I picked this up on my recent trip to New Orleans, where there are many references to Marie Laveau.
The book is extensively researched, and for a hist...moreI picked this up on my recent trip to New Orleans, where there are many references to Marie Laveau.
The book is extensively researched, and for a history buff like me, it was fantastic to see how much detail Long was able to tease from the historical records. Long also spends a great deal of time establishing the context of Laveau's time, including social, legal, and economic systems and their impact on New Orleans.
I was, however, disappointed, that very little was written about the legends of Marie Laveau. They are mentioned from time to time, as Long presents evidence of whether the stories might be true or not, but she rarely explains the whole story. Since I'm a novice to the legends, it was sometimes confusing, trying to figure out what the stories might have been that impacted the direction of the research.
I loved this book, with its many tidbits of court life and amazing realism in painting the portrait of Madame de Montespan. As a longtime history buff...moreI loved this book, with its many tidbits of court life and amazing realism in painting the portrait of Madame de Montespan. As a longtime history buff, with a penchant for the court of Louis XIV, this brought out so much detail and intrigue, I was instantly hooked.
Hilton not only draws the biography of Montespan, but she outlines her impact on Louis XIV's court, from her manner of speech and dress, to her patronage of Racine and Moliere, and her development of architectural styles implemented at Versailles and Clagny.
The book also includes an excellent breakdown of L'Affair des Poisons, which I knew little about, except for the bit dramatized in Judith Merkle Riley's "The Oracle Glass" (a great read in itself). Lastly, I truly loved the excerpts about what passed for good manners at court, and the story of the two duchesses who lost control of their curry dinner at the opera. (less)
I found this book in an honest-to-goodness independent bookstore in San Francisco, and the title was what caught my attention originally. But despite...moreI found this book in an honest-to-goodness independent bookstore in San Francisco, and the title was what caught my attention originally. But despite the title, the book isn't really much about the blue tattoo of Olive Oatman as it was about her life and the cultural implications that her story has had.
The book is disappointingly short, but it treats the topic in a sensible and objective manner, and takes into account multiple perspectives: the Mohave tribe that fostered Olive, Olive and her family, Olive's later husband, the minister who made her famous, and the public at large.
I admire Mifflin for sticking to the facts and what is verifiable about the story, that said, there is so much more that I wanted to know about the story, and so much of it is lost to history. Her writing is very easy to read, and in this edition, I appreciate that she added in the full text of a recently rediscovered letter written by Olive.(less)
Andrea Stuart has crafted an amazing life of Josephine, and unlike other biographers, has kept her as an individual separate from Napoleon.
This biogr...moreAndrea Stuart has crafted an amazing life of Josephine, and unlike other biographers, has kept her as an individual separate from Napoleon.
This biography digs deep into the life of Josephine, drawing on many sources: Josephine's own writings, those of her family and friends, as well as public records from the time. I was impressed by the effort Stuart took to place her life in context, particularly the background she provided for Josephine's early life in Martinique as part of a family of slave-holders.
Also notable about this book is the care Stuart took to drawn a psychological portrait of Josephine, with a particular emphasis on the long-lasting effects that she suffered as a prisoner of the Terror during the Revolution.
Following my current interest with the time just before and just after the French Revolution, I chose this book, because Madame du Barry was not a nob...moreFollowing my current interest with the time just before and just after the French Revolution, I chose this book, because Madame du Barry was not a noble, and didn't actually influence history that much, so I was hoping for a fresh perspective on the epoque.
The book is written in a dry narrative style with little reference to source material. Jeanne's early life is spent as that of the daughter of a rich man's second mistress. Her mother eventually sells her into sexual bondage to a well-placed pimp, du Barry, who takes her as his own mistress as well as selling her favors to high placed courtiers. This part of her life is glossed over by Haslip, most likely because Haslip has great sympathy for her subject and wants to keep readers from forming a distasteful, prudish opinion of Jeanne.
Once Jeanne makes the leap to Versailles as the mistress of Louis XV, she is portrayed as a naive child, at the mercy of courtiers who look down on her for her lower class origins and former time as a professional courtesan. While Haslip may feel the need to "protect" Jeanne, she neglects to put Madame du Barry into context, particularly speaking about the intricate ritual and etiquette that ruled Versailles, and which Mme. du Barry often flouted.
In the end, Mme. du Barry's selfishness and lack of forethought led to a disastrous end at the guillotine. Unfortunately, as the blade ended her life, Haslip ended the book. There is no mention of what happened to Mme. du Barry's extensive estate, or what popular opinion thought of her end, or even if she simply faded into obscurity. That lack of conclusion made the ending supremely frustrating. (less)
I had to read some of Margaret Fuller's work after finishing The Lives of Margaret Fuller recently. Since I'm an ardent feminist, I decided to start w...moreI had to read some of Margaret Fuller's work after finishing The Lives of Margaret Fuller recently. Since I'm an ardent feminist, I decided to start with Women in the Nineteenth Century.
I'll admit, it's difficult to read. Fuller was highly educated and brings in many references to classical works and current events that meant I often had to stop reading to check a reference on Wikipedia. Even with the added knowledge, her writing style is high 19th century style, with outdated words and phrases that make it hard to plow through by a modern reader. It reminded me of a section from her biography (referenced above) describing outsiders of her circle poking fun at the Transcendentalists: "They read Dante in the original Italian, Goethe in the original German, and Fuller in the original English."
The first portion of this book is all foundational, where Fuller describes ideals of women in general through the ages, and gives examples of women living outside prescribed norms and their fates.
