I know what you’re probably thinking. “LHB, how do you even know about Dude week? You didn’t even write one of those hilarious intros. Poor KAB and MRG had to do all of them.” First of all, listen to yourself, you sound like a bitch. Second, I have a great excuse this time. And no, it’s not “finals are hard” or “I’m graduating.” This time, I moved. States. Coasts, actually. And you know what happens when you move? You ask your boyfriend to deal with Comcast and then he puts it off for three weeks and then you never have internet. It’s really fun. I’m being sarcastic. It fucking sucks. But it makes you really productive and good at, like, setting up your house. I also started reading a book but then we got cable so I was like, “Fuck that.”
Now, you may have read the title of this post and been a little suspicious. “Isadora?” You thought to yourself, “They’ve already written about this slut. I’m going to go read some other less funny blog.”
You know what I say to that? I’d say that you’re really sounding like a bitch today. But you would also be correct if not a little bit of a bitch. We have written about Isadora before. Twice, actually. Once in our first Lesbian post ever (we were so young!), and then once in KAB’s guest post before she came over to the dark side.
The thing is, Isadora’s so scandalous she deserves a post of her own. She didn’t have two children out of wedlock, numerous lesbian and non-lesbian affairs, and a death that English teachers could use to teach ninth graders the concept of irony to merit peripheral sentences in posts about other people. So today, Isadora Duncan, you’re going to get your own post. People only dream about this kind of publicity. You’re welcome.
Going into this post, I was trying to find a Californian in honor of my move. (For Shame! loves relevance.) I was shooting for sort of the Gold-Rush, frontier-era Californian, but I was having zero luck (if you have an idea, please suggest it.) But then MRG did some research on the “internet” and was all, “Isadora Duncan is from San Francisco.” And I was like, “REALLY? OK!” And now here we all are.
Isadora Duncan left northern California pretty early to become a slut in Chicago. I mean, a dancer. She joined a company in Chicago that eventually brought her to New York. But, in the big city, she felt limited and repressed. Americans just “didn’t get her.”* Eventually, the dancer Loie Fuller, who also was “misunderstood”* by Yankee bumpkins showed up at Duncan’s studio and was all, “Girlfriend, let’s get your ass to Paris.”
Fuller was a famous American dancer and actress, known for the way she used flowing silk costumes when she danced. But she spent most of her time in France because they didn’t hate fun as much as they did in the States. (Side note for theatre nerds: she was also a pioneer in stage lighting and held numerous patents for the “technology” and “science” behind making colored gels.) No doubt her love of billowy costumes rubbed off on Isadora, who is known for her use of long scarves in her choreography. (We’ll come back to that.)
But more importantly, IsaDORA did a lot of EXPLORING ifyaknowwhatimsayin’. She had a lot of sex with a lot of people is what I’m saying. Let’s start with the two baby-daddies, shall we? (DISCLAIMER: I should say that I don’t believe any of her affairs were particularly scandalous because she was in Paris and she was an artist and it was the early 20th century, so everyone was all, “Eh, whatever.”)
The father of Isadora’s first child, Dierdre, was famous English scenic designer Edward Gordon Craig. What? Never heard of him? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, fun fact: Baby-daddy numero uno was an illegitimate child himself! Runs in the family, I suppose. I might do a post on him at a later date, so that’s all I’ll divulge for now…
SO, they did it and had a kid. And then four years later, she did it with Paris Singer (yes, son of sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer) and had a son named Patrick. Three years later, when Pat was three and Dierdre was seven, the kiddos (along with their nanny) were on their way back from meeting Mommy for lunch at some swank-ass Parisian cafe, when their driver stalled the car. (Driving was really hard then.) The driver got out to hand-crank the engine, but forgot to put the parking break on and the car, along with the Duncan kids and the nanny, rolled into the Seine! And they drowned!!
Shit just got real, didn’t it?
Duncan was still with Mr. Singer at this point, but after the accident she left him in order to recuperate on the Italian coast with one of Europe’s most famous bisexuals, Eleonora Duse. Isn’t that what you would do? Eleonora had just come out of a two-year lesbian relationship with THE famousest lesbian this side of the Atlantic, feminist writer Lina Poletti. So, when Eleonora and Isadora were sitting in a tree, everyone was like, “They must be K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”
In 1922, a good long time after her post-drowning tryst with the Italian actress, Isadora met and married the Russian poet, Sergei Yessinin who was 18 years younger than her. Get what’s yours, girl. Unfortunately, she only got what was hers for like a year or so, before he was like, “I need to go write about my feelings,”* and went off to Moscow to commit suicide.
Isadora didn’t skip a beat before shacking up with our favorite Lesbian to the stars, the ex-lover of Greta Garbo, Mercedes de Acosta. They wrote each other really nice and kind of explicit letters for a number of years. Most of them involve nipples, but this one doesn’t:
Mercedes, lead me with your little strong hands and I will follow you—to the top of a mountain. To the end of the world. Wherever you wish. (1926)
A year later, in 1927, Benoit Falchetto, a hot mechanic picked Isadora up in his Amilcar to go for a ride, in more ways than one. The 50-year-old dancer turned to her friends before she left and said, “Je vais à l’amour,” which translated into English means something like, “I’m going to go have sex with this hot mechanic now.” On the drive, her scarf got tangled in the open spoke wheels of the early 20th century automobile and broke her neck! And then she died!
