Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography

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Overview

Displayed on European stages from 1810 to 1815, Sara Baartman-better known as the Hottentot Venus-was one of the most famous women of her day. As the Hottentot Venus, she was seen by Westerners as alluring and primitive, a reflection of their fears and suppressed desires. But who was Sara Baartman? Based on research and interviews that span three continents, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus tells the entwined histories of an illusory life and a famous icon.

In reconstructing Baartman's life, the book traverses the South African frontier, the Industrial Revolution, London and Parisian high society, and the rise of racial science. The authors also explore Baartman's rich afterlife, including the enduring impact of the Hottentot Venus offers the authoritative account of one woman's life and reinstates her to the full complexity of her history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

While the body of Sara Baartman (1789-1815), also known as the "Hottentot Venus," has been the subject of intense Western scrutiny (she was regarded as a "paradoxical freak of race and sexuality, both alluring and primitive") and exploitation to the point of postmortem dissection, little is known about her life beyond her careers as sideshow exhibit and posthumous icon for a variety of causes, from artifact repatriation to the evils of science. Crais (The Politics of Evil) and Scully (Liberating the Family) chase down obscure references to Baartman's life in South Africa and discover a rich if difficult life: a woman who loved and lost and traveled farther (from Cambedoo and Cape Town to London and Paris) than many of her peers. Her life personifies the shames of colonialism, slavery and gender persecution, but Baartman showed too much independence to be reduced to mere victim or symbol ("The more iconic Sara Baartman became, the more she stood for a range of causes, the less complicated her past became"). The authors dig deep into the limited remaining evidence but the biography wears its research lightly, a backdrop to this well-written and fascinating story of a woman who remains an elusive figure. (Dec.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Crais (history, Emory Univ.; The Politics of Evil) and Scully (women's studies & African studies, Emory Univ.; Liberating the Family) explore the personal life of Sara Baartman, a woman taken from Africa to Europe in the early 19th century and exhibited as the Hottentot Venus. The authors stitch together the pieces of Baartman's life-no small task with so little known about the woman herself-and at times veer necessarily toward the speculative. They point out that in both Baartman's incarnation as the Hottentot Venus and in the debate surrounding her repatriation to Africa nearly two centuries after her death, people clearly prefer to see her not as an individual but as a symbol-of the primitive, of hypersexualized woman, of indigenous rights, and of the appropriation and colonization of the body. In their book, the authors admirably attempt to look past the symbol to the woman herself, who led an extraordinary life amid rapidly shifting social and scientific cultures. Despite the occasional unwieldy or overwrought sentence, this book remains extremely readable and is recommended for academic libraries and larger public libraries seeking strong African history collections.
—Julie Biando Edwards

