Beauty and the Beast

From The Advertiser,  Adelaide, South Australia; page 7, 7 July 1911.

Anthonis van Dyck 013 “It is the fashion among Parisian beauties just now (writes a correspondent of an English paper) to heighten their charms by having some very ugly animal for a companion. The effect of contrast makes the beautiful creature seem more beautiful and the ugly more ugly.

“Quaint Mile. Mistinguette has the ugliest monkey she could find for a pet. It is a horrid beast with a red and blue face, and all sorts of unpleasant habits. When you are asked to take afternoon tea with the beauty, you must profess to be devotedly attached to monkeys, and especially to the one before you, or you will speedily find a place in the mistress’ bad books. While making himself very polite to Boni, the visitor must be careful not to tread on Sadi, mademoiselle’s tame boa constrictor. Snakes, you will be told, arc very affectionate, companionable creatures, but you must be very careful not to surprise or shock them, for they are extremely nervous and sensitive.

“To complete the bizarre effect of this beauty’s home there are dusky Hindu attendants, always attired in their native costume. An equally celebrated beauty, Mile. Manon Loti, has very ugly dwarfs to wait upon her. A hideous dwarf, with a head nearly as large as his body, and looking as if it had been beaten down by a pile-driver, a malevolent expression and hardly any legs, is her favourite attendant. As your eye wanders from this unhappy, hideous little creature to the dainty Mlle. Loti she appears to be of superhuman beauty

Victorian paper scraps showing dressed rats

“Mile. Papierkowski, another very famous beauty, has taken to the society of rats – she has a company of 100 tame rats of all ages and sizes. She fondles them and allows them to run all over her. They are remarkably intelligent animals, and have learned to do all sorts of tricks. One of them walks around with an umbrella over his head, looking very much like a stout, fussy old lady. It gives mademoiselle’s admirers, a shock to see wicked, sharp-eyed rats crawling over her beautiful form. The greatest advantage of keeping rats, mademoiselle finds, is that she can scare away any woman she does not want to see, and there are a number falling in that class.

“Being a beauty is a profession in Paris, and one who belongs to it has to work hard to keep in the first place. Hence the sudden demand for queer animals and ugly dwarfs in the world of beauty.”

Commentary:

Manon Loti. Vintage French postcard.As part of my research a couple years back I had to look up Manon Loti (that’s her on the right) and other notorious “kept women” of the early 1900s. Among the material I found was this remarkably horrifying little article. The attitudes towards those who look/are different are tough to stomach for the modern-day compassionate reader, and yet the content and imagery within the article are pretty compelling.

Manon, a renowned beauty who was an opera singer and actress, really doesn’t come across as very nice. In fact, she was probably the Edwardian equivalent of certain people who often come under intense scrutiny and mockery for being so ridiculously selfish and out of touch with reality that they become almost pitiful as a result. The idea of exploiting other people as accessories – particularly as servants – is a horrible conceit, and yet, very realistic to this day. Making sure you are seen in the company of the right people is a code of life followed by so many. Despite the instinctive reactions of horror at this, maybe Manon was a very kind mistress to her servants and looked after them. There’s so little about her out there though, and to be honest she does sound like she probably was pretty monstrous behind her beauty.

Mademoiselle Papierkowski appears to have been forgotten in the mists of time. But the image of the lovely woman crawling with rats is rather marvellously Dickensian. Would love to know more about her!

ILLUSTRATION NOTES:

Obviously the portrait is NOT of any of the women described above! It is a 1633 portrait of Henrietta Maria, the queen of Charles I, painted by Van Dyck – with attendant dwarf (a term used in its historical context) and monkey. No snake or rats, but you can’t have everything! From Wikimedia Commons. The two rats are Victorian paper scraps found on Christopher R. Willis’s Pinterest but snagged from an Ebay auction several years ago. The image of Manon Loti is from a c.1900 mass-produced postcard found via Google Images and now in the public domain.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s