Wanna know why she was wearing a scarf? Probably you remember from earlier in the post when I was talking about flowy fabric but I’ll remind you: It was her thing. She practically trademarked scarves. She danced with them, she played with them, she wore them on car-rides. Bitch LOOOOVED scarves. And then they fucking killed her. Watch out, people. Your favorite clothing items will turn on you when you least expect it. It’s only a matter of time.
But here’s what’s really cool about Isadora Duncan. Aside from the fact that the woman could not have cared less what people thought about her (she had illegitimate babies and affairs with lesbians, and was a known communist, and wore that ridiculous tunic around all the time), she was also kind of the undisputed founder of modern dance. When she started dancing, dance was either ballet or, like, vaudeville showgirl type stuff. When expressionist theatre and art and modern literature all started to take off in the early 20th century, dance was about to be left behind. But her innovations in style and technique elevated dance to the status of art.
No small FEET. (Because in dancing you have to use your feet.)
*Indicates direct quote.
[Ed. Note: You’re about to read something very special. So unzip your pants and unscrew your favorite flask because For Shame! is bringing you, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME (like a virgin, in case that wasn’t clear), a post by a guest writer! That’s right, it’s our very first guest post and we couldn’t be more excited. Let this be a lesson to all you scandal-lovers that if you’re funny and are amused by sex that happened a long time ago, you too could one day write for this very blog. I’m just saying, dream big, ok? Dream big. Without further ado, a guest post by KAB.]
When you think about the 1920’s, some pretty fly people come to mind: Velma Kelly, Al Capone, Albert Einstein, fucking George Gershwin. But I hope you know that I speak from the bottom of my heart when I say all of these bitches were tame compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre. Said Lillian Gish, just one of their beautiful dirty rich friends, “They didn’t make the 20’s, they were the 20’s.”
Scott wrote a little number called The Great Gatsby, now forever populating Facebook favorite quotes and Tumblr accounts alike. He also had a bromance with Hemingway (to rival Tommy & Ezra’s, I think), peaced the fuck out of Princeton to join the army, and had a dope-ass haircut. Did I mention he lit cigars with 5 dolla bills? Ain’t no thang.
Now let’s talk about Zelda. In an era of (illegally) drunk bitches running around smoking and wearing obscene amounts of fringe, Zelda set the trend. I’m pretty sure they were all little monsters to her Gaga. With their forces combined, Scott and Zelda formed one of the most scandalous, mythified, and seriously fucked up romances of all time. These guys lived fast, drank hard, and were quite possibly the worst sinners since Adam and Eve.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Scott and Zelda met when he was stationed at Camp Sheridan during his I-want-to-be-a-war-hero stint. They hit it off at a little country dance (read: underground Alabama club scene), and Scott immediately has a hard-on. He said that he “fell in love with a whirlwind.” Such a way with words.
And let’s be honest, this chick’s name is Zelda. Tell me I’m wrong, but she has one of the biggest legends of all time. Not to mention girl was voted “Prettiest” and “Most Attractive” in her high school class. Legit as fuck.
So after a brief courtship and at least a dozen handles of gin, Scott built up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. Zelda was interested in Scott for sure, but at this point Scott was not super successful. I’m not saying she was a gold digger, but she wanted a bit more financial stability to lead her ideal life of sex, drugs, glamour, and a dash of alcohol.
Scott was pretty keen on snatching up this bitch for life, so he hauled ass to St. Paul, wrote This Side of Paradise, and had it published by Scribner’s in a year. This Side of Paradise made critics AND readers blow their loads, so around this point Zelda caved and agreed to marriage. For the wedding, Zelda wore a midnight blue suit and matching hat with leather ribbons and buckles. She had an orchid bouquet. There were no photographs. Jazz age SWANK.
Here’s where the fun starts. Scott was on fire after This Side of Paradise; every post-WWI kid felt like Scott just understood him. What do we do with ourselves after this time of destruction, war, and existential crises? Get shitfaced, obvs.
The Fitzgeralds were the anti-Brangelina of their time. Instead of adopting babies and trying to save the world, they were just hedonistic hot hip things that lived like kings. Everyone wanted to know what they were doing, what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, and what the fuck they did while drunk, which included:
- Jumping into the Plaza Hotel’s fountain fully clothed.
- Riding an open car through the streets of New York City (probs more scandalous than it sounds).
- Getting thrown out of their honeymoon suite for rowdiness. I guess that’s why Scott would later describe their behavior as “sexual recklessness.” Was the kama sutra a thing in the ‘20s? Either way, I’m sure lots o’ blowies were involved. (See LHB? I used blowies!)
And then, outta the blue, Zelda’s knocked up! They go to Europe because they feel like it––EXPATS EY OH. They start in England, but they thought it was boring, so they moved to Italy, which they didn’t like, and were finally satisfied with living on the goddamn French Riviera. When their daughter (Frances Scott “Scottie” Fitzgerald, talk about living in Daddy’s shadow) is born, Scott writes down Zelda’s first drugged words after giving birth: “Goofo, I’m drunk. Mark Twain. Isn’t she smart––she has the hiccups. I hope it’s beautiful and a fool––a beautiful little fool.”
Then the dynamic duo and their new baby side-kick returned to the good ole USA where they rented a place in Great Neck, Long Island (English major side-note: the place that would inspire West Egg in Gatsby! Cool story, bro!). You think you’ve been to some crazy ragers in your time? Think again. The Fitzgeralds would have house rules, like asking their guests not to break down doors in search for liquor even if Scott and Zelda, in a drunken stupor, told them to do it. Another rule was a safeguard against guests spending the night even if Scott and Zelda, still in a drunken stupor, told them they were welcome.
