Beauty Tips From A Scarlet Woman

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By Mary McConville


In 1858 Lola Montez published “The Art of Beauty or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet, & Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating.”

In 1997 Kaz Cooke republished the book, with illustrations and comments.

To put it politely, Lola Montez lead a life full of romance and adventure. She had much to do with (professionally) beautiful women and (professionally) fascinating men and gives us many wise tips drawn from her own experience. She also gives us some bad advice, recommending some dangerous cosmetics.

Lola Montez was born in 1818 and named Eliza Gilbert. She was the daughter of an English army officer and his 15 year old Irish wife. Lola was sent to an English boarding school at the age of six after her father died and her mother quickly remarried. After years of neglect her mother turned up and tried to marry her off to an old man. Eliza refused and eloped with another army officer. This marriage quickly failed. Her husband sued her for adultery, cut off her funds and got a separation certificate forbidding remarriage. Eliza ran off (again) and changed her name to Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert. She was also known as the Spanish dancer Dona Lola Montes (later Montez).

She then began her career of adventure and scandal. In the beginning she was famous for her sexy dancing, in particular a type of tarantella where she pretended to have a spider in her skirts. This dance involved a lot of lifting and thrashing of said skirts while searching for the spider.

Over the years Lola became famous for her affairs with royalty – Prince Heinrich LXX11 (72nd), King Ludwig of Bavaria and a host of lesser names like Franz Liszt. Later in her life she gave lectures and published several books, including this one. She also published an autobiography that may have been ghost written by the Reverend Chauncy Burt. She died of pneumonia at the age of 42 in 1861. Probably exhausted, maybe diseased.

This little yellow book is divided into three sections. It begins with an introductory section with comments by both Kaz and Lola. Kaz outlines