The Hottentot Venus: (South African Edition)

The Hottentot Venus: (South African Edition) : The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman: Born 1789 - Buried 2002

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In 1994, in one of the first acts of cultural reparation when the African National Congress came to power, Nelson Mandela requested that France release Sara Baartman's remains. Such is the resonance of the 'Hottentot Venus's' story, such is the significance of her place in history, that when the remains were eventually returned in April 2002, the funeral service was a national event. Two hundred years earlier the young Saartjie Baartman had been persuaded by a Dutch man and an English doctor in Cape Town to go with them to England to seek fame and fortune for all three. The fame and the fortune was to come from Saartjie's body - 'Hottentot' women were figures of exotic excess and the three hatched a plan for Saartjie to perform in shows which would be extravaganzas of titillation and exoticism. Saartjie took London by storm. Everyone, from the working classes to the aristocracy, flocked to see her; cartoons, articles and verses were penned about her, the bustle came into fashion just as she rose to fame and women tried to emulate her large posterior. But some humane radicals protested that the Venus was being exploited and degraded.
This protest gained such force that eventually a court case held to establish whether she was performing of her own free will. It found that she was, and it was only some years later, when Saartjie was living a miserable life in Paris, that she finally realised that her vision of herself as a free woman, a celebrity, a successful showgirl, was only part of the truth, and that her sexuality and her race had indeed been exploited. She died in Paris at the age of 25. This is the story of one woman's extraordinary journey, set against the dramatic background of a world in flux.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 256 pages
  • 135 x 216mm
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Export ed
  • 0747591504
  • 9780747591504

Review quote

'I am convinced that The Hottentot Venus is going to cause a real literary stir, rescuing its eponymous heroine from almost two centuries of misunderstanding. This is a sharply focused, elegantly written, gripping story, meticulous in its research and scholarship. Rachel Holmes wears her considerable authority lightly and delightfully. There is fine imaginative writing here, as well as strong, pointed argument and ideas.' Professor Lisa Jardine
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