Bored again with the USA, they returned to the French Riviera. Scott was busy with his whole writing gig, and Zelda was bored as shit so she found herself a French pilot, Edouard Jozan, to toy around with on the beach. Supposedly the relationship was unconsummated, but that’s boring, and Zelda was not a boring bitch. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions with that one. This is around the same time Zelda called Scott a fairy and accused him of having an affair with Hemingway. To prove her wrong, Scott called up a female prostitute and had sex with her. Why Scott couldn’t have just had sex with Zelda? Good question. Another good question: What the fuck was Scottie doing this whole time?
Scott and Zelda went on a violent streak, and not in the sexily deviant way. While vacationing in the Mediterranean, Zelda threw herself under their car and dared Scott to run her over. Rumor has it that Scott actually started the car. (In all honesty, it would have saved him a headache later.)
Shit gets even shittier. At a party in St. Paul, Scott casually hits on this dancer chick Isadora Duncan. Scott def keeps his dick in his pants, but either way Zelda is not a happy camper. This slut Isadora goes a bit too far, strokes Scott’s hair, and calls him her “centurion.”
And, in what is perhaps an overreaction, Zelda throws herself down a staircase for attention. When the hosts find her, they actually think she might be dead. Thankfully, she recovers to continue a string of mild overreactions to Scott’s flirtatious tendencies, including:
- Stealing all the bling from her rich-ass party guests, putting them in a boiling pot of water, and pretending to make soup.
- Throwing her platinum watch off of a moving train.
- Setting fire to her clothes in a bathtub. (Zelda actually causes two separate fires––one of which burns down an entire building––and then she ends up dying in a hospital fire. Sorry, but crazy had it coming.)
At this point, everyone’s kinda wondering what the fuck is going on with Zelda. She starts to obsessively practice ballet––we’re talking 10 hours a day. Bitch wanted to be perfect (but probably not as much as Nina, amirite?). Zelda was taking dance lessons in Paris and once ran out of her taxi through through traffic in a tutu to make it to her class on time. She also started to burst into inexplicable bouts laughter at meals. Scott and their flapper friends are reasonably concerned.
In 1930, she’s checked into Malmaison clinic outside of Paris, and from then on is in and out of hospitals for the rest of her life. At this point, Scott and Zelda are kind of calling it quits. She writes him letters from the hospital of happier days, he continues to support her financially, but they’re pretty much caput.
Actually, not true, they take one last hurrah vacation to Cuba, but all that’s not well, um, does not end well. Scott drinks his ass under the table and tries to break up a cock fight, and then gets the shit beat out of him. And that’s the last they saw of each other. Try not to swoon.
All right, so they loved each other for a while, then hated each other, then made each other’s lives miserable to the point of insanity, but isn’t that what love is all about? Come on. They even wrote thinly-veiled passive-aggressive accounts of their lives together in books published back to back before they died. That, my friends, is too cute to be forgotten.
Worth a try, amiright?!
For the first installment of Ex-Pats Theme Week, we’ll be turning to everyone’s favorite 20th century lesbians, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas who were, admittedly, not that hot. Or scandalous, if we’re being honest. Explicitly at least. Because even in 1920s hipper-than-austin-tx-during-a-film-festival Paris, to be a lady who was into other ladies was still pretty taboo. But regardless of their scandalosity, Stein and Toklas were the uncontested leaders and organizers of the 1920s expat scene in Paris and no For Shame! ex-pat theme week would be complete without them. So we’ll do the best we can here, and if I have to make up some imaginary lesbian sex dialogues, so be it.
Stein and Toklas met in Paris in 1907 on Toklas’s first day in the big city, and it was love at first sight. This is what Alice wrote about Gerty the first time she saw her:
She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else’s voice– deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto’s, like two voices.
Did your heart just melt a little? Yeah, mine too. Bitches be sweet. They were swapping panties from that day until 1947, when Stein died of stomach cancer. During their life together, their home in Paris was the most important Salon for budding writers and artists during Europe’s interwar period.
They collected paintings, they read manuscripts, they sat for paintings, they rejected paintings, they rejected manuscripts, they sold paintings, they stood for paintings, they sat for readings – Stein and Toklas were the artistic and literary barometers of 1920s Western Europe. It is arguable that Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso among others are all well known because Stein encouraged and promoted their work and deemed it good. If she had told Hemingway that he sucked and his work was no good, we probably wouldn’t know who he is now. If she hadn’t started buying Picasso’s painting or letting him paint her, or other people, in her salon, he’d just be some Spanish douchebag with a paintbrush and sex problem. Point is, we have these bitches to thank for, like, half the MOMA’s permanent collection, and probably a third of the Penguin Classics. As they say, behind every good artist is a good lesbian.*
To keep this puppy short, let’s just do a good ol’ list of ways that Stein and Toklas scandalized shit up in their time as Europe’s #1 lesbian couple:
- Stein’s book, Q.E.D. (Things As They Are), which was published by Toklas posthumously, is considered to be the first coming out story in history. Pretty big fucking deal if you asked me. It was also the first book to use the word “gay” to mean “homosexual.” And she used it over, and over again. So people who didn’t understand that thought it was just a book about a lot of really happy women.
