Monday, August 13, 2007

When Hari Met Surly

Normally I'm not a fan of reading the past while wearing the spectacles of modern sensibilities about such matters as race, class, and gender. However, in some cases, I think it's justified. This is one.

Femme Fatale's central contention is that "it is difficult to imagine a woman less likely . . . to be able to engage in clandestine activities than Mata Hari." She was a star, and "while she was certainly seductive, which might be viewed as useful for a spy, she was never on any occasion invisible"; in fact, she was "a ridiculous candidate for a job that required clandestine behavior." Yet her persecutors "believed firmly that Mata Hari was guilty because she slept with many men and traveled widely in wartime. Such a woman must be a spy." A kangaroo court agreed, and on Oct. 15, 1917, at the age of 41, she was executed. Shipman reports that many years later, the prosecutor, André Mornet, talked to a writer about the case and said "with a supreme indifference, 'Between you and me, there wasn't enough [evidence] to flog a cat.' "