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This article is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

on Gabriel Levin
Peter Vernon
Gabriel Levin’s Coming Forth By Day

BAUDELAIRE WANTED her painted out, Courbet complied, but Jeanne Duval is still triumphantly visible.

Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s ‘Black Venus’, was banished from Courbet’s ‘The Artist’s Studio’ (1855), the subject of Gabriel Levin’s title poem in this collection, but she may be regarded as emblematic of Coming Forth By Day: a black woman, unacceptable to polite society, painted out of history by white men. Jeanne is the opposite of a phenomenon, described by Daniel Arasse in On n’y voit rien, with regard to Gaspard, in Breugel’s painting ‘The Adoration of the Magi’. We are unable to see Gaspard; although he is there to be seen once he is pointed out, for his black face is painted against a black background. Despite the best efforts of Baudelaire and Courbet, with time, the over-painting has deteriorated and now we see Jeanne coming forth by day, from the penumbra into which she had been cast. The move from darkness into light is a touchstone of Courbet’s work and Fritz Novotny reminds us that he ‘showed a predilection for the old system of starting from the dark and working towards the light’.

Jeanne is a representative outcast in Levin’s socially and politically engaged poetry, a commitment also to be found in his previous collections. In Coming Forth By Day, Marx provides the epigraph to ‘Unveiled in Jerusalem’, while in the title poem, we find Proudhon, Champfleury, Buchon, Cuennot and many other proto-socialists, rubbing shoulders with Courbet, in his ‘L’allégorie réelle’, which ...

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