- Stein’s most famous book, from which you probably read an excerpt in high school, or on an AP exam or something, is called Tender Buttons. WHICH I JUST FUCKING REALIZED IS A METAPHOR FOR CLITORISES!!! How did I miss that all these years? She was the biggest lesbian in the world and her most famous book is called Tender
Buttons. DUH. OF COURSE IT IS. Why didn’t Mr. Snyder, my 11th grade English teacher, tell us that?! In the text, she repeatedly uses the words “snatch” and “box,” (MRG and my favorite vaginal euphemisms, respectively.) That sneaky, sneaky bitch. Tender fucking buttons. You sneaky bitch, Gertrude Stein!
- I just learned this while doing my “research” for this post. Did you know that Stein and Toklas were hard-core political conservatives? Weird, right? Considering they had vaginas, and liked vaginas so much, and were both Jews from the Bay Area. But it’s true. During WWII, they retired to a little cottage in the French countryside and weren’t bothered by Jew Hunters because they had a friend in politics who collaborated with the Vichy government. Wuuttt?? And then, after the war, when their buddy was imprisoned for being a collaborator, they helped to fund his escape! So maybe that wasn’t exactly scandalous, but kind of surprising right? It subverted my expectations, ‘aight?
And now, as promised, an imagined lesbian historical dialogue from For Shame!’s resident thesBian (that’s me), unto you:
Gerty: Alice, TWAT did you think about Pablo’s latest work?
Alice: I TWAT it was rather pedestrian.
Gerty: Really? I was thinking I might SNATCH it up!
Alice: That’s curious, because I would put it in my BOX of things that suck.
* Joke courtesy of good friend and lover of the blog, LP.
Listen. I know. Be quiet. I get it. Our silence is getting old. And we’re sorry. And I promise these lags in posting will become less frequent and less prolonged, and eventually we won’t have to begin every post with an apology. How do you know that we’ll never wrong you again? Well, I guess you can’t know for sure. But just trust that bringing tales of scandalous and historical titty-touching and pepe-pleasuring directly to you is back at the top of our collective to-do lists. Let us begin.
Harry Crosby was born in Boston’s swank-ass Back Bay neighborhood (where I’m going to live when I grow up) in 1898 to kabillionaire parents who set him up with a nice little trust fund and sent him off to all the best schools for blue-blooded beantown boys. In order to escape the “horrors of Boston virgins,” Harry signed up for the Ambulance Corps during WW Uno and was shipped overseas to tote sickies around the Western Front. So in between the Sommes and Verdun, I’m sure he was able to score plenty of Belgian poon. He arrived home in 1919 with a fresh case of PTSD and that characteristic post-war melancholia that made people make art with lots of weird shapes, drink espresso, and fuck as many bitches as they could manage to roofie at the neighborhood speakeasy. Shortly after returning, he decided that what he really needed was some learnin’, so he entered into an accelerated veterans program at a little college called Hogwarts, I mean Harvard, where he cultivated his passion for literature and noncommittal coitus.
When he was 22, his mom arranged for a bunch of his friends and some suitable snatches, I mean matches, to go on an afternoon outing (because apparently in 1920 it was normal for parents to arrange playdates for their grown children.) Mama Croz asked her friend Mrs. Richard Peabody to keep everyone’s hormones under control as their chaperone. I worry about his mother’s judgement because Mary Phelps Jacob (aka Mrs. Richard Peabody) was only 6 years Harry’s senior and also happened to be the inventor of the bra. No big deal. Girlfriend had a huuuuge personality. And young Harold just could not take his eyes off of it. Within two weeks, their love affair had become the talk of Boston society.
It took him, like, a year, but eventually Harry managed to convince the well-endowed Mrs. Peabody to get a divorce from her husband, and he put a ring on it in 1922. Shortly after, they moved, along with Polly’s children, to Paris. Because Paris in the 1920s was a great place to raise a family. And by “great place to raise a family” what I mean is that Paris was where people went when drinking absinth and smoking salvia with a prostitute at an illegal bar in Manhattan wasn’t really doing it for them anymore. Paris was where people went when the bar in H – E – double hockey sticks had to close early because of too much sinning. Paris was where people went to find a sensitive-and-STD-ridden artist/writer/adventurer to inspire/become inspired by through constant sexhaving and cafe claches. Do you get it? Is it clear what I’m getting at? Paris was a motherfucking hotbed of sex, drugs, alcohol, jazz, sex, alcohol, fun, and sex, and more sex.
Luckily, child rearing wasn’t Mr and Mrs Cosby, I mean Crosby’s, primary concern. Instead, it was how many extramarital D/V wetting sessions they were able to fit in between dinner and breakfast Thursday through Sunday each week. They were both known for having a wide open marriage and Harry was known to have had one night trysts with young women who may or may not have been studying for their Bat Mitzvahs. Or taking 7th grade algebra. I’m uncomfortable.
Because of Harry’s charmingly irresponsible use of his trust fund, the loving spouses led an extravagant lifestyle that involved living in lavish apartments and holding “dinner parties” out of their giant bed. They also apparently hosted a party once that involved playing polo on donkeys, stick in one hand, a 40 in the other. (I almost typed “dolphins” and then I thought, “now, that would have been fucking cool.” If only they’d had a little more imagination.) Ernest Hemingway, the most famous alcoholic writer, like, ever, used to say that Harry Crosby could drink anyone under the table. I mean, if Hemingway is saying that, then Jesus fucking Christ, you have a problem, ok? I’ll say no more.
