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Holy Skirts: A Novel of a Flamboyant Woman Who Risked All for Art
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Holy Skirts: A Novel of a Flamboyant Woman Who Risked All for Art

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  334 ratings  ·  42 reviews
No one in 1917 New York had ever encountered a woman like the Bar-oness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven -- poet, artist, proto-punk rocker, sexual libertine, fashion avatar, and unrepentant troublemaker. When she wasn't stalking the streets of Greenwich Village wearing a brassiere made from tomato cans, she was enthusiastically declaiming her poems to sailors in beer halls or ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published March 15th 2005)
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This is a wonderful fictional depiction of the real life Baroness Elsa Von Freytag Loringhoven. Queen of dadaism, Elsa makes her entire life a walking, breathing piece of art. I particularly enjoyed her escapades with Marcel Duchamp. This would make a fantastic movie, with perhaps Bjork as the lead?
I happened upon this book by chance. I had half an hour to kill while waiting for a bus and noticed the unusual cover, which seemed ugly to me. The title suggested a chick lit book, but when I quickly perused the back cover, I discovered it was historical fiction about one of the most colorful characters in the avant garde artistic circles of Greenwich Village's bohemian counterculture just before and during World War I. That intrigued me.

Although the author takes a lot of literary license, the
I read about half this book then decided not to waste any more time on it. For one thing, in the appendix, Steinke credits Irene Gammell with "a recent, excellent biography of VonFreytag-Lovinghoven." Then why in the world is the book club reading this fictional bio? Having read some excellent biographies lately I think these fictional ones are really not my cup of tea. So I am also finally consigning Vidal's fictional bio of Aaron Burr to the scrap heap and will read Fallen Founder instead.
May 01, 2014 Mo rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Not Recommended
I found this book while browsing at my local library. It was on the “recommended” shelf, I thought the cover looked interesting, and I decided to give it a try. The book jacket describes the book this way:

In a beautifully written novel, Rene Steinke paints an exquisite portrait of this woman and her time – an era of cataclysmic change that witnessed brutal war, technological innovation, the rise of urban living, and an irrevocable shift in the lives of women, who, like Elsa, struggled to create
Kiki von Cougar
This is my new favorite novel. Rene Steinke's prose is lush and decadent, and perfectly matched for her subject, one of the most interesting (and overlooked) artistic personalities of the 20th century. I may review in more detail at a later date, but now let me summarize by saying that this book made me want to be the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven when I grow up. (Minus the syphilis, I suppose.)
Sep 07, 2007 Bess rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists & feminists, cynics & spinsters
Occasionally embellished, very well-written narrative biography of a really interesting, gutsy young woman with a tragic past who came to NYC from Germany and started over from scratch as an artist/writer/bohemian. Every single gal trying to "get back to herself" should read it.
Julia Van
Loved reading about this crazy lady who at one point wears a birdcage on her head! Rene Steinke is such a fine writer. It is only fair to disclose that she was my mentor in FDU's fabulous MFA Creative Writing program. This book is truly an adventure through the life of one very gutsy and eccentric character Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (how's that for a name?)who is not made up but actually existed and who was way ahead of her time. (think Lady GaGa) Entertaining, moving,funny and ripe ...more
Baroness Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven was a flamboyant poet and performance artist who openly flaunted conventional norms and did so when that type of behavior caused scandals. This is a fictionalized account of her life, based on the scant source material that exists. A little bit crazy and a little bit genius converged in this woman who lived on the edge of poverty in Greenwich Village in the early years of the twentieth century. A companion of Marcel Duchamp and a model for various artists, inclu ...more
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven: a fierce femme before her time:
"She wanted to wear something witty, something extravagant to this Arensberg salon. But she was exhausted with mere prettiness, weighed down by knowing that it would only become more and more difficult to achieve, and she hated feeling the effort in herself. Besides, prettiness at these salons was trite, and she wanted to put her femaleness to more potent ends. She wanted to inspire questions, to entertain, challenge. She spen
It was great. A fun fictionalization of the life of a minor figure in art history & the literary avant garde. I have a friend who loves this book so much she dragged out finishing it. I'm ok with endings, though hers was pretty strange and unfortunate. Luckily time has been kind and there are plenty of other books I can read of her work and about her now, as well good biographies of Duchamp and Man Ray and the other crosscurrents of the European and American avant garde in the early 20th cen ...more
This was a fun read, but it made me think about how boring people are. Even unique artistic minds are just people 99% of the time.
A fictional retelling of the life of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Holy Skirts does an admirable job of presenting a woman ahead of her time. Elsa leaves her home in rural Germany in the 1890s for Berlin, where she becomes a chorus girl or sorts, a disreputable occupation at the time, and meets many artists. Eventually she winds up in New York City, living in the same building as Marcel DuChamp, writing poetry, designing her own outlandish outfits, and becoming part of the Dada circle. ...more
Winter Sophia Rose
Unique & Charming Read!!! Loved It!!!
This book was beyond poorly written, but I was compelled to finish it in like 2 days because the subject is so fascinating! The Baroness Elsa Von Fragtag-Loringhoven wore bras made of soup cans and was friends with Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. She was a sexual libertine, a proto-punk, and a gutter poet. There is another book about her called "Baroness Elsa" which seems much better, so it will soon be on the to-read list.
A fictional rendering of the life of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven who was a poet, artist, sexual libertine, model, artist and a truly colorful character. Originally from Germany, she travelled to new York in the early 1900s (WWI era) and lived in Greenwich village. Very interesting book a bout a truly unique and larger than life character – all about sexual, intellectual and personal freedom.
I admire Steinke's effort in how she weaves creative interpretation and historical truth into this fictional bio of the unusual life of the baroness. It's entertaining and well-written, but in the end I say just skip it and go directly to the Irene Gammel biography, "Baroness Elsa." The story of von Freytag-Loringhoven's life is unconventional, tragic, inspiring, flamboyant, etc... all on its own.
Jun 06, 2008 Kaity rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fartsy artsies
The Baroness was quite a saucy dame, to say the least. And this was a book I had trouble putting down, what with all the syphillus and drug use and art-making. It was like being in college agian, but with more perspective. I think this was the perfect book for me to kick off summer reading, and hopefully, to inspire me to be a little more passionate about art.
Gabrielle Nowicki
This fascinating book is very loosely based on the life of rebel, Dadaist poet, artist's model and friend of Marcel Duchamp, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Elsa's life was cutting edge art and as the story evolves, the reader becomes more uncertain where creativity ends and insanity begins. Her life was as tragic as it was colourful.
Actually, I liked the writing in this book. However, I found the central character so unappealing that I eventually gave up the book without finishing it. I hope I like other books by this author better.
Celia Montgomery
Loved it. This is a visceral read. Sexy, harrowing. I felt certain scenes physically - the cold weather in Greenwich Village, the dirtiness of a Berlin cabaret. The Baroness is such a captivating sympathetic character. Her outrageous adventures are described so vividly that I felt I was almost living her life.
The narrative structure is extremely conventional for a novel about Dadaism. The only vaguely interesting ideas start happening around the "barber scene"...if you are going to read this, I would start on page 250...or read the first 249 pages as quickly as you can, preferably with a bird cage strapped to your head.
Jun 05, 2007 Jest rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
This is a novel based on the life of Baroness Elsa von Freytag -Loringhoven. The entire time I was reading it I was cringing and thinking: she would hate this.

