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Biography of the most infamous woman of the early 20th century, the Dutch courtesan and alleged spy Margaretha Zelle (1876-1917), - Mata Hari
Mata Hari was the prototype of the beautiful but unscrupulous female agent who used sexual allure to gain access to secrets, if she was indeed a spy.
In 1917, the notorious dancer Mata Hari was arrested, tried, and executed for espionage. It was charged at her trial that the dark-eyed siren was responsible for the deaths of at least 50,000 gallant French soldiers. Irrefutably, she had been the mistress of many senior Allied officers and government officials, even the French Minister of War: a point viewed as highly suspicious. Worse yet, she spoke several European languages fluently and travelled widely in wartime Europe. But was she guilty of espionage?
For all the publicity Mata Hari and her trial received, key questions remain unanswered. These questions concern not only her inadequate trial and her unproven guilt, but also the events in her personal life. What propelled Margaretha Zelle, destined to be a Dutch schoolteacher, to transform herself into Mata Hari, the most desirable woman in early 20th-century Paris? She danced before enthusiastic crowds in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Milan and Rome, inspiring admiration, jealousy, and bitter condemnation.
Pat Shipman's brilliant biography pinpoints the powerful yet dangerous attributes that evoked such strong emotions in those who met Mata Hari, for hitherto the focus has been on espionage, not on exploring the events that shaped her life and caused her to transform herself from rural Dutch girl to international femme fatale.
Executed as a German spy by the French in 1917, the notorious Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle in 1876, the spoiled daughter of a prosperous Dutch merchant who would later abandon her to the care of relatives after a humiliating bankruptcy and his wife's death. She married a much older, jealous, heavy-drinking and insolvent officer stationed in Indonesia who probably gave her and her children syphilis; the disastrous union ended after her young son died of poisoning, possibly from a botched syphilis cure, and Margaretha relinquished custodial rights to her daughter. Financially destitute, Margaretha reinvented herself in Paris as Mata Hari, gaining fame and fortune performing in various stages of undress in exotic dances that evoked the East, and she collected a series of highly placed, fawning lovers. Shipman (The Man Who Found the Missing Link) makes a good case that Mata Hari was a na ve, innocent scapegoat for a demoralized French military that had endured heavy losses and mutinous troops, and that she was also the victim of a hypocritical, rigidly moralistic patriarchy offended by her shameless sexuality. Shipman offers an engrossing biography of an unusual woman for whom, she says, the truth was whatever she wanted it to be; unfortunately, the book is somewhat marred by repetitious prose and digressions. Photos.