The Age
This biography faced a formidable research challenge in resurrecting a forgotten woman. . . . With such a seemingly unknowable subject, the authors refrain from putting words into Sara's mouth. Rather they reconstruct her life and times, placing her in context. . . . Remarkable.
— Lucy Sussex
Salem Press
The excellent historical illustrations throughout help the narrative, making the descriptions read like a movie script.
— Margaret H. McFadden
Labor Bulletin
Crais and Scully . . . point us in the direction of more nuanced studies of the relationship between exploitation, complicity and negotiation, and of the relationship between individual lives and the larger social, political and economic landscape in which they are lived. This is an excellent and provocative study that invites debate.
— Shireen Hassim
Los Angeles Times
Professors Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully of Emory University have done an excellent job not only of telling this rebarbative story but of putting it into the context of its time. . . . No one, however, has succeeded as well as Crais and Scully in illuminating not only her important role as icon and symbol but, so important, the human being behind them. Because of their diligent research and their deep understanding of the era in which she lived—along with their sensitivity to our own time and concern—they have truly given us the 'living breathing person' that was 'Sara Baartman, the human being who was ultimately destroyed by an illusion.'
— Martin Rubin
Booklist
The authors-look beyond Baartman's life as a curiosity and an exhibit to explore her life as a woman. Crais and Scully place Baartman's contributions in such areas as the rights of the unlawfully detained, global feminism, and later—when her body was returned to South Africa from France—the politics of indigenous identity. Readers who enjoyed African Queen (2007), by Rachel Holmes, will appreciate this further examination of the life of an extraordinary woman.
— Vanessa Bush
History Today
Crais and Scully's extensive new research has produced a rich and interesting biography that is a worthwhile read even for those familiar with the story. As well as providing the most detailed account of Baartman's life, the book is an illuminating insight into the broader contexts of colonial society at the Cape. . . . The real achievement of Crais and Scully's book lies in its readability and the fresh insights it provides into the life of one of Africa's most famous women.
— Sadiah Qureshi
Times Higher Education
This is a thrilling, provocative and interesting exploration. The reader learns about how Baartman's life was transformed once she became the Hottentot Venus, and is given a vivid snapshot of what the sociopolitical and ideological climate of Europe was when Baartman reached its shores. Crais and Scully literally recover Baartman—the public spectacle and the 'scientific discovery'—as so much more. Not only is this book a fascinating read, it will also have done much to restore the historical record in Europe and the US. It is an important and necessary contribution to the existing discourse on Sara Baartman's impact on contemporary ideas of race, sexuality and the European conception of primitivity.
— Kaila Adia Story
Foreword Magazine
Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully explore the curious juxtaposition of celebrity and degradation that followed Sara Baartman after she was brought to Europe and put on exhibit, an 'ethnopornograhic freak.' But Crais and Scully are interested in much more than the Hottentot Venus; their aim is to honor Baartman, and they do so with biography that is speculative as well as research-driven.
— Joe Taylor
Sydney Morning Herald
This meticulously researched book drags Baartman out of the ugly mythology that characterised her European life and restores her to humanity. It is a model biography because the sources for her real life are scarce and the authors, both academics, had to tease a rich life out of very frail strands of information.
— Bruce Elder
Johns Hopkins Magazine
[Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus] stands out for the lengths it goes to present the person behind the myth. Crais and Scully uncovered details unknown or long forgotten about her life before she became the Hottentot Venus, her personal dealings when she was off the stage, and some of the characters who fill out her story. The authors gather these facts together with a narrative style that richly evokes the smells, sights, sounds, and mores of the worlds in which Baartman dwelled.
— Susan Frith
Choice
In this beautifully written and multilayered biography, Emory University professors Crais and Scully distinguish between the woman and the exhibit in order to restore the ghost to her own narrative. Tapping a wide range of archives, the authors reconstruct the Gonaqua society into which she was born and the Cape society where she worked as a domestic servant in the late 18th century before moving on to more familiar European territory.
— C. Higgs
Women's History Review
The authors are to be commended on an illuminating analysis of the complexities of contact between Europeans and other cultures in the somewhat misnamed Age of Enlightenment. They have produced a gripping biography of an extraordinary woman.
— Barbara Bush
Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
[T]he book is a significant contribution to the literature on Baartman which will become essential reading for anyone interested in her life, as a living woman or academic subject. The impressive archival work that has been used to recapture so much of Baartman's elusive life is illuminating; although necessarily speculative in parts, on the whole, the book's arguments have been grounded in a well-contextualised and evocative history of the Cape region, London and Paris. Given abiding interest in Baartman's life, the book's accessible style will recommend it to a wide audience, both within and outside the halls of academia.
— Sadiah Qureshi
Sunday Independent
Ghosts are by nature elusive; their tales designed to haunt. Yet this rich 'ghost story' cum biography is elegantly turned, contesting accepted notions. It is a valuable contribution.
— Maureen Isaacson
Journal of Modern History
The great strength of this book is its readability with vivid, even poetic, descriptions of everything from the African landscape and urban community to the theater district of London.
— Martin S. Staum
Journal of the Historical Association
Crais and Scully have crafted an admirable book—informative, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read.
— Stacey Hynd
Los Angeles Times - Martin Rubin
