Friday, September 28, 2007

Victorian Notables: Mata Hari

[Although she technically falls a *bit* outside the traditional "Victorian" time frame, Mata Hari is certainly one of the best known personages (her name is immediatly recognizable to most), and a famous spy (of which much has been written about her). Therefore, in recognition of the ladies involved with the "cloak and daggers" adventures of SL Victoriana... ]

Mata Hari
Born 1876; Died 1917
Age 35; A beautiful, dark haired woman, about 5’8" and 130 lbs, wearing either bangles (when performing) or a fashionable dress.
Advantages: Beautiful; Comfortable wealth; Reputation ("Mysterious Indian Princess", in Parisian society)
Disadvantages: Secret (Dutch, not really "exotic"), Secret (Spy for Germany), Social Stigma (Deminondaine)
Quirks: Loves the excitement of being a spy; Prefers soldiers as lovers; "Unabashed" and more liberated than women of her time

Mata Hari always performs in scanty outfits covered with bangles, and little else. Otherwise, she wears fashionable dresses (with fashion changing about as often as it does in the 1990’s). She owns several pieces of jewlery, some with hidden compartments for carrying small documents.

This represents Mata Hari at the high point of her world tour. She is moderatly shrewd and manipulative rather than smart, but she has survived well enough on her wits and looks for several years. While some accounts have suggested she was framed and was never even a spy, it seems more likely that she possessed and used some very basic espionage skills. (In that case, she used codes, but would not have had formal training in cryptography). She was not an interrogator in the usual sense; the skill used here to reflect her ability to get someone to talk through "pillow talk", involving some judgement as to what another person knows and might be willing to say.

In 1905, a sensation swept across Paris. Mata Hari, ("Eye of the Dawn" in Malay), the daughter of a Brahmin and initiate into the rites and rituals of Kandaswami dance, had taken to the stage. Paris loved her. She packed the halls from America to Russia, telling her tails and performing ritual dances.

Or so it was said. Actually, "Mata Hari" was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, in Leewarden, Holland on August 7, 1876. She knew virtually nothing about ritual dance, but she was clever, strikingly attractive, and very willing to prance on stage in next to nothing. As a teenager, Margaretha answered an advertisement to join a colonial officer in the Dutch East Indies. She ended up marrying Captain Rudolph Macleod and setteled in East Java. They had two children, but after one was poisoned, the couple soon returned to Holland, fearing for the safety of their remaining child. Macleod soon turned to alcoholism and flagrant womanizing; Margaretha was granted a divorce and set off for Paris.

With no money and no real skills, she had a hard time at first, and tried several jobs, including artists’ model. Being unsuccessful in her earlier endevors, she made use of what she could recall of native dances of Java, adding her memento collection of bangles and bracelets to create her mythical oriental priestess.

She was always taken with men in uniform, and she danced her way into the hearts (and wallets) of many soliders and statesmen during her tours. Somewhere in this time period, she began to spy for Germany, passing "pillow talk" along to her controllers. As World War I dawned, she was placed under survailance. No hard evidence of spying was ever found, but she was exiled to Holland in 1916. There, a trap was set, as the French offered to have her carry information for them as well. In 1917, when she seemed to refer to herself as agent "H-21" in a message to a German courier in a code the French knew, she was arrested, tried, and executed for espionage. Since the Germans already know that code was compromised, it is highly likely they sold her out after discovering her double-agent status.

The pattern of an encounter with Mata Hari will depend heavly on what the indivduals are after or how they appear. She will probably latch on to any soldier or soldierly-looking man, especially if they are of high rank. She is foremost an adventuress, a thrill-seeker, buring her candle at both ends while acting as a double agent.

Further Reading
Erika Ostrovsky: Eye of Dawn: The Rise and Fall of Mata Hari
Mata Hari, the Seductive Spy (video), A&E Biography series.

Walker, D. (1999) - Gurps Who's Who I, pg. 116-117, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]


Artesia Beaumont said...

Dr. Fabre,
I did enjoy this article. One of the pictures looked like a Belly Dance Superstar Rachael Brice who is an awesome tribal dancer.
Thank you,

Esmeralda said...

Owwww, but I have to disagree: who said that the Dutch can't be exotic??? ;-)

Anyways, nteresting article.

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

@ Miss Beaumont: It might be (I'm assuming your are talking about the modded photograph). It was included in one of her writeups, and looked exotic, so I included it - Thanks again!

@ Miss Esmeralda: When I was transcribing this, I honestly wondered if anyone might make such an observation (lol)! Apparently my concerns were justifiable - and yes, I would certainly consider the Dutch exotic *smiles*. Ty for the positive comments, madam!