Except that’s not true at all BECAUSE I HAVEN’T EVEN SCANDALIZED YOU YET HAVE I?!?! Well listen the fuck up because it’s about to get all Prince Rudolph up in here, ifyouknowwhatimsayin??
Harry met a girl named Josephine Rotch in Venice while she was shopping for, get this, her wedding dress. (Who would have thought it? Bridal Salons. Great place to pick up chicks.) The two started a steamy affair which continued until her wedding later that year at which point, it stopped. JUST KIDDING. Within, like, 20 minutes, they were transatlantically sending each other depressing love poetry again. Plus Jo kept telegramming him, demanding that the next time he come stateside, he bed her immediately. Girlfriend knew what she wanted.
A consummate gentleman, Harry obliged. In December of 1929, the couple met at a friend’s studio apartment in Manhattan and the next thing you know, Harry is late to a pre-show dinner, his wife gets worried, his friend goes to check on him at the studio, has to break the door down because it’s locked from the inside, bada bing bada boom, Harry and Josephine are lying on the floor, clutched in each other’s arms, with matching bullet-holes in their temples. Awkward.
I know, shit’s whack. It came out that right before, the two had written a bunch of charming poetry to each other and in their diaries about death and love and marriage and dying and blah blah So the whole ordeal was looking like a suicide pact. BUT THEN the coroner’s report came back and it determined conclusively that Josephine had died, like, 2 hours earlier than Harry. Again, awkward. So, kind of up in the air on whether or not shit was consensual is all I’m saying. Needless to say, the suicide/murder-suicide speculations were plastered all over the tabloids – the press had a motherfucking field day with this shit. It was like when they figured out that they could make Brad and Angelina into one word. THAT BIG.
Even though my general tone towards Harry has been a little judgmental, his suicide is considered now to be sort of emblematic of the post-war Lost Generation. And that’s really sad. And makes my throat a little tight. Because while I do think that the expats had some whiny tendencies that I could do without, I have a pretty major hard on for interwar Europe and I actually think they were pretty brilliant people, expressing some very real and legitimate concerns about the world around them.
I know this post is getting ridiculously long, but I should add one thing about Harry’s contribution to interwar Modernism and Parisian art culture: When they weren’t partying til dawn and scamming on hot young things, the Crosbys were busy being the first to publish TS Elliot, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound – all before they were famous, in a publication that they founded called the Black Sun Press. It was and still is kind of a big deal.
On that note, what have we learned? Having a lot of affairs and being on a lot of drugs all the time might make you kind of unstable and lead to your tragic, yet super famous, demise? Yeah, I don’t know either. Those interwar motherfuckers are so goddam ambiguous.
LHB (with some much appreciated guidance and collaboration and title-writing from JAF)
We know that posts have sort of been few and far between this week. We don’t have any excuses (well we do, but you probably don’t give a shit about them). But good news, we’re here, we’re back, get fucking used to it.
Once upon a time in the little hamlet of Perth, Scotland, a certified hottie named Euphemia
“Effie” Gray was born. Not Effie White, the sassy diva from the moviefilm Dream Girls portrayed by Jennifer Hudson. Coincidence? Probably. But they certainly both went through some shit, so Redbox that masterpiece of song and decide for yourself.
Anyway, Effie was born in this big ol’ mansion where John Ruskin’s grandpa had committed suicide. Remember John Ruskin? Before researching young Effie I sort of had an academic crush on him, but turns out he was just an all-around grade-A prick. But you should still read On Art and Life. Okay so she’s born in a house of death, her family and Ruskin’s family are super close, they know each other pretty well, you get it.
When Effie was twelve in 1841, Ruskin wrote a fantasy novel for her called The King of the
Golden River. Which sounds like it’s about pee. But actually it’s about agrarian despair! Because what do kids love more than a fantasy novel about devastating droughts!? The answer is a lot of things. So many other things. I mention this book to illustrate how utterly out of touch Ruskin was in terms of social grace: he wrote it for a twelve year old girl when he was 22, he wrote it about an agricultural disaster, and he was unaware of the pee reference in the title.
So with all of this in mind, a marriage between sweet Effie and musty old Ruskin seems like a truly poor yet absolutely expected decision. Because it’s the mid-nineteenth century, and who cares about “love” and “happiness” when it comes to getting hitched? No one, that’s who. Well some people probably did, but there’s no room for that blissful bullshit on this blog.
After the wedding in 1846, seventeen-year-old Effie and who-gives-a-shit-he-was-
just-much-older Ruskin went to Italy so Ruskin could research his most important work, The Stones of Venice. I’m not sure you’re understanding how conflicted I feel, because The Stones of Venice is just a fucking masterpiece but he was SUCH a douche. Why was he such a douche, MRG? You haven’t told us yet. Oh, sorry I’m taking a little too long to tear down one of my architectural heroes. I’ll speed up.
Effie and Ruskin never consummated their marriage. As in never boned. Never had sexual intercourse, if you’re not into euphemisms (if you recall, Effie’s real name was Euphemia…hmm). They didn’t even do it in Venice, which is one romantic-ass locale. And rest assured that she was truly a confirmed hottie – she was modeling for various artists, including John Everett Millais (remember that name, bitches). So what gives?
Well listen up. Effie and Ruskin decided to have their marriage annulled after six years of non-coital torture, and during the trial, all kinds of crazy shit came out. Including Effie’s best guess as to why they never boned, written in a letter to her father (yuck):
He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.
