The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales Sisters and Their Worlds

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This book tells the extraordinary story of three sixteenth-century sisters who, along with their father and brothers, were afflicted with an extremely rare genetic condition that made them unusually hairy. Amazingly, the Gonzales sisters were not mocked or shunned, but were welcomed in the courts of Europe, spending much of their lives among nobles, musicians, and artists. Their double identity as humans and beasts made them intriguing, and the girls and their father were the subjects not only of medical investigations but also of a considerable number of portraits, some of which still hang in European castles today.

Using the Gonzales family as a lens, historian Merry Wiesner-Hanks examines their varied and wondrous times. The story of this family connects with every important change of their era—political and religious violence, colonial conquest, new forms of scholarship and science—and also provides insights into the complex relationships between beastliness, monstrosity, and gender in early modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

Charles Zilka
"A stimulating and innovative book."—Charles Zilka, author of The Book of Witchcraft
Barbara Creed
"The Marvelous Hairy Girls is a wonderful book, meticulously researched, witty and beautifully written. It takes the reader on a journey into the ordinary world of marvelous monsters, strange women and astonishing events. Wiesner-Hanks offers us a very different glimpse into the sixteenth century and its inhabitants, which ultimately offers us a different vision of ourselves. There is something to stimulate and fascinate on every page." - Barbara Creed, author of The Monstrous-Feminine
The New Yorker
"Wiesner-Hanks uses her subjects to explore Renaissance notions of the marvelous and the miraculous."—The New Yorker
ARTnews - Ann Landi
"Merry Wiesner-Hanks...uses art, historical records, and scientific treatises to piece together the first comprehensive account of the Gonzaleses' lives and times."—Ann Landi, ARTnews
The Shepherd Express - David Luhrssen
" enjoyable read, packed with fascinating bits."—David Luhrssen, The Shepherd Express
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300127331
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her many books include Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World and the prize-winning Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, now in its third edition. She lives in Mequon, WI.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Cast of Characters

Map of Europe and North Africa

Preface: The Gonzales Sisters and their Worlds 3

1 Wonders, Beasts, and Wild Folk: Inner and Outer Worlds in Renaissance Europe 13

2 Myths and Histories: The New Worlds of the West 49

3 Massacring Beasts, Monstrous Women, and Educated Gentlemen: The World of the Court 77

4 The Sanctity of Marriage, the Marvel of Birth: The World of the Family 113

5 God's Miraculous Creation: The World of Religion 149

6 Medical Marvels and Cabinets of Curiosities: The World of Scientists and Collectors 183

Afterword: The Many Stories of the Gonzales Sisters 223

Notes 226

Acknowledgments and Further Reading 234

Index 243

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