People with an interest in Baroness Elsa or New York Dada would be better off checking out the biography: Baroness Elsa by Irene Gammel.
Laura Obscura
I loved this tale of a woman truly ahead of her time. The artist who snuck into the sex museum in Europe that was forbidden for women to see, and model for Man Ray, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven risked everything for the sake of art. This story has been deeply inspiring for me for years.
Fascinating book - funny and sad in the same breath. Great read!

Rene Steinke says that this "s a fictional reimaging of the life of Baroness Elsa von Feytag-loringhoven" Refer to for some facts about the Baroness
Didn't love it, but I guess I"m glad I read it. Loved the descriptions of early 20th century Berlin and NY. Made me think in a new way about artists and the artistic temperament. Also made me want to read more about this period of time in history.
The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is brought to vivid life in Steinke's well-researched, well-written biographical novel. The Baroness was a vibrantly eccentric women who was, herself, a living piece of art & truly ahead of her time.
Well, I got about 200 pages in before I decided to put this one aside. I think I would prefer a less first-person take on the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. I found it less on the eccentric side - more on the long-winded side.
Melissa Febos
I liked this; Steinke is a good writer, but something about the character was difficult to get attached to; I identified somewhat and was interested in, but didn't like her, and, more importantly, couldn't muster up much sympathy for her.
i stopped reading 20 pages before i wouldve finished the book... it starts off wonderfully, but as the character begins to unravel, so does the book... overall a good read. love at first sight, and then i lost interest...
Queen Reese
A beautiful story of a passionate and eccentric woman, right up my alley! I loved that the writing was colorful enough for me to picture it vividly, but not so much that it distracted from the the pace and plot.
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Rene Steinke's most recent novel, Friendswood, will be published in August with Riverhead Books. She is also the author of The Fires and Holy Skirts, a novel based on the life of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Holy Skirts was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award.

Steinke's writing has also appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Bookforum, Triquarterly, and in anthologies. She te
More about Rene Steinke...

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