“Mademoiselle Baudelaire”: about a poet and his black Venus

In Miss Baudelairepublished by Éditions Dupuis, the Brussels screenwriter and illustrator Yslaire is interested in the triangular relationship between Charles Baudelaire, his mother and his lover Jeanne Duval, but also in the poet’s literary epic or his place in the world. artistic bohemian era.

Let’s call her Jeanne Duval, as there are doubts about her real last name. Described as “Mulatto, not very black, not very pretty” of Ernest Prarond, left with three major handicaps: his skin color, his lack of education, and the animosity that Charles Baudelaire’s mother constantly devoted to him. Despite this, she had a major influence on the latter, to the point of being considered an unconditional muse and the main inspiration of the Flowers of evil. About their relationship, the title Miss Baudelaire points out two essential parametric data: Charles’s inexorable affection for Jeanne, but also his inability to formalize an eternally prone love of mockery and cheating. Because it is an erratic relationship that will guide the story of Yslaire, with a few visual symbols as a demonstration: Jeanne as a gargoyle dominating space, a vagina represented by a rose, an infected phallus embodied by a snake spitting poison , a woman whose silhouette dominates. that of the almighty artist, emanations of smoke projecting representations of the desired being (magnificent double page 68-69).

In Yslaire’s fictional story, Baudelaire observes Jeanne at the Théâtre du Panthéon in 1842. However, she has only a few words to say on stage. But the appeal is immediate and stimulating. He invites her to dinner, but she remains silent: “Women like me, anyway, call themselves by their bodies.” Théodore de Banville, Nadar and Ernest Prarond, friends of the poet, think of nothing else, they who mock her willingly without Charles ever coming to his defense. The latter first makes her ritual visits, on Mondays between 4 and 6 pm, then moves to her home. She keeps calling him “Lord” despite their often shared intimacy. In 1845, Baudelaire, hitherto busy squandering his father’s inheritance on Jacopo Bassano’s fake paintings, was notified by a notary of his mother’s intention to deprive him of resources. The latter will also embarrass Jeanne to the point of seeing in her the cause of all her son’s problems: economic, health, psychological …

Yslaire is not content to say this three-step relational waltz. By marrying Baudelaire’s dark romanticism, adding dreamlike visions and vignettes that sometimes border on pornography, he will link the artist to his work, revealing what fabric the latter is made of. He will also touch on the figure of a poet who has become illustrious: his poetic proclamations at Café Momus, where he is still only the leading animator of the most accomplished artists, his proven dandyism, his expensive lifestyle. , his frequenting of Dr. Moreau’s hashish circles — there he met Théophile Gautier and his white Venus, Apollonie Sabatier — his mercury-treated abdominal pains (with which he was poisoned), his suicide attempt in 1845, her drug abuse, her return to her mother, her separations and reconciliations with Jeanne, her attitude during the “Spring of the Peoples” of 1848, her role in the review Public healthhis first literary successes, the translations of Edgar Allan Poe, the censorship imposed on his “flowers” …

Miss Baudelaire it has magnificent designs, with differentiated chromatic codes. The album also enjoys appreciable psychological relief, as well as nuances about drugs or racism. Yslaire is based on a letter that Jeanne addresses to Baudelaire’s mother to structure her story, in which she slips, as we have seen, a series of symbolic representations. In this sense, animals occupy a special place: crows, black cats, snakes or even this albatross with which the poet identifies. “Its giant wings prevent it from walking.” Jeanne, meanwhile, will double her role as a teacher as an assistant: she learns to read, to write, and Baudelaire ends up dictating her prose, often in a trance. Soon, the two lovers will have to go from house to house, chased by the bailiffs. As a good dandy, Baudelaire, in fact, persists in spending more than he earns. And soon, the couple breaks up. Then the poet becomes dirty: “You’ve gotten fat and you’re clinging to me, like an old stinky, alcoholic skin! » The situation is much more nuanced: Jeanne is obsessed with Charles, but Charles has little taste for his freedom and his license. Yslaire portrays her relationship as a novelist, providing the right amount of drama, subtlety, and emotional precision.

Miss Baudelaire it never ceases to amaze. For his formal radicalism, for his evocation of the artistic Paris of the 19th century, for the triple portrait of poet, couple and filial relations that he carries within him. It is clear that Yslaire manages, through her graphic and narrative ventures, to get as close as possible to her subject, to reproduce its poetic impulse and passionate impulse. Finally, keep in mind that timelines are coming to close an album that we can’t recommend too much.

Miss BaudelaireYslaire
Dupuis, April 2021, 160 pages

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