THE FATAL LOVER by Julie Wheelwright


Mata Hari and the Myth of Women in Espionage
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 While ``Mata Hari'' remains synonymous with the femme fatale trading her body for secrets, this readable biography of the original--the Dutch-born exotic dancer executed by the French in 1917 for espionage--argues that she was framed and challenges the whole notion of women agents as sex workers. Margaretha Zelle MacLeod--daughter of a bankrupt Dutch hat- seller and divorced from an abusive Army captain whose posts took the couple to Java and Sumatra--reinvented herself in Paris in 1904. As Hindu temple-dancer ``Mata Hari,'' she was a sensation, performing almost nude, while the religious origins and authenticity of her ``rites'' were little questioned. With her exotic Orientalist persona, her free spending, her penchant for older men in uniform (and her reliance on their monetary gifts), Mata Hari fit the model of celebrated fin-de-siäcle courtesan--but after the outbreak of WW I, these same attributes made her suspect. Despite months of surveillance, though, French investigators turned up no evidence that Mata Hari had betrayed French interests to Germany. The investigators did malign her for lying about her past, however, and--as though they contradictorily believed her fabrications--on racial grounds. Meanwhile, according to British author Wheelwright, apparently Mata Hari's only foray into espionage was on behalf of France, after her future interrogator insincerely recruited her. Wheelwright contends that the wartime culture saw all women (unless clearly passive, chaste, and self- sacrificing) as treacherous; the ``international woman'' became a symbol of national betrayal. Indeed, court records (sealed for decades) indicate a trumped-up case--a previously reported conclusion that remains overshadowed by legend. Stronger as biography than as feminist cultural history--and it's too bad that this book (published in England in 1992) wasn't updated to include Britain's new female Secret Service chief at work--at her desk. (Sixteen b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-85585-105-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Collins & Brown/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993