I had heard of Lola Montez, but didn’t know all that much about her. For example, I didn’t know she was Irish, not Spanish.
While Morato’s mix of biography and historical fiction was not the greatest I have ever read in either genre, I liked the book well enough for being a straight-forward, simple, intorduction to the topic by an author who was not trying to dazzle the reader with bullshit or focus on a particular agenda.
In fact, where I guess that most biographies of Lola Montez – or Eliza Gilbert as was her real name – could have focussed on her history as a famous seductress, Moreto did not really do that. I really appreciated that. Neither did Moreto shy away from telling us all the known facts – as far as I can tell – but she did try to explore what drove Lola to become the person she was.
And that person was self-righteous, couragious, rule-breaking, narcissist who was not able to take any from of criticism and had delusions of grandeur about her own talents and skills.
Yup, she was not a pleasant character to be around. At all.
And yet, I cannot help but also admire that she ran away from the fate of an insignificant, subservient, shamed divorcee that her family had mapped out for her in Leith after her marriage to a British Army Lieutenant (? – I can’t remember which rank he was) failed.
It would have taken some brass neck to run away from family members who were supposed to meet her in London on her return from India and shack up with a member of the aristocracy that she met on the boat.
It also would have taken guts to re-invent her own backstory, pretend to all and sundry that she was Spanish, and that her dancing – which apparently she was not even that good at as she had almost no training – was authentic Spanish dancing.
But luckily, cultural appropriation was not a thing that upset people in Lola’s day. And the fact that she had scores of admirers wherever she performed – and however badly she performed – just goes to show that people have always paid to see all manner rubbish advertised as “art”. And that is also kind of beautiful.
Of course, it may have helped Lola that she bullied, threatened to shoot or evict audiences who didn’t agree with her or appreciated her enough.
When Lola heard the applause the musician was receiving, she went onstage and started dancing with her castanets. But once again they rose up against her, and the hall became a battlefield. Benches and seats were destroyed, windowpanes were shattered, and some shouted, “Scoundrel! We’ve been robbed!” The manager begged the musician to continue, and Miska played another piece from his small repertoire. Finally, Lola agreed to finish the program with the “Spider Dance,” just as they’d planned, which only made everything worse. As she tried to defend herself from the imaginary spiders attacking her, she moved over to a bouquet that an admirer had tossed onstage and stomped on it multiple times. People left the hall in droves.
Lola had to return to her hotel under police protection, but the evening was not over. A few hours later, several dozen people showed up outside the hotel armed with cook pots, skillets, and whistles. The artist went to the window wrapped in a silk robe and, raising her pistol, exclaimed, “You cowards, low blackguards, cringing dogs, and lazy fellows! I would not despise a dirty dog so much as I do you!”
Oh, and as the author is from Spain – unlike Lola – I am also going to count this book towards my Around the World reading project.