Professors Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully of Emory University have done an excellent job not only of telling this rebarbative story but of putting it into the context of its time. . . . No one, however, has succeeded as well as Crais and Scully in illuminating not only her important role as icon and symbol but, so important, the human being behind them. Because of their diligent research and their deep understanding of the era in which she lived—along with their sensitivity to our own time and concern—they have truly given us the 'living breathing person' that was 'Sara Baartman, the human being who was ultimately destroyed by an illusion.'
Booklist - Vanessa Bush
The authorslook beyond Baartman's life as a curiosity and an exhibit to explore her life as a woman. Crais and Scully place Baartman's contributions in such areas as the rights of the unlawfully detained, global feminism, and later—when her body was returned to South Africa from France—the politics of indigenous identity. Readers who enjoyed African Queen (2007), by Rachel Holmes, will appreciate this further examination of the life of an extraordinary woman.
Times Higher Education - Kaila Adia Story
This is a thrilling, provocative and interesting exploration. The reader learns about how Baartman's life was transformed once she became the Hottentot Venus, and is given a vivid snapshot of what the sociopolitical and ideological climate of Europe was when Baartman reached its shores. Crais and Scully literally recover Baartman—the public spectacle and the 'scientific discovery'—as so much more. Not only is this book a fascinating read, it will also have done much to restore the historical record in Europe and the US. It is an important and necessary contribution to the existing discourse on Sara Baartman's impact on contemporary ideas of race, sexuality and the European conception of primitivity.
Foreword Magazine - Joe Taylor
Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully explore the curious juxtaposition of celebrity and degradation that followed Sara Baartman after she was brought to Europe and put on exhibit, an 'ethnopornograhic freak.' But Crais and Scully are interested in much more than the Hottentot Venus; their aim is to honor Baartman, and they do so with biography that is speculative as well as research-driven.
The Age - Lucy Sussex
This biography faced a formidable research challenge in resurrecting a forgotten woman. . . . With such a seemingly unknowable subject, the authors refrain from putting words into Sara's mouth. Rather they reconstruct her life and times, placing her in context. . . . Remarkable.
Sydney Morning Herald - Bruce Elder
This meticulously researched book drags Baartman out of the ugly mythology that characterised her European life and restores her to humanity. It is a model biography because the sources for her real life are scarce and the authors, both academics, had to tease a rich life out of very frail strands of information.
Johns Hopkins Magazine - Susan Frith
[Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus] stands out for the lengths it goes to present the person behind the myth. Crais and Scully uncovered details unknown or long forgotten about her life before she became the Hottentot Venus, her personal dealings when she was off the stage, and some of the characters who fill out her story. The authors gather these facts together with a narrative style that richly evokes the smells, sights, sounds, and mores of the worlds in which Baartman dwelled.
Choice - C. Higgs
In this beautifully written and multilayered biography, Emory University professors Crais and Scully distinguish between the woman and the exhibit in order to restore the ghost to her own narrative. Tapping a wide range of archives, the authors reconstruct the Gonaqua society into which she was born and the Cape society where she worked as a domestic servant in the late 18th century before moving on to more familiar European territory.
Women's History Review - Barbara Bush
The authors are to be commended on an illuminating analysis of the complexities of contact between Europeans and other cultures in the somewhat misnamed Age of Enlightenment. They have produced a gripping biography of an extraordinary woman.
Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History - Sadiah Qureshi
Crais and Scully's extensive new research has produced a rich and interesting biography that is a worthwhile read even for those familiar with the story. As well as providing the most detailed account of Baartman's life, the book is an illuminating insight into the broader contexts of colonial society at the Cape. . . . The real achievement of Crais and Scully's book lies in its readability and the fresh insights it provides into the life of one of Africa's most famous women.
Sunday Independent - Maureen Isaacson
Ghosts are by nature elusive; their tales designed to haunt. Yet this rich 'ghost story' cum biography is elegantly turned, contesting accepted notions. It is a valuable contribution.
Salem Press - Margaret H. McFadden
The excellent historical illustrations throughout help the narrative, making the descriptions read like a movie script.
Labor Bulletin - Shireen Hassim
Crais and Scully . . . point us in the direction of more nuanced studies of the relationship between exploitation, complicity and negotiation, and of the relationship between individual lives and the larger social, political and economic landscape in which they are lived. This is an excellent and provocative study that invites debate.
Journal of Modern History - Martin S. Staum
The great strength of this book is its readability with vivid, even poetic, descriptions of everything from the African landscape and urban community to the theater district of London.
Journal of the Historical Association - Stacey Hynd
Crais and Scully have crafted an admirable book—informative, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read.
From the Publisher
"Professors Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully of Emory University have done an excellent job not only of telling this rebarbative story but of putting it into the context of its time. . . . No one, however, has succeeded as well as Crais and Scully in illuminating not only her important role as icon and symbol but, so important, the human being behind them. Because of their diligent research and their deep understanding of the era in which she lived—along with their sensitivity to our own time and concern—they have truly given us the 'living breathing person' that was 'Sara Baartman, the human being who was ultimately destroyed by an illusion.'"—Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times

