Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Remember l'Affair de Madame Steinheil?

Not only notorious for her laision with the President of the Republic, Felix Faure, where she allegedly contributed to his demise in the boudoir - as one policeman recalled - we found Madame Steinheil with her hair disheveled, clothes in disarray and recommended she leave out the salon back door. Madame Steinheil became the mistress of many more men and died years later, a titled Lady in England.

Yet before she left France, as you see on the cover of Le Petit Journal above, she'd been accused of the murder of her husband and mother - in - law, causing another notorious scandal. Madame
Steinheil was acquited by the court (and if she had a laision with the judges history keeps quiet on that score). However not leaving well enough alone, Madame Steinheil the 'grieving' widow insisted her former lover - the chauffeur our equivalent I guess of the 'pool man' murdered her husband and mother-in-law. This allegation amazingly enough did land her time in prison, the female max hi security for that time at Prison Saint Lazare. Accounts from the mid 1800's during Madame Steinheil's sojurn compare it to the painting below. A later famous inmate was Mata Hari. They tore Prison Saint Lazare down in 1932 and by all accounts the interior and conditions were the same.

But given Madame Steinheil's allure, charisma and draw to powerful men I wondered what it signified today. Why hadn't anyone bottled that? Did anyone in the 21st century have that pull, the draw or were courtesans lost in another age? Were they anachronistic in the 21st century, or could I think of anyone? After all the saying goes, Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

I propose for your reading delection, by no means limited to the female gender, two possibilties but you might have more.

On the left Eva Peron who rose from the slums of Argentina to become the dictator Peron's wife. She's revered as a saint years after her death despite proof she pocketed the poor's money and advised Juan sheltering Nazi's could make his government more money.

Guy Ritchie seen with his former Mrs. or Madge as he referred to the Material Girl. Ok he might be a good Dad, makes his own films but what do you think?

Cara - Tuesday


  1. These are all really good thought provoking stories. I like how you take us back in time and then compare it with modern day examples. I don't know enough about Guy Ritchie to make a decision. I know he worked on the Sherlock Holmes movie...


  2. Thanks, Ann. I don't mean to dump on Guy Ritchie, who's an established film maker in his own right, but - and the Brits can correct me here - I think his marriage with Madge contributed to his career.
    And the whopping big settlement.

  3. I guess the women of that time had few options when power hungry, ambitious or simply eager to better their standing than to use their looks and/or charms. Pretty sad seeing that looks and charms do not always go hand in hand with beauty of character as seems to have been the case with this particular Madame. In light of Leighton's mail, do you think it is possible that her circumstances and behaviour were painted blacker than what they really were? It is the opposite of the coin presented in his post, i.e. good/normal presented as evil as opposed to sick/evil presented as heroic?

    Thanks for yet another great story
    bye Yrsa

  4. Excellent point Yrsa. How many times have women been accused of manipulation or backstabbing when if it had been a man no one would make a comment. In France women didn't get the vote until the 70s, and Napoleonic Law still dictates inheritance which goes to the children (legitimate and not) first - in theory they can kick their mother out of the house - not that it happens - hard to believe but it fits.

  5. Guy Ritchie is a bit of a joke figure now. He made a film called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which was shallow but slick and fun enough in a caper kind of way. It made his name. He then hooked up with Madge and has not made a film since that hasn't been awful.

    But it's not for marrying Madonna, or his bad films for which he's a figure of fun. It's the way he's tried to make out to be a cockney east-end boy on the make. His mother, it turns out, is very posh and is/was chair of the Kensington Conservatives. He claimed to have got the scar on his cheek from what he called a 'dust-up' in a pub after a few drinks. It emerged he suffered the injury falling off a pony while taking a riding lesson in his youth.

    Cue laughing stock...

  6. Madame Steinhein, as evidenced by the sketch on the Journal, likely benefited greatly by having an artist who presented her as demure and distraught, garnering some sympathy from the male population if not the female. Wikipedia has a sketch of her that suggests she was having a beatific vision. It's not the "Ecstasy of St. Theresa" but George Scott seem to be trying. Disarrayed or not, Madame Steinhien had sense enough to put her clothes on before she opened the door.

    Eva Peron had the strong arm (in every sense) of Juan to protect her from anyone who might not be so sure she was a saint. She may have had to face TV cameras but she didn't have to worry about clips of her tango dancing days showing up on YouTube.

    These two very smart women knew that mystique and mystery gave them power and they knew how to use that aphrodisiac to get what they wanted.

    The 21st century aphrodisiac is your face on the cover of People Magazine. Those who are famous for being famous bare their souls almost as fast as they bare their bodies. Mystery fires imagination. Now nothing is left to the imagination. Did Anna Nicole Smith know that when she allowed a film crew to follow her every moment of her day, she would end up as an object of ridicule? If she did, she still likely would have welcomed it. Even ridicule is attention and what can be a greater source of attention than being on MTV (or whichever) virtually around the clock.

    Except in the case of Barack, it doesn't seem to take much to achieve the status that comes with being known by a first name. Eva Peron was known by a single name but I suspect that while the masses were encouraged to chant "Evita", the people around her knew better than to try it.

    Even Cleopatra was a courtesan. Those tough, smart women who controlled powerful men through the ages, knew that to keep their power they needed to stay in the shadows. They knew, too, that if they wanted to keep their jobs, and their heads in the cases of Henry VII's wives, they better keep their clothes on, too. These women are still fascinating because we can't quite figure out how they did it. The writers on this blog certainly know something about mystery; keeping that from us until the last page is how to keep us coming back for more.

    On the other hand, Madonna. No mystery there. She is clearly an intelligent woman. She is going to need to use it when the time comes to explain that coffee table book to her daughter.

  7. Dan, our Guy then is a posh lad. Disappointing I do favor the dust-up East End.
    And Beth thanks for pointing out that People is our modern day close equivalent but you're right there's no mystery, no hidden allure. But maybe the power behind the throne still hides...somewhere

  8. Oh goody! A chance to dish on Guy Ritchie. He reportedly dumped his girl friend at the time when dirty 'donna wanted him. He told chaps, "C'mon. It's Madonna." Always remember the use of that pronoun.
    But I don't like madge either. I distinctly remember starting to hate her early in her career when she told 12-year-old girls to wear belt buckles that proclaimed them as a BOY TOY. All for the merch money.
    Then, along came SHERLOCK HOLMES. I can (and have) fantasize about Basil Rathbone as Holmes and plot how I'd change his mind about women (and make him forget about Irene Adler). Imagine how I feel about Robert Downey Jr as Holmes! Will the dvd NEVER come out!!! I don't drive and none of my friend will see it with me. Again. Sigh.