Displayed on European stages from 1810 to 1815 as the Hottentot Venus, Sara Baartman was one of the most famous women of her day, and also one of the least known. As the Hottentot Venus, she was seen by Westerners as alluring and primitive, a reflection of their fears and suppressed desires. But who was Sara Baartman? Who was the woman who became the Hottentot Venus? Based on research and interviews that span three continents, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus tells the entwined histories of an illusive life and a famous icon. In doing so, the book raises questions about the possibilities and limits of biography for understanding those who live between and among different cultures.
In reconstructing Baartman's life, the book traverses the South African frontier and its genocidal violence, cosmopolitan Cape Town, the ending of the slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, London and Parisian high society, and the rise of racial science. The authors discuss the ramifications of discovering that when Baartman went to London, she was older than originally assumed, and they explore the enduring impact of the Hottentot Venus on ideas about women, race, and sexuality. The book concludes with the politics involved in returning Baartman's remains to her home country, and connects Baartman's story to her descendants in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Africa.
Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus offers the authoritative account of one woman's life and reinstates her to the full complexity of her history.
"Professors Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully of Emory University have done an excellent job not only of telling this rebarbative story but of putting it into the context of its time. . . . No one, however, has succeeded as well as Crais and Scully in illuminating not only her important role as icon and symbol but, so important, the human being behind them. Because of their diligent research and their deep understanding of the era in which she lived--along with their sensitivity to our own time and concern--they have truly given us the 'living breathing person' that was 'Sara Baartman, the human being who was ultimately destroyed by an illusion.'"--Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"[Crais and Scully] chase down obscure references to Baartman's life in South Africa and discover a rich if difficult life. The authors dig deep into the limited remaining evidence but the biography wears its research lightly, a backdrop to this well-written and fascinating story of a woman who remains an elusive figure."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"The authors…look beyond Baartman's life as a curiosity and an exhibit to explore her life as a woman. Crais and Scully place Baartman's contributions in such areas as the rights of the unlawfully detained, global feminism, and later--when her body was returned to South Africa from France--the politics of indigenous identity. Readers who enjoyed African Queen (2007), by Rachel Holmes, will appreciate this further examination of the life of an extraordinary woman."--Vanessa Bush, Booklist
Table of Contents:
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ix
DRAMATIS PERSONAE xiii
CHAPTER 1: Winds of the Camdeboo 7
CHAPTER 2: Cape of Storms 27
CHAPTER 3: London Calling 58
CHAPTER 4: Before the Law 82
CHAPTER 5: Lost, and Found 103
CHAPTER 6: Paris, City of Light 116
CHAPTER 7: Ghosts of Sara Baartman 142
EPILOGUE: Family 170
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 207
Paperback: Not for sale in South Africa