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H.C. Andersen’s Black Venus Fairy Tale

“The Marsh King’s Daughter” and the Aftermath of Danish Colonialism

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Kjersti Aarstein

Abstract

H.C. Andersen’s fairy tale “The Marsh King’s Daughter” (1858) has previously been recognised for its aesthetic complexity and intricate depiction of sexual anxiety. Kjersti Aarstein is the first to address the colonial theme of the story, a theme affiliated with the Black Venus figure. She explores Andersen’s twist on fairy-dale tropes, such as allegory and certain poetic images and formulas, in relation to his Black Venus heroine, who is trying to manoeuvre in a violent, colonial landscape. Reading the “The Marsh King’s Daughter” alongside Andersen’s play The Mulatto (1840), and drawing on diverse historical materials, Aarstein challenges the view that H.C. Andersen was not critical of European imperialism, arguing that the later tale addresses both the history of colonial violence in Denmark and its colonies, and the possibility for healing. Thus, she also opens the discussion of the figure of Black Venus to the yet uncharted Scandinavian scene.

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Camilla Erichsen Skalle

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Camilla Erichsen Skalle discusses the near-comprehensive presence of Black Venus figures in Italian colonial propaganda during the so-called ‘scramble for Africa.’ Building on the work of Giulietta Stefani, she shows how these figures are crucial in the construction of a virile Italian masculinity that comes, later, to define and dominate the fascist era. Within this construction, Africa, often described metaphorically as an exotic-erotic Black Venus, serves, paradoxically, as the site for both masculine re- and, possibly, degeneration. Italy has never come to terms with its colonial history, thus the Black Venus tropes and metaphors continued to appear also after Italy’s colonial and imperial defeat. Focusing on the male and imperial objectifying gaze, Skalle demonstrates how the very same stereotypes structure and influence what have come to be seen as the first novels to critically engage with Italian imperialism and the fascist ideologies of masculinity: Ennio Flaiano’s Tempo di uccidere (1947) and Mario Tobino’s Il deserto di Libya (1951).…

Refiguring Black Venus

Preliminary Considerations

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Jorunn S. Gjerden

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Željka Švrljuga

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Željka Švrljuga’s reading of Beryl Gilroy’s Inkle and Yarico explores how the novel’s intersectionality of race, gender and class, and the grammar of desire are deployed in the rewriting of the semantics of the Venus figure. With a starting point in a seventeenth-century footnote in Caribbean history, the novel uses the travel motif as its thematic impulse: from the “discovery” of the New World to its colonization. This, the chapter argues, is reflected on many levels – geographic, historical, narrative – and in the re-figuring of the Venus figure through metonymic displacements, metaphoric replacements, and supplementation. Also, by drawing on the Venus and Adonis myth and William Blake’s engraving Europe Supported by Africa and America, Švrljuga’s analysis opens for a thorough exploration of the relationships between critique, narration, aesthetics, and genre.…

The Voice of Venus

Angela Carter’s “Black Venus” and the Democratization of Literature

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Kari Jegerstedt

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Kari Jegerstedt raises the question of how, if at all, it is possible to ‘give voice’ to the abjected, always already erased other, considering the simultaneous world-scattering and wor(l)ding effects of imperialism on writing and (post)colonial regimes of knowledge and subjectivity. Addressing the question from the perspective of the (self)critical white feminist, Jegerstedt revisits Carter’s short story “Black Venus,” lauded by critics for giving voice to Jeanne Duval, Charles Baudelaire’s Caribbean lover. Jegerstedt stresses that the narrator does not simply re-present Duval but quite explicitly substitutes her own ‘voice’ for Duval’s – thus enacting a similar overwriting of Duval’s voice to the one Baudelaire may be said to do. She goes on to argue that, rather than ‘giving voice,’ the story problematizes the (imperialistic) silencing which is at work in what Jacques Rancière has called the democratic era of literature. At the same time, however, the short story also points to the earlier oral tradition and the fairy tale as alternative narrative venues for establishing global solidarity, thus highlighting again the issue of genre in questions concerning the imagination.

The Wild Woman, the Little Mistress, the Hottentot Venus, and the Pedestal Monster

Living Curiosities and Their Counter-spaces in Two Texts by Charles Baudelaire

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Margery Vibe Skagen

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Drawing on nineteenth-century medicine and natural history, Margery Vibe Skagen compares the Hottentot Venus figure in Baudelaire’s prose poem “La femme sauvage et la petite maîtresse” with a dream of a monstrous male counterpart on display in a museum/brothel, which is recounted in his correspondence. The two texts have never previously been explored in relation to the figure of Black Venus. Both evoke socio-cultural urban spaces associated with different kinds of spectatorship (the fair, the brothel, the freak show, and the museum), as well as the living curiosities or monsters these sites display. With reference to Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia, Skagen considers these spaces as “counter-spaces” which express a strong cultural critique that also targets imperialist power structures and enlightenment ideals. Her readings indicate how heterotopias challenge established scientific truths and the existing world order by inverting them. Thus, through a transference of meaning between the different spaces they mirror, Baudelaire’s texts raise questions of race, animality, gender, prostitution and violence, without giving any definite answers.

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Edited by Sarah Joan Moran and Amanda C. Pipkin

Women and Gender in the Early Modern Low Countries, 1500-1750 brings together research on women and gender across the Low Countries, a culturally contiguous region that was split by the Eighty Years' War into the Protestant Dutch Republic in the North and the Spanish-controlled, Catholic Hapsburg Netherlands in the South.
The authors of this interdisciplinary volume highlight women’s experiences of social class, as family members, before the law, and as authors, artists, and patrons, as well as the workings of gender in art and literature. In studies ranging from microhistories to surveys, the book reveals the Low Countries as a remarkable historical laboratory for its topic and points to the opportunities the region holds for future scholarly investigations.

Contributors: Martine van Elk, Martha Howell, Martha Moffitt Peacock, Sarah Joan Moran, Amanda Pipkin, Katlijne Van der Stighelen, Margit Thøfner, and Diane Wolfthal.