WHAAAA?! “Disgusted with her person?” What could that mean? What did Ruskin have to say in response? WELL I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.
In defending himself, this fucking prince said:
It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it.
UM. What. the. fuck. I mean you see what I see, right? He couldn’t look at let alone be aroused by this beautiful, kind, smart MODEL on their WEDDING NIGHT. “Her person was not formed to excite passion?” What did he expect was under those Victorian petticoats? What was he passionate about? Architecture. Did he think there were some Gothic mullions under there?
Sorry. I’m sorry. That was a little hysterical. I get it. I’m calm now.
Here’s what I think. Ruskin was an art critic. Which means that he spent a lot of time analyzing and writing about very idealized forms, including perfectly smooth and shapely Greek nudes. Which unlike humans, don’t have pubic hair, or moles, or scars, or whatever else could have possibly disgusted him. Presumably, such a twat couldn’t convince a lady to get naked for him before his marriage, so Effie was probably the first woman he’d ever seen in the nude. And he was probably shocked to find that she wasn’t made of white marble or that she GASP didn’t get a Brazilian before the wedding night.
In court, Ruskin accused Effie of a mental imbalance. You know, because a woman just CAN’T be in the right. She’s got to be crazy! But the judge called bullshit and Effie got her annulment. Ruskin went on to keep writing really excellent architectural criticisms and to never get married again.
And what about Effie? Well, Ruskin might have been disgusted by her bod, but John Everett Millais certainly wasn’t!!!!1
That’s right, our sweet Effie was a smart bitch. Millais had accompanied the miserable Ruskins
on a trip to Scotland, where Millais was to paint Ruskin’s portrait according to his very specific artistic principles. And dear sweet Effie, who had been modeling for Mr. Millais for a while, was like “Hey John, my husband really hates my vagina. It makes him sick. Did you want to see it no big deal just want your opinion as to how you feel about my vagina and maybe the rest of my hot body.” Which didn’t actually happen, but they did fucking fall in love right under Ruskin’s upturned nose, and undoubtedly this was a huge impetus for the annulment.
Effie was still a virgin when she and Millais got MARRIED immediately after the trial! Doesn’t that just warm your cold, cold heart? And then they had like eight kids, so you know Millais didn’t have a problem with Effie’s perfectly normal bod. And also, he did these adorable matching portraits of himself and his lady, literally illustrating his love for her:
Listen to your aunt MRG. It’s moral time. Men: don’t fucking be like John Ruskin. I get that the whole no-pubic-hair thing is real big right now. I get it, I mean what lady doesn’t want to feel like a porn star/pre-pubescent child? But listen, regardless of the situation down under (and I don’t mean in Australia, AM I RIGHT!?!) just be grateful that you have a piece to slam. And ladies: just don’t marry men like John Ruskin. Find your Millais. And then Millais him. (Get it, because it’s pronounced mil-LAY. So like, I made a joke about it.)
A final lesson – humor isn’t humor if you have to explain it.
Do you remember the days before women started to get all into suffrage and employment and shit? Good times, am I right? Those were the days of the 1910s Gibson Girl. The Gibson girl, with her long, curly locks plopped neatly atop her head, sporting her cover-all-but-still-sort-of-erotic-dress was, above all, a LADY. She enjoyed activities like sewing. And having unprotected, post-marital sex. And do you know how how the image of the Gibson Girl got off (ha!) the ground? I’ll tell you. A man named Charles Gibson drew a picture of a woman named Evelyn Nesbit (who ended up not being so into waiting ’til marriage, if you know what I mean) and called the picture “Gibson Girl.”
Yeah. Shit was that simple. He just drew this nice little picture of Evelyn, named it after himself, and a whole generation of women suddenly adopted this one image as the symbol of their collective, cultural identities. Pretty fucked up when you think about it. But then the 20s happened and shit got crazy and the Gibson Girl faded into obscurity. And then a really sad time happened called the 30s. Ah, the trajectories of history.
Yes, ok! We’ll get back to the scandal part because I know you’re just DYING to know what happens. Speaking of which, you know who was DYING to get into Gibson Girl #1, Evelyn Nesbit’s, lacy panties? Architect Stanford White of famed architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White is who. No, literally. He died. Because of getting into her panties. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Evelen Nesbit (sorry she’s not male, but at least she’s white, you racists) led a pretty unlady-like, un-gibson girlian life involving, as you may have gathered from the above teaser-paragraph, a sizable portion of scandalosity. When she was 16, in 1901, she and her mom moved into a tiny apartment on the Lower West Side. Since they were hurtin’ for squirtin’ (that means they needed money, right?), Evelyn convinced her mom to let her go into modeling to help pay the bills. She was really hot. Like really fucking hot. Like, I’m getting a tingling sensation all over just looking at these pictures of her. So, like a boss, she booked work straight away posing for artists and photographers. (She modeled in some of America’s first newspaper fashion advertisements and editorials!) When she first modeled for Charles Gibson, he did a drawing of her profile called “The Eternal Question.” It looks just like a question mark. He was really creative and not at all unoriginal with his titles.
