Lola Montez: A Life by Bruce Seymor - review by Alex Woodcock-Clarke

Alex Woodcock-Clarke

A Brave, Cat-Like Woman But No Good at Dancing

Lola Montez: A Life


Yale University Press 480pp £20 order from our bookshop

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna papered over the hole in the heart of Europe left by Napoleon with a patchwork of postage-stamp countries. The smaller the country, the longer its name; the more insignificant its ruler, the grander his title. Amongst the Ernestine duchies of Thuringia was Reuss-Lobenstein-Ebersdorf, a principality of some twenty thousand souls whose feudal master during the 1840s, Prince Heinrich LXXII, was directly addressed as Your Serene Transparency. Prince Heinrich is not to be confused with his cousin, the prince of Reuss-Schleitz, who was also named Heinrich. Every male child in all branches of the Reusses was called Heinrich and identified within the family by their designated number, so Lola Montez presumably got sufficient flavour of the dynasty by seducing just Heinrich LXXII. Amongst the list of Lola's lovers, painstakingly compiled by Bruce Seymour, he probably rated no more than a footnote, corning well below such luminaries as Franz Liszt and Ludwig I of Bavaria.

For a time Lola Montez was more famous than Queen Victoria (who got her own Ernestine duke, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). Like her, she entered the mythology of the age. Different facets of her archetype recur through contemporary literature. One can read Lola in both the knowing poules de luxe of Balzac and the cosmopolitan femmes fatales of Alexandre Dumas. Both men knew her and, indeed, were pallbearers at the funeral of one of her unluckier lovers, shot to death in a duel. Her legend was to outlive her in the romances of Ouida and Anthony Hope, which were the publishing sensations of the century's end.

Bruce Seymour takes a surgeon's scalpel to the legend, slicing through the rumours and the scandal to lay open the bare bones of her life. His book has a clarity that renders the four years of research it took to create it almost invisible to the reader. The

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