Saartjie Baartman was twenty-one years old when she was taken from her native South Africa and shipped to London. Within weeks, the striking African beauty had made the headlines and become the talk of the social season of 1810, hailed as 'The Hottentot Venus' for her exquisite physique (not least her shapely and irresistible bottom) and suggestive semi-nude dance. As her fame spread to Paris, Saartjie became a lightning rod for late-Georgian and Napoleonic attitudes toward sex and race, fashion and body image, exploitation and colonialism, prurience and science. But celebrity brought unexpected consequences. Abolitionists initiated a High Court lawsuit to win Saartjie's freedom that electrified the English public. In Paris, a team of scientists subjected her to a humiliating ordeal as they probed the mystery of her sexual allure. Stared at, stripped, pinched, painted, worshipped and ridiculed, Saartjie came to symbolise the erotic obsession at the heart of colonialism. But behind the costumes, caricatures and the glare of publicity, this young Khoisan woman was a real person beginning to understand the true nature of her fate. Nearly two centuries after her death, Saartjie made headlines once again as Nelson Mandela launched an international campaign to have her remains returned to the land of her birth. In this scintillating, vividly written and meticulously researched book, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and its dominions, Rachel Holmes for the first time traces the full arc of Saartjie's extraordinary life and death - a story that still resonates today.
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Rachel Holmes was educated in South Africa and England. From 1991 to 1998 she held lectureships in English at Queen Mary College, University of London and the University of Sussex. In 1998 she became part of the launch team of amazon.co.uk, where she was website manager until 2002. Her first book, Scanty Particulars: The Life of Dr James Barry, was published to critical acclaim in 2002. She is currently writing a life of Eleanor Marx. A broadcaster, columnist and reviewer, she is director of Friends of TAC, the organisation that supports the Treatment Action Campaign in the fight for HIV and AIDS in South Africa.Review:
'I am convinced that The Hottentot Venus is going to cause a real literary stir, rescuing its eponymous heroine from almost two centuries of misunderstanding. This is a sharply focused, elegantly written, gripping story, meticulous in its research and scholarship. Rachel Holmes wears her considerable authority lightly and delightfully. There is fine imaginative writing here, as well as strong, pointed argument and ideas.' Professor Lisa Jardine
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