So, right after she settles into modeling life, and starts performing as a chorus girl in big vaudeville shows. So big famous architect and womanizer Stanford White sees her in one of these acts and he’s like, “Evie, come play on my swing.” And she’s like, 16 and she doesn’t know what’s going on, so she’s like, “is that, like, a euphemism for something?” And he’s like, “no, really, check it out, it’s literally a red velvet swing that I like to push girls on while they’re not wearing many clothes slash totally naked. cool?” She was like, “I like swings (because I was a child just a few years ago) but I don’t think so, mister.” So they didn’t really do anything the first time she visited his creepy fucking apartment in a tower overlooking Manhattan, complete with (1) a red-velvet-draped room with a plush swing hanging from the ceiling and (2) a room that had mirrors for walls.
I just threw up in my mouth a little.
Long story short, they see each other for a while, and at the risk of using my least favorite word which starts with a V and ends in an IRGINITY, she loses it to him and later claims in her memoirs that he’s the only man she ever really loved. But they didn’t get married, they just did it a bunch. OH! Did I mention that when this was happening she was 16 and he was 47? Yeah. At least he was under 50, though. Am I right, ladies?!
It gets better still. She’s working as a chorus girl now, she’s like 17, and this major cutie, John Barrymore starts sending her flowers backstage. And he’s her age, so that’s an improvement, at least. But White (who’s creepily acting like a surrogate father) and her mother don’t like Barrymore so they are in cahoots now and send Evie off to a boarding school (run by Cecil B. DeMille’s mom. Weird.) Barrymore proposes but she declines his offer because…
Then she meets another fucking mensch of a man. A real winner if ever I saw one. That Evelyn could really could pick ’em. Henry Kendall Thaw was an abusive kabillionaire motherfucker who carried a pistol around (in case anyone looked at his main bitch the wrong way), was obsessive about the minutia of Evie’s relationship with White, and enjoyed jerking off while whipping women (like Evie) and the occasional pubescent teenage boy. WITH A WHIP. In case that wasn’t clear. Like I said, a great fucking dude. So she married him. Cuz why not?
I’m getting to WHY NOT, so keep your panties on.
So the adorable (disgusting) couple is out for a lovely evening at the Madison Square Garden roof theatre (which White designed, NBD) to see a performance of Mam’Zelle Champagne. During the song “I could love a million girls,” our prince of a man, Thaw pulls out his good ol’ pistol that he was always packing, and shoots White in the face 3 times, screaming either (1) “You’ve ruined my life” or the even more interesting (2) “You’ve ruined my WIFE.” No one knows for sure what he said, but the people who were there swear he said “wife.” This goes back to our Gibson Girl theme which is that bitch was supposed to be emBODYing a certain social ideal of femininity. Not bumpin’ and grinding her pre-marital, 16-year-old BODY all over a 47 year old, if ya know what i mean.
Thaw went to court, plead temporary insanity and got away with it because Evelyn was bribed by Thaw’s mommy to testify that White had raped her and that Thaw was merely avenging her honor. She did it, but never got any of the one million dollah that “Mother Thaw” had promised her. Thaw was incarcerated in a mental hospital in 1906 and then judged sane in 1915 and let go. Like, into the world. Into society. Where people live.
During Thaw’s comically limited time in the hospital, Evelyn had herself a baby. WOOPS! She went to her grave swearing the baby was her husband’s, but I’m going to go ahead and call Bull Shit on that one since he was sort of kind of locked up in a mental institution for the “criminally insane.”
Like many Gibson Girls, Evelyn adapted to the 20s poorly. She did get herself into the talkies performing in a few films alongside her little son (who later fucking won WWII, NBD). But she was never quite the hot little thing that she was during her Gibson Girl Golden Years. Her later life was marked with numerous suicide attempts, an addiction to morphine, and a whole lot of alcohol.
On the bright side, the woman had excellent choice in men, though. And by excellent I mean really horrible.
We want to give a shout-out to reader, sex-scandal-enthusiast, and our main bitch, Lauren for SUGGESTING THIS SCANDAL.
“Art is a lie that makes us realize a truth.” Pablo Picasso said that once. Maybe twice, who knows. Anyway, sounds fucking insightful as shit.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (what a deliciously pretentious set of middle names) was a mid-to-late nineteenth century expatriate artist who found out a legitimately inconvenient truth through his BFF Gustave Courbet’s painting. Why, you ask, is the story of a boring stupid painting being told on For Shame, the interweb’s most salacious and sexified historical blog? WELL I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.
I’ll show you the painting in roughly five paragraphs, but for now let’s just say that it makes Dejeneur sur l’herbe look like La lecture, am I right? (LOLz nothing’s funnier than getting a useless degree in art history.)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (should I call him by his full Christian name for the rest of the post?) had a relatively scandalous career. You probably know him from this painting of a bitchin’ girl’s night in:
But during his career, he was just as well known for his innovation in technique and style. See, he didn’t call his works “paintings” (soo pedestrian) but rather “nocturnes,” “arrangements,” or “harmonies” (much more challenging). And one of them, Nocturne in Black and Gold, or The Falling Rocket sparked a high-profile sassfest between Whistler and John Ruskin, a badass art and architecture critic (he was sort of a douche during the trial but I’ve got a little boner for his criticisms if I’m being honest). Also, not to steal LHB’s early-twentieth century thunder, but Whistler was sort of a huge hipster. He was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but told people he was born in St. Petersburg because it was more exotic, saying “I shall be born where and when I want, and I do not choose to be born in Lowell.” He dyed white streaks in his hair. He had a huge circle of intellectual pals, including Oscar Wilde, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Manet, Monet, and Courbet, and they gave themselves a name – the Aestheticists. And then he was sort of an asshole to all of those friends. Wilde actually based Basil Hallward, the artist who is murdered in The Picture of Dorian Gray on Whistler, so…ouch. But then Whistler publicly called out Wilde for his homosexuality. You guys!