"[Crais and Scully] chase down obscure references to Baartman's life in South Africa and discover a rich if difficult life. The authors dig deep into the limited remaining evidence but the biography wears its research lightly, a backdrop to this well-written and fascinating story of a woman who remains an elusive figure."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"The authors…look beyond Baartman's life as a curiosity and an exhibit to explore her life as a woman. Crais and Scully place Baartman's contributions in such areas as the rights of the unlawfully detained, global feminism, and later—when her body was returned to South Africa from France—the politics of indigenous identity. Readers who enjoyed African Queen (2007), by Rachel Holmes, will appreciate this further examination of the life of an extraordinary woman."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"This is a thrilling, provocative and interesting exploration. The reader learns about how Baartman's life was transformed once she became the Hottentot Venus, and is given a vivid snapshot of what the sociopolitical and ideological climate of Europe was when Baartman reached its shores. Crais and Scully literally recover Baartman—the public spectacle and the 'scientific discovery'—as so much more. Not only is this book a fascinating read, it will also have done much to restore the historical record in Europe and the US. It is an important and necessary contribution to the existing discourse on Sara Baartman's impact on contemporary ideas of race, sexuality and the European conception of primitivity."—Kaila Adia Story, Times Higher Education

"Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully explore the curious juxtaposition of celebrity and degradation that followed Sara Baartman after she was brought to Europe and put on exhibit, an 'ethnopornograhic freak.' But Crais and Scully are interested in much more than the Hottentot Venus; their aim is to honor Baartman, and they do so with biography that is speculative as well as research-driven."—Joe Taylor, Foreword Magazine

"This biography faced a formidable research challenge in resurrecting a forgotten woman. . . . With such a seemingly unknowable subject, the authors refrain from putting words into Sara's mouth. Rather they reconstruct her life and times, placing her in context. . . . Remarkable."—Lucy Sussex, The Age

"The authors stitch together the pieces of Baartman's life—no small task with so little known about the woman herself—and at times veer necessarily toward the speculative. They . . . admirably attempt to look past the symbol to the woman herself, who led an extraordinary life amid rapidly shifting social and scientific cultures."—Julie Biando Edwards, Library Journal

"This meticulously researched book drags Baartman out of the ugly mythology that characterised her European life and restores her to humanity. It is a model biography because the sources for her real life are scarce and the authors, both academics, had to tease a rich life out of very frail strands of information."—Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"[Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus] stands out for the lengths it goes to present the person behind the myth. Crais and Scully uncovered details unknown or long forgotten about her life before she became the Hottentot Venus, her personal dealings when she was off the stage, and some of the characters who fill out her story. The authors gather these facts together with a narrative style that richly evokes the smells, sights, sounds, and mores of the worlds in which Baartman dwelled."—Susan Frith, Johns Hopkins Magazine

"In this beautifully written and multilayered biography, Emory University professors Crais and Scully distinguish between the woman and the exhibit in order to restore the ghost to her own narrative. Tapping a wide range of archives, the authors reconstruct the Gonaqua society into which she was born and the Cape society where she worked as a domestic servant in the late 18th century before moving on to more familiar European territory."—C. Higgs, Choice
"The authors are to be commended on an illuminating analysis of the complexities of contact between Europeans and other cultures in the somewhat misnamed Age of Enlightenment. They have produced a gripping biography of an extraordinary woman."—Barbara Bush, Women's History Review

"[T]he book is a significant contribution to the literature on Baartman which will become essential reading for anyone interested in her life, as a living woman or academic subject. The impressive archival work that has been used to recapture so much of Baartman's elusive life is illuminating; although necessarily speculative in parts, on the whole, the book's arguments have been grounded in a well-contextualised and evocative history of the Cape region, London and Paris. Given abiding interest in Baartman's life, the book's accessible style will recommend it to a wide audience, both within and outside the halls of academia."—Sadiah Qureshi, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

"Ghosts are by nature elusive; their tales designed to haunt. Yet this rich 'ghost story' cum biography is elegantly turned, contesting accepted notions. It is a valuable contribution."—Maureen Isaacson, Sunday Independent

"Crais and Scully's extensive new research has produced a rich and interesting biography that is a worthwhile read even for those familiar with the story. As well as providing the most detailed account of Baartman's life, the book is an illuminating insight into the broader contexts of colonial society at the Cape. . . . The real achievement of Crais and Scully's book lies in its readability and the fresh insights it provides into the life of one of Africa's most famous women."—Sadiah Qureshi, History Today

"The excellent historical illustrations throughout help the narrative, making the descriptions read like a movie script."—Margaret H. McFadden, Salem Press

"Crais and Scully . . . point us in the direction of more nuanced studies of the relationship between exploitation, complicity and negotiation, and of the relationship between individual lives and the larger social, political and economic landscape in which they are lived. This is an excellent and provocative study that invites debate."—Shireen Hassim, Labor Bulletin

"The great strength of this book is its readability with vivid, even poetic, descriptions of everything from the African landscape and urban community to the theater district of London."—Martin S. Staum, Journal of Modern History

"Crais and Scully have crafted an admirable book—informative, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read."—Stacey Hynd, Journal of the Historical Association

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691135809
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/3/2008
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifton Crais is professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of "The Politics of Evil". Pamela Scully is professor of women's studies and African studies at Emory University. She is the author of "Liberating the Family?"

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Dramatis Personae xiii

Introduction 1

1 Winds of the Camdeboo 7

2 Cape of Storms 27

3 London Calling 58

4 Before the Law 82

5 Lost, and Found 103

6 Paris, City of Light 116

7 Ghosts of Sara Baartman 142

Epilogue Family 170

Acknowledgments 181

Notes 183

Select Bibliography 207

Index 229

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Preface

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i8749.htm

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