The real meat is in the last portion, where she lays aside the work of others and actually speaks to the reader. She argues that by making women the property of men, society is not only depriving women of their full potential, but also men of having equal partners. Additionally, she decries the idea that there are feminine qualities and masculine qualities, and that men are not allowed to be feminine and women are not allowed to be masculine. Particularly illustrating is her example of the girl who shows interest in carpentry tools but is told that such an endeavor is not intended for her sex. As Fuller declares, "Let there be women sea captains!" if the women are so inclined.
I think the next step is to find more of Fuller's work, preferably the essays she wrote for the Dial or her journalistic endeavors, and follow her train of thought.(less)
Certainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educ...moreCertainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educated French woman took it upon herself to travel to Tibet, particularly the capital Lhasa, and achieved that goal in 1924. She was an adept of many years study in Tibetan Buddhism, spent time as a disciple to powerful lamas, mastered many of the more esoteric practices of Buddhism, and managed to document many everyday rituals of the various tribes in Tibet whose cultures are rapidly disappearing.
The Fosters state at the outset that their purpose in writing this book is to countermand the works of some other authors, Jeanne Denys in particular, who claim that David-Neel never made it to Tibet and all of her later writings chronicling her 14 years in the Orient were entirely fictitious. Their writing style is plain, but the entire time you have the impression that they must prove that they have the definitive version of David-Neel's life. It's extremely off-putting, and they continually state that they lack access to her private papers, which led me to wonder how they became such experts.
The story of a woman crossing the Himalayas, learning Tibetan, begging for food, and finally achieving a site never before seen by a Western woman is fantastic. However, in the hands of these authors, you begin to doubt the journey, or how they assert David-Neel felt about her journey.
I will be looking to find some of David-Neel's own writings, and another biography in the future.
Stuart's examination of the historical, cultural, and sociological impact of the showgirl, from her inception in the mid 19th century to present day is fascinating. She considers the personal histories of the major showgirls covered in the book: Mistinguette (late 19th century France), Colette (turn of the century France), Josephine Baker (early 20th century America & France), Barbette (early 20th century Europe & America), Marlene Dietrich (1920s and '30s Germany and America), Mae West (1930s America). Of course she includes the context of the life of these and other showgirls, from the descriptions of the hot, uncomfortable preparations for the stage to the careful constructed personal lives covered by hungry tabloids.
The showgirl has had many meanings over the years: the object of the male gaze, the symbol of women's self-sufficiency, sexual empowerment, sexual and moral deviance, and camp icon, among many others. Stuart explores these ideas, historically as well as in the contemporary (this book is from 1996, I would love to see an updated chapter covering the last twenty years).
What is particularly successful about this book is how the author transitions from analysis to a riveting narration. She includes many small details about the lives of these performers that illustrate the intensity of being a showgirl, from the average weight of those feathered headdresses (15 pounds!) to the makeshift "facelifts" that Marlene Dietrich created in her later years to hide her sagging wrinkles (she held her forehead taut with straight pins in her scalp, under a wig).
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in theatre, Belle Epoque Paris, feminist/cultural studies, or performance art.(less)
For a biography of a such a well chronicled woman, Paul Spicer skips over most details and creates a light, fluffy portrait of Alice de Janze. De Janz...moreFor a biography of a such a well chronicled woman, Paul Spicer skips over most details and creates a light, fluffy portrait of Alice de Janze. De Janze is an American heiress from New York, raised by her mother's family in Chicago, who suffers from a form of bipolar disorder. A quick sketch of her life: she marries a French count, has two daughters, and moves to the Wanhoji Valley in Kenya, then a British colony. She spends most of the rest of her life in Kenya, away from her children, has many love affairs, including one which resulted in a murder-suicide attempt. In the end, the depressive part of her disorder begins to subsume her, and she takes her own life, in her own beloved Kenyan home, surrounded by flowers.
De Janze is a fascinating person from many angles: historically, psychologically, socially. And despite the wealth of information available to Spicer, he paints her life in broad brushstrokes without much detail. He is far more interested in the unsolved killing of Lord Errol, a longtime companion and lover of de Janze. The main thrust of the book is his argument that the killer was actually de Janze herself. It is an interesting story, but his interest in the case causes him to skip over some of the more relevant parts of de Janze's life and then spend two chapters intimately detailed the murder and following trial.
I was markedly surprised at Spicer's lack of detail because he had access to so many primary sources. She was raised by her grandparents, part of the Chicago Armour family (still a giant in the meatpacking industry), and as a socialite, she was featured often in the newspapers of the time. Her wedding to Frederic de Janze was a huge social event. There were letters written between her and her family when she moved to France. He even met and spoke with de Janze's surviving daughter who allowed him to read letters and use photos, in addition to speaking to him about her experiences with her mother. De Janze's attempt to kill Raymund de Traffant at the Gare du Nord was covered in the news, as well as the trial afterward. Perhaps most prized of all, Spicer's mother was a friend of de Janze and spent several years as her neighbor in Kenya. In his introduction he mentions scrapbooks his mother kept, and yet, there's hardly a mention of what they contained.
In the end, this is a nice piece, very fluffy and just the right level for someone interested in high society in the 1920s and 30s in France, Britain, and the British colony of Kenya. The descriptions of the landscape of Kenya are fantastic. And yet, if you wanted to know about Alice de Janze, I'd suggest starting elsewhere. She was part of what was known as the "Happy Valley set" in Kenya--a group of wealthy expats who gathered in the Wanhoji Valley for a number of years. My next stop is to find a book about the Happy Valley set in general to supplement this volume.(less)
I'll write a longer review later, but this piece wandered into my RSS list and I had to share.
This book deals an awful lot with the corruption and the...moreI'll write a longer review later, but this piece wandered into my RSS list and I had to share.
This book deals an awful lot with the corruption and theft that was an integral part of the Vatican in the mid 17th century. When I was reading this book, I thought, there is no way that there is anything on this scale happening in the modern Vatican. Well, after reading this article, I'm not so sure: