Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Victorian Notables: Lola Montez

As SL Victoriana has many women with independent streaks, perhaps the forerunner of celebrity of the 19th century would be appropriate...

Lola Montez
Born 1820; Died 1861
Age 27, 5’6", An attractive woman with black hair, blue eyes, and light skin, usually provocatively dressed with tobacco-stained fingers.
Quirks: Claims her enemies are tools of the Jesuits; Fond of dogs; Likes to flirt

Montez commonly has a knife and a pistol concealed in her clothing.
Montez’s wealth was a gift to her from her patron, Ludwig I of Bavaria; her fortunes rose and fell throughout her life, helped with her inability to resist spending money or going into debt. While she performed on stage, her personality and mannerisms seem to have been more important than her skill as a dancer, which critical audiences never felt to be up to professional standards. This version makes her more attractive than photographs taken in her 30s, but less so then her admirers thought; their judgement may have been weakened by her seductiveness and intense personality.

Lola Montez was the assumed name of Eliza Gilbert, the daughter of an English army officer and an Irish girl of 14. Her parents went to India when her father gained reassignment there, though he died the very day he reported to his new regiment. Her mother soon remarried, and in 1826, Eliza was sent back to school in England. At 17, she married Lieutenant Thomas James and went back to India with him, but returned to England in 1841, where she became involved with other men and studied for a theatrical career. Her husband sued for separate maintenance (called divorce, but they could not legally remarry) and was granted it in 1842.

Lacking talent for stage acting, Mrs. James went to Spain to study dance and returned calling herself "Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez" – "Lola Montez". Under that name, she traveled to many European cities, performing on the stage and encouraging men to support her, though her lack of self-control repeatedly led to scandals that forced her to move on. She had a brief liaison with Franz Liszt in 1844, and he still admired her years later.

In 1846, she visited Munich, the capital of Bavaria, hoping to perform during Octoberfest. The request brought her to the attention of Ludwig I, then 60 years old. Ludwig was hardworking, stingy, and autocratic, with a strict sense of duty, and socially awkward because of his poor hearing, but he was also a romantic who wrote poetry and insisted that his wife permit him to be involved with other women. Montez’s beauty, her violent emotions, and her claims to an exotic Spanish background fascinated him, and she became his final great love.

The relationship quickly generated scandal, both because of Montez’s lack of propriety and because she was thought to be interfering in Bavarian politics. Ludwig believed everything "Lolitta" said, dismissing ministers who critized her and install more liberal ones; he even made her a countess. But in 1847, public protests drove her out of Bavaria, and in 1848, as a wave of revolution swept through Europe, Luwdig abdicated rather than rule as a constitutional monarch. He and Montez lived apart, but he contined to support her in luxry for some time.
Subsequently, Montez emigrated to the United States, where she became popular lecturer, writing much of her own material. Her speaking tours of took her to California, Australia, Ireland, and England. A stroke left her partially paralyzed in 1860, but she was recovering when she caught pneumonia, from which she died in early 1861.

Lola in History.
Montez was the prototype of the professional celebrity; she had only moderate talent, but attracted large audiences by the force of her personality and the fascination of her scandalous life. She helped break down the old restrictions on women by her fame for ignoring them – which is rather ironic, given her own generally romantic-conservative views.

Further Reading
Seymor, Bruce: Lola Montez: A Life
Varley James, F.: Lola Montez, The California Adventures of Europe’s Notorious Courtesan.
Stoddard, W. (1999) - Gurps Who's Who I, pg. 104-105, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]


Artesia Beaumont said...

Dear Dr. Fabre,
I enjoyed reading this story!

Virrginia Tombola said...

Dr Fabre, I am certain that you would enjoy reading "Royal Flash", George MacDonald Fraser's take on the Prisoner of Zenda (with that wonderful antihero Flashman in the title role). Mme Montez spends a good bit of time onstage in that one, and is more than a match for poor Flashy.

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

@ Miss Beaumont - ty!

@ Miss Tombola - Madam, I shall have to locate the aformentioned book and read it - ty!