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Fishing for tarts

l'Inconnu de la Seine

Lots and lots of things have been fished out of the Seine. This was one of them. Maybe. If you want the long version, ask Google and spend an afternoon at it. Or go with the short version:

No-one knows who she was, really. She is called l’Inconnue de la Seine. The usual story is that she was drawn from the river in the late 1880s and the morgue attendant was so taken with her beauty and poignant expression that he called for a mask to be made.

I’m going to call bullshit on that bit, anyhow. No way this is the face of a dead woman. In fact, it would be difficult to take a cast of a living woman and catch a smile. Plaster is heavy and the dead seriously lack muscle tone. If this thing started life as the mask of a woman, it was heavily recarved afterwards (which is not at all uncommon with casts).

Anyhow, the story continues, she was put on display (in the 1880s, unclaimed bodies — up to fourteen at a time — were put in a chilled room at the morgue, fronted by plate glass. It was the most popular shop window in Paris). No-one claimed her.

Then somehow the mask escaped into the population. It was a sensation. Factories were contracted to churn out copies (in fact, one story I find plausible is that l’Inconnue was actually an entrepreneurial mask-maker’s daughter, alive and well at the time). No salon or filthy bohemian garret was complete without one. She appeared in poems, novels, baudy limericks (I’m just guessing on that last one). She was an icon of feminine beauty for decades, well into the 20th Century.

resusci-annieAnd then she really got popular. In 1958, emergency docs Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal chose l’Inconnue for the face of the original Resusci Annie (Snopes says oui to this story). Making her, officially, the most kissed woman of all time.

Thought a little creepy story might not go amiss today, this being Hallowe’en week and everybody being utterly sick to death of poltics and all.

October 29, 2008 — 2:11 pm
Comments: 37