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Purebreds and Amazons: Race, Gender, and Species from the Second Empire to the Third Republic

Purebreds and Amazons: Race, Gender, and Species from the Second Empire to the Third Republic

Chapter:
(p.103) Chapter Five Purebreds and Amazons: Race, Gender, and Species from the Second Empire to the Third Republic
Source:
Precarious Partners
Author(s):
Kari Weil
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226686400.003.0006

By 1867 the woman rider or “amazone” was a familiar sight in Paris as suggested by Edouard Manet’s painting of the “Universal Exhibition” of that year. Her status, however, was not always clear; she could be an aristocrat out for a leisurely ride, or she could be a courtesan, hoping to lure a client. As such, the “amazone” is emblematic of the transitional epoch of Second Empire Paris with its increasingly fluid social and sexual orders. Tracing her representation in the literature of Balzac, Gautier, Sand and Zola, the chapter turns to Adah Menken, an American actress who became the star of the Paris stage in 1866 (the same year hippophagy was legalized), playing the male role of Mazeppa in the hippodrama of the same name. Reactions to her performance and especially to her riding across the stage in a sheer bodysuit reveal the fantasies and fears provoked by a woman and a horse together, a relationship regarded as particularly bestial by some, because of Menken’s “Jewish breeding.”

Keywords:   Amazone, Manet, Mazeppa, Adah Menken, hippodrama, bestiality

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