The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman, Born 1789 – Buried 2002 by Rachel Holmes - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

The Allure of Otherness

The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman, Born 1789 – Buried 2002

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Venus, Roman goddess of love, was born in the sea and came to earth floating on a scallop shell. The Hottentot Venus, otherwise known as Saartjie Baartman, was born in the Gamtoos River Valley in South Africa, and came to England as a stowaway. She was taken – along with a massive and stinking giraffe skin – by a British military doctor called Alexander Dunlop and his South African servant, Hendrik Cesars. Together, the men saw the potential of exhibiting Saartjie’s prominent buttocks and extended labia in a freak-show. 

‘The Hottentot Venus’ was advertised across London during the winter of 1810 as ‘the greatest phenomenon ever exhibited in this country’. Saartjie’s stage name was inspired: combining the erotic otherness of the ‘Hottentot’ with the iconic allure of the ‘Venus’, Dunlop and Cesars mixed two potent myths in the form

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