I am getting ready to read something which may turn into the greatest post of all time. A friend suggested this short work to me, which I had never heard of before. I have no idea if he was exaggerating, but expect to hear truly bizarre things from me in a day or two.
Until then: Lola Montez. The quotes I have below are from Barbara Holland's They Went Whistling (possibly my favorite book ever. I cannot praise this work highly enough) and Royal Flash, one of the Flashman series, which is adventure-comedy gold with surprisingly helpful and accurate footnotes.
Montez was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1818 (I think the name change was a good idea). She was reportedly beautiful--possibly thought of as one of the most beautiful women of the Victorian period. She had dark hair and a fiery temper so she said, "Eh, I'll pass for Spanish. Let's get a stage career started." And "Lola Montez" was born.
She did some theatrical stuff, but her real success came from her affairs, climbing the social ladder with every new lover: "She even managed to have an affair with Franz Liszt, the man George Sand said loved "no one but God and the Holy Virgin"" (TWW 196). However, he tired of her and abandoned her "in a hotel, whereupon she spent several hours smashing the furniture" (RF, footnote 18).
"Wagner called her "demonic and heartless" and she carried a horsewhip and used it freely on hotel staff, German policemen, and newspaper editors . . . She worked her way into the bed and heart of King Ludwig of Bavaria, who made her a countess and built her a palace and somehow let her become de facto king" (TWW 196).
"The perfection of her bosom was internationally famous. So was her temper." (TWW 196). Apparently when she first met King Ludwig, in PUBLIC, I would add, he "is supposed to have expressed doubts about the reality of her figure: her indignant reply was to tear open the top of her dress" (RF, footnote 21).
"Her indifference to physical danger was remarkable" (RF, footnote 42), for in 1848, Bavaria got swept up in the rest of the European revolutions. Ludwig abdicated and Lola, being a fairly good de facto king, yet remaining unpopular with the public, had to flee. However, before she did, she certainly gave the revolutionaries a run for their money.
One night a crowd stormed her palace and threw "brickbats at her windows . . . [she] came out on her balcony, dressed in her finest ball gown and littered with gems, and toasted them in champagne. The plain truth about her was that she didn't care a damn--and they went in awe of her for it" (RF 278). The crowd, not knowing what to do if they couldn't get any reaction from her, went away almost immediately and Lola returned to her party inside, unharmed and indifferent.
Finally, when things got too serious for her to remain in the country, she packed up to leave. A mob stormed her palace again to harass her as she got into her carriage. The people were seriously riled that day, so Lola sent her carriage through the crowd first, remaining herself on the steps of the palace. The mob got furious, thinking that she meant to stay, after all. Then she walked straight into the crowed. The mob silenced immediately and parted peacefully for her. She occasionally stopped and looked people directly in the eye before moving on. She walked through hundreds of previously-violent people, now as gentle as lambs, with her head held high, got in her carriage at the far end of the mob, and drove off. People were so confused and awed by her bravery that even her worst critics spoke well of her that day. (RF 276-278).
She moved around between the U.S. and Australia, performing and touring the lecture circuit. She had a stroke around the age of 40 and died of pneumonia the year later, famous and terrifying to the last.
- Lola Montez