The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair

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A redhead rarely goes unnoticed in a crowded room. From Judas Iscariot to Botticelli's Venus to Julianne Moore, redheads have been worshipped, idealized, fetishized, feared, and condemned. In The Roots of Desire, Marion Roach takes a fascinating look at the science behind hair color and the roles redheads have played throughout history.

The discoveries are as intriguing as they are unexpected. In Greek mythology, redheads become vampires after they die; women with red hair were...

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A redhead rarely goes unnoticed in a crowded room. From Judas Iscariot to Botticelli's Venus to Julianne Moore, redheads have been worshipped, idealized, fetishized, feared, and condemned. In The Roots of Desire, Marion Roach takes a fascinating look at the science behind hair color and the roles redheads have played throughout history.

The discoveries are as intriguing as they are unexpected. In Greek mythology, redheads become vampires after they die; women with red hair were burned as witches during the Inquisition; in Hollywood, female redheads are considered sexy while male redheads are a hard sell; and in the nineteenth century, redheads were believed to be the strongest scented of all women, smelling of amber and violets. Redheads have been stereotyped, marginalized, sought after, and made to function as everything from a political statement to a symbol of human carnality. A redhead herself, Marion Roach brings candor and brilliant insight to the complicated and enticing history of redheads.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"Out of the ash I rise with red hair / And eat men like air." Sylvia Plath wasn't the first to recognize the primal power and threat of red hair. In Roots of Desire, Marion Roach brandishes historical proof stronger than any hair dye to demonstrate the fiery force of redheads. Delving into Greek mythology, vampire lore, and Inquisition interrogations, she reveals how red hair has long been linked to diabolical lust and primal urges.
Publishers Weekly
A redhead herself, NPR commentator Roach has an odd chip on her shoulder about it, relating all sorts of travails and opinions connected to red hair that the average non-redhead may never have guessed existed. To get to the bottom of our perceptions and experience of red hair, she explores the ancient legends of Lilith and Set, the traditions that depict both Judas and Mary Magdalene as redheads, and an Eve in London's St. Paul's Cathedral that has blond hair before the Fall and red hair after it. She visits "witch camp" in Vermont, a high-end hair salon in Manhattan, and Emily Dickinson's house, where a carefully preserved lock of the poet's red hair transforms Roach's image of her. Along the way, Roach (Another Name for Madness) makes some poignant points about what it means to belong to the redheaded minority in Western society, making gently suggestive comparisons to more overt patterns of prejudice. Yet the author seems to accept preconceptions about the sexuality and vivacity associated with red hair, and her jumping between examples often reads more like breathless conjecture than fact and leaches energy from extended vignettes, such as her visit with the witches. Whether readers enjoy this book will have a lot to do with whether they like the narrator's self-conscious red-headed persona. And, of course, whether they are as fascinated as she is by red hair. Agent, Kris Dahl. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
"Roach approaches her subject from several angles, providing much that's entertaining."
Library Journal
NPR commentator Roach (Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers) sets out to affirm the uniqueness of a small elite: redheads. She visits a witch camp, a genetics laboratory, the Victorian graveyard of her ancestors, and Amherst, MA, where she sees the only existing lock of Emily Dickinson's hair. By book's end, she has left blondes and brunettes sputtering in the dust of the world's most powerful, sexy, and satanic women-natural redheads like Roach herself. Along the way, she pulls together history, myth, symbolism, etymology, personal memoir, science writing, and some piquant facts to explore and, some may argue, bolster the significance of red hair. The section "Sinners" associates red hair with Satan (a.k.a. Set) through such figures as Judas, Henry VIII, Boudicca, and Shakespeare's Shylock. (This is the only section that really encompasses male redheads.) In "Science," Roach travels to Edinburgh, redhead capital of the world, to have her own genetic test done. She discovers that she indeed carries the genetic sequencing that creates a typical redhead. The final section, "Sex," looks into the Garden of Eden as depicted in mosaics in London's St. Paul's Cathedral and chronicles Eve's transformation from blond (pre- Original Sin) to redhead (post-Original Sin). Redhead stereotypes of women-powerful, sin-stained, pleasure-seeking, prone to "bad girl" behavior-abound in this section. Lest other hair colors feel left out, there is always Clairol: according to Roach, red is the number-one choice for hair color. A strong recommendation for redheads; a toned-down recommendation for academic and general collections.-Janet Sassi, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"One of the most extensive serious inquiries to date on what it means to be a redhead."ChicagoTribune

"Richly salted with fascinating cultural lore, and an engaging read whether you're a carrot-top or not."HoustonChronicle

"A strong recommendation for redheads."—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641890611
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 7/7/2005
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Marion Roach is the coauthor of Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers, which has recently been sold to HBO films, and Another Name for Madness, a memoir of coping with her mother's Alzheimer's. A commentator on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, she has published in the New York Times Magazine, Prevention, Vogue, Newsday, Good Housekeeping, Discover, and American Health.

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Table of Contents

Prologue : a lurid tale 1
Ch. 1 Wild, oversexed heathens, banshees, and queens : redheaded women and how they make us feel the way we do 9
Ch. 2 The old poker and the inhabitants of pandemonium : it is in his kiss - and in our blood - to fear the red-haired man 37
Ch. 3 The blood that scares the hell into us : superstition, taboo, and the blood that divides us 55
Digestif : recipe for an identity 91
Ch. 4 A monk, two very different Victorians, and the knockout mouse : how we were delivered the genetics of hair color 96
Digestif : recipe for a heritage 120
Ch. 5 The itch of genetics/the genetics of itch : science has done little to extinguish the fire of the tale 125
Digestif : recipe for one redhead 153
Ch. 6 The palette of the succubus : on Satan the color red is one thing; on women, it is altogether another 157
Ch. 7 You may be many things, young lady, but you are no redhead : the tangle of sex and science are but two strands of the braid 182
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