Short overview of Jeanne Duval (French)

Charles Baudelaire – Jeanne Duval.

This is a French link from the excellent Baudelaire Litteratura site talking a little bit about his longtime off-and-on-again mistress and muse, Jeanne Duval (Wikipedia link, also in French), one of the most significant women in his life after his mother. Of mixed French and Black African ancestry, very little is known about Jeanne – not even her name, as she was also called Jeanne Lemer, Jeanne Lemaire and Jeanne Prosper. There are also multiple candidates for her birthplace: Haiti, the Mascarene Islands, India, South Africa, Saint Barthélemy…Duval’s life is only known from Baudelaire’s letters, especially those addressed to her mother, Madame Aupick. There are no known letters addressed to Duval herself and Madame Aupick destroyed all of Duval’s letters to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire and Duval had a stormy relationship complicated by misogyny and racism (black and mixed-raced women were fetishised in 19th-century France as being more passionate than white women, but also hypersexual and lazy); in addition, Baudelaire’s mother did not like Duval, saying that she “tortured him in every way”, to the point of Baudelaire making a suicide attempt over her.


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