BOOK: Mitchell on Vénus Noire, Race and Sex in 19th Century France

Robin Mitchell, Black Women and Colonial Fantasies in Nineteenth-Century France (Athens; University of Georgia Press, 2018)

Via UGA Press:

“Even though there were relatively few people of color in
postrevolutionary France, images of and discussions about black

women in particular appeared repeatedly in a variety of French
cultural sectors and social milieus. In Vénus Noire, Robin Mitchell
shows how these literary and visual depictions of black women
helped to shape the country’s postrevolutionary national identity,
particularly in response to the trauma of the French defeat in the
Haitian Revolution.
Vénus Noire explores the ramifications of this defeat by examining
visual and literary representations of three black women who
achieved fame in the years that followed. Sarah Baartmann,
popularly known as the Hottentot Venus, represented distorted
memories of Haiti in the French imagination, and Mitchell shows
how her display, treatment, and representation embodied residual
anger harbored by the French. Ourika, a young Senegalese girl
brought to live in France by the Maréchal Prince de Beauvau,
inspired plays, poems, and clothing and jewelry fads, and Mitchell
examines how the French appropriated black female identity
through these representations while at the same time perpetuating
stereotypes of the hypersexual black woman. Finally, Mitchell
shows how demonizations of Jeanne Duval, longtime lover of the
poet Charles Baudelaire, expressed France’s need to rid itself of
black bodies even as images and discourses about these bodies
proliferated. The stories of these women, carefully contextualized
by Mitchell and put into dialogue with one another, reveal a blind
spot about race in French national identity that persists in the
postcolonial present.”

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