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Numerous positive reviews of "Baudelaire's Revenge"

“Baudelaire’s Revenge” generates dozens of positive  reviews in the US.  The boldness of this cross-over between literature and the crime novel is an eye-opener for many American reviewers. The Historical Novel Society  concisely summarizes: Beautifully written and deftly translated,Baudelaire’s Revenge” mixes the mystery of the crime novel with the sophistication of a philosophical treatise… If you want to read more reviews, you can take a look under the heading “Crime Novels”.

BLOG: “Baudelaire’s Revenge": The Sexual Urges of the Doomed Poet

Portrait of Baudelaire 

 

“I’m very fond of your  vintage style, which reminds me of Flaubert, Poe, and Conan Doyle,” a female American reader wrote me after the publication of Baudelaire’s Revenge in the US, the translation of my novel "De wraak van Baudelaire” which won me the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel of the year in The Low Lands. “But you are a pervert, sir, and you should be ashamed of yourself. You could be a great writer if you weren’t so obsessed with sexual filth!”

I was confronted with the classic error of a reader who identifies the author with his characters.

It’s true: especially by the standards of today, Charles Baudelaire was a sexual pervert.  In the 19th century, artists cloaked their exotic and erotic urges – which always go hand in hand – in the newfound worship of individuality.  Baudelaire’s poetic credo was the desire to “explore the depths of the human soul.” The notorious aesthete Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote in Against Nature: ”Baudelaire has descended to the bottom of the inexhaustible mine, had picked his way along abandoned or unexplored galleries, and had finally reached those districts of the soul where the monstrous vegetations of the sick mind flourish.”   The “Prince of Paris,” as Charles was called in his lifetime, the dandy, the modernist, the sex addict, lived in fact a sad and tragic life despite his quest for ecstasy and his overblown sense of self-importance. The dismal thing was that Baudelaire himself knew it and used his own propensities to fuel his literary work, simultaneously glorifying his desire for the forbidden.

The poet who wrote, “The devil pulls the strings which makes us dance/We find delight in the most loathsome things/Some furtherance of Hell each new day brings/and yet we feel no horror in that rank advance.” was  – in a twisted way – proud to be addicted to “a fistful of vices,” regularly brothel visits being just one of them.

The only dream Baudelaire ever recorded was about a visit to a “great madam’s house of prostitution” that was at the same time "a kind of museum of medicine." In his dream, he wanted to present a copy of his newly published book to the madam - in Baudelaire’s Revenge he does the same, with far-reaching consequences. This mixture of art and debauchery was typical for him and, to a lesser degree, for the extended art community, especially in Paris, at that time. The modernists had an outlook on life and art that Baudelaire summed up like this: “An artist is only answerable to himself. He promises nothing to the centuries to come, save his own works. He stands caution only for himself. He dies childless. He has been his own king, his own priest, and his own god.” 

Men who think of themselves in this way don’t act according to the ethical standards of “ common people.”

Moreover, the peculiar atmosphere prevailing in France at the time contributed to an uninhibited expression of sexuality among the higher classes. The French royaume was about to change drastically and in anticipation of the clash of the classes, aided by the impetus of the calamitous war with the Prussians, a boundless frenzy reigned in the capital. During the Prussian siege of Paris in 1870 - the setting of Baudelaire's Revenge, three years after Baudelaire's death - there were more brothels in the city than restaurants. The “aesthetics of a visit to the brothel” were cultivated and revered by the bourgeoisie and various artists. Frequenting courtesans was considered a sign of savoir vivre. But of course, behind the velvet of the curtains and the damask of the canopy beds, the fancy toilettes of the poupées, and their prim manners, a world of mischief, deceit, misery, STDs, and exploitation was hiding. It didn’t matter to the visiting gentlemen; they only came to satisfy their individual fantasies and treated the prostitutes, at best, as their favorite pets.

Only the great courtesans, the stars of alluring femininity, were lavishly maintained in sumptuous apartments. The lower-class prostitutes received their clients in the  baroque rooms of the popular bordellos, but their own lodgings were piteous, and so was the way they were treated. It was not uncommon for girls of fifteen, sometimes even younger, to “perform” in the Maisons de Serpentine. They were usually recruited from impoverished families. The majority of the French bourgeoisie, steeped in social stereotypes, despised the poor. In their eyes, it was inevitable that the children of these “immoral, lazy, and sinful people” were raised to follow in their parents’ footsteps. They turned a blind eye to the fact that they made insolent use of the prettier offspring of these “destitute beings.”

Since many men fathered children with these prostitutes (rubber condoms were mass produced at that time; but despised by the johns because of the reduced sensitivity) – children whom they didn’t acknowledge or even were unaware of – the perversity in the plot of Baudelaire’s Revenge is, sadly enough, not the twisted product of my musty brain, but one of the decadent and deplorable facts of life in the 19th century.

I had to overcome serious resistance in myself before being able to write a crucial “incest” scene in Baudelaire’s Revenge – even if it is unclear if the scene is a delusion from someone suffering from syphilis, or real -  but the Master himself warned me: “If rape or arson, poison or the knife/has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff/Of this drab canvas we accept as life/It is because we are not bold enough.”

Bob Van Laerhoven – Flemish author

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Baudelaire’s Revenge was published in  April  2014 in the US by Pegasus Books

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