What I did not know prior to reading the book and found completely intriguing was her personal history.
Arriving in Paris in 1904 she is slipping into desperate circumstances as she struggles to find a position as a dancer. Facing life on the streets she is seen at an audition by Edouard Clunet, a well known Parisian lawyer, with excellent connections. He offers to act as her agent/manager. A grateful Mata Hari accepts his proposal.
Shortly she meets with prominent members of Parisian society. Men are attracted to the beautiful exotic young woman. Their wives appear to tolerate their liaisons. She is the very definition of a courtesan. Her male admirers show her with valuable jewels.
Mata Hari, introduced as the Star of the East, learned to dance while she was living in Java, then a part of the Dutch East Indies. Edouard arranges for her to perform before 200 guests of Emile Guimet.
She performs a sensuous, even scandalous performance. She tells the audience:
“One translates the divine attributes of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – creation, fecundity, destruction. This is the dance I dance tonight. The dance of destruction as it leads to creation.”
By the conclusion her veils have slid away and she is dressed in only the magnificent jewelry provided for the evening.
She is an instant sensation. Gentlemen admirers flock to her apartment and escort her about the city. She is especially attracted to men in uniforms. A finely dressed officer with money always excites Mata Hari.
Other private performances are arranged. Then Edouard arranges for her to perform in Madrid:
On opening night, I am Cleopatra, queen of the Nile. The female dancers Ramon has given me are dressed in Grecian sheaths and golden breastplates. The male dancers wear nothing but short, white kilts. On stage, in front of a thousand people, I dance her agony with Caesar, her ecstasy with Anthony, her untimely death. I wear more jewels than the queen of England and a constricting snake (it seemed unwise to wear an asp). I don’t wear anything else. The next morning I am front-page news in every paper.
Moran portrays her dances and jewels and clothes very well. I longed to see what dramatic looks she developed. She was brilliant in self-promotion.
Looking around the internet I found numerous photos of the real life Mata Hari. The image at the top of a post is a photo to which colour has been added. Beside this paragraph is an original black and white photo.
She is still dancing and taking lovers as World War I envelopes Europe. There is a gradually increasing sense of dread as the war progresses and a reader knows her fate.
Mata Hari’s Last Dance is an interesting work. Its strength is in the descriptions of Mata Hari and her glamorous lifestyle. In an era where options for women were limited she maximized her opportunities to gain fame. My next post will discuss some historical issues and how they affected me. A third post will look at her trial.