What I’m getting at in a very roundabout way is that Whistler was a popular and controversial man, and underneath/on top of every controversial man is an equally controversial woman.
In Whistler’s case, that woman was Joanna Hiffernan. She was an Irish model working in Paris, getting painted by all kinds of horny artists. But Joanna was a classy bitch. And she was hot. I mean A LOT of men saw her naked for hours and hours at a time, yet in that swirling cesspool of intellectual lust, she was only romantically linked to two artists. Her most lasting relationship was with our dear friend James. Mr. Hiffernan, Joanna’s father, even went so far as to refer to Whistler as “me dear son-in-law,” so you know shit was getting real.
They met in London, and shortly after she modeled for his painting Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl (yeah, the painting titles don’t get any less ridiculous) which won Whistler a lot of critical acclaim. I’m not ignoring the fact that it’s called The White Girl. I could make a race joke here, but I won’t. I’m better than that. You deserve better than that. So instead I’ll talk about Joanna’s snatch.
Like I said, Jo was making bank as an artist’s model. Everyone wanted to paint her, and a lot of people did, including Gustave Courbet, one of Whistler’s best hipster friends and a great Realist painter in his own right. He was known for depicting gritty, quotidian scenes, and more relevant for us, realistic nudes. And boy, did shit get real when Hiffernan posed for Courbet in 1866.
Now would be the time to get any children or immature young men away from the screen. Because this is ART, dammit. It’s not a joke.
HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA just kidding that’s a vagina HAHAHAHAHHA.
Specifically, it’s Joanna Hiffernan’s vagina. A vagina that separated two friends forever.
Basically, a crazy Turkish collector of erotic paintings had just moved to gay Paris and wanted to flesh out his collection (GET IT?!), so he commissioned the work. Courbet wanted to take realism to its limits and paint something that was so real that illicited (GET IT?!) feelings of shame and disgust and shock and blah blah blah he did that by painting a huge vajayjay.
Problem was that this particular vajayjay was attached to his best friend Whistler’s main slampiece
and lover, Joanna. And young James was decidedly pissed that a) his girl’s box was on full display in some creepy Turkish man’s home and b) Courbet stared at said box for hours and hours while he was painting it.
Whenever I think about this story, I just imagine a conversation over dinner between Jo and James:
JAMW: Hey babigurl, how was your day? How’s my bro Gustave?
JH: Omigod Jim he’s so sweeeeet, he’s like almost finished with the painting which is awesome and he never says anything weird or creepy or whatever which is so great because he’s like super close to my vagina and he has to look at it a lot and like I don’t know some people might be weird about that but Gus is so sweet and so nice!
JAMW: Haha I thought you said vagina. Yeah no the guy’s a fucking great dude.
JH: Hahaha I did say vagina.
So given this short imagined dialogue and Whistler’s sassy, hipsterish tendencies, L’Origine du monde came out and fucked shit up big time between Whistler and Courbet. And hey, remember when I said that Jo was only romantically linked to two painters? Guess who the other one was. Yup, Ol’ Gus got his bone on too. So Whistler was sort of feeling a little duped, and shortly after the painting was finished, they had a nasty, public (or pubic) falling out and never spoke again. And Whistler’s relationship with Joanna also fizzled. Don’t feel too bad for him, though, because he banged a lot of other models over the course of his career.
My favorite thing about this story is that a lot of contemporary critics and collectors disputed who the model for the painting actually was because Joanna had red hair (like a true Irish bitch) and the pubic hair in the painting is dark. Really. I just picture a bunch of artsy French grandpas smoking pipes and eating macaroons, standing in front of a painting of a vagina and arguing about who it could be based on hair color. Hilarious.
And that vagina painting has really stuck around. It’s still provocative as shit. Get ready for some timeline fun:
1866 – Finished and displayed and caused uproar and whatnot.
1889 – It was found in an antique store by a French art critic after the Turkish guy’s death. It was hidden behind a lame painting of a castle and trees and shit, inside the same frame.
1966 – Marcel Duchamp based his last work, this little number on it. I’ve seen it in person. My mom didn’t get it. “Why is there a door? Why is the viewfinder so small? Stupid.” And she went to art school.
1994 – Some French author wrote a novel that reproduced the painting on the cover, and police all over Europe demanded that bookstores remove it from their windows.
1995 – L’Origine du monde made it to its current home, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It’s the second most popular painting there, after this one by Renoir. I think we can all agree that while the Renoir is nice, it’s no vagina painting.
2009 – A Portuguese writer similarly put that vagina on her book’s cover, and because pornography is a felony in Portugal, things didn’t go so well for her.
2011 – An artist in Copenhagen made the painting his profile picture (establishing himself as an inspiration to bros everywhere) and Facebook censored it! In 2011! As in this year. As if we needed another reason to hate Mark Zuckerberg.
And now we come to the moral section of the post. If you’re a lady, you don’t let a sweaty Frenchman get too close to your vagina. If you’re that lady’s main squeeze, you don’t let your lady and your sweaty French friend talk to or look at each other, ever. If you’re a sweaty Frenchman, you fucking find a way to paint that snatch and not only do you get some, you’re famous forever.