share the closing lines of the story to give a feel for her prose and I think they brilliantly sum up much of the themes of "Black Venus".

In Paris she sold herself and was seen by society as a whore.  Upon her return to Martinique, she is there treated with respect once paid in Paris to dandies and such.  The final sentence undercuts deep layers of myths and cultural artifacts while showing the sublime vengeance of the Black Venus.

I urge all devotees to the story of the wild Poet Baudelaire to read this story.  There are just so many layers of meanining in this story.

I am very grateful to Dalia and Caroline for motivating me to expand my reading of Carter


Mel u


Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

That's an interesting story with a bit of irony at the end.
I loved The Bloody Chamber (the story) but I have mixed feelings about the other short stories in the book.

Violet said...

I loved Black Venus when I first read it while I was doing a postcolonial lit unit at university. I think Carter imagines Ms Duval beautifully and I agree about the last paragraph. She certainly gets her revenge in a unique way.

Caroline said...

Thanks for sharing Rushdie's list.
Great review of what seems to be a wonderful story. I'm glad I have it somewhere. That ending is great. I agree, it's not easy to see behind France's mask that hides some truyl ugly things

Brona said...

Thanks for the Rushdie list...after reading it I had a deja vu feeling which led me to explore my TBR piles....and sure enough, I had a 1998 copy of Burning the Boats that I had forgotten about!

I'm half way through this story, but my knowledge of Baudelaire is non-existent & I feel like I'm missing half the story!