Apollonie Sabatier and Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval

I found this fun courtesan story in Susan Griffin’s The book of the Courtesans: A Catalogue of their Virtues (2001).

Many of you have probably heard of the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who wrote some scandalous works on sex and death, and who also looked like Jeremy Northam‘s kinda fug uncle:


The person whom you probably haven’t heard of, though, is his lover, BFF, and muse Apollonie Sabatier.




Anyway, Apollonie Sabatier was born the illegitimate daughter of a vicomte and a seamstress, which is so sordid and glamorous that she probably had no other choice but to become a courtesan. Family backstory demands it.

The young Apollonie (whose original name was Aglae-Josephine–a good change, I think) showed promise as a singer, so she was sent to study under the great Madame Cinti. If things had turned out differently, the talented Apollonie probably would have ended up as a prominent opera singer, except she was seen and coveted by a Belgian diplomat at a charity concert and quickly set up as his mistress.

Unfortunately, her diplomat lover was married, so he used a friend to act as a messenger between himself and Apollonie and often left them alone to hobnob with the other Montmartre artists and courtesans. She quickly threw herself into the mix and became a celebrated figure at salons which hosted Balzac, Gautier, and Flaubert, among others.

In fact, she was such a skilled socializer that she became famous for bringing together disparate groups, and was soon given the nickname La Presidente. She was exceptionally beautiful and became the muse for many men, posing (scandalously) for August Clésinger’s “Woman Bitten by a Snake“:

Uh huh. We know what type of snake they're alluding to.

Uh huh.
We know what type of snake they’re alluding to.

It was at one of these gatherings that she first met Baudelaire. “The love affair she had with Baudelaire was notoriously short. In the beginning, Sabatier did not return the poet’s love. But after [his] Les Fleurs du mal was published, she offered herself to him as an homage.

They spent only one night as lovers, after which she fell in love with him and he fell out of love with her. Though she came to love the poet as well as his words, Baudelaire, as it turns out, loved the ideal he had created of her more than the breathing reality. ‘A few days ago,’ he wrote, ‘you were a deity, which is so convenient, so noble, so inviolable. And then there you are, a woman.’

Instead of lovers, they became friends.” (67-68).


Not bad as things go, I guess, but I would still probably be a little bit pissed if I were her.

They had great chemistry, largely because they were both great supporters of and contributors to the arts, she being a musician and he being a poet. However, part of their chemistry (and some of their friction) came from the fact that Apollonie was probably still in love with Baudelaire, despite his desperate love for a later mistress, Jeanne Duval:


Apollonie used to sarcastically refer to Jeanne Duval as Baudelaire’s “ideal”, a snarky comment because Jeanne Duval had been born in Santo Domingo and was a woman of color. Even Baudelaire occasionally made remarks about her race, although that was also probably the thing that made him so crazy about her (he was very into ideas about breaking down certain conservative structures in society).

(Also, Apollonie probably knew Jeanne’s race was a contradictory sore spot with Baudelaire, and probably acted shitty because of her jealousy).

Baudelaire called Jeanne his “Mistress of Mistresses” and his “Black Venus”, saying that she was the woman he loved most in the world after his mother. Of course, his mother was really, really not impressed with Jeanne and thought she was a bad influence who was just after his money. Although Jeanne was completely rejected by his family, she and Baudelaire stayed together for twenty years, before both dying of syphilis (or at least Baudelaire died of syphilis and that is probably also the cause of her illness and death, also).


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One Response to Apollonie Sabatier and Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 4 Years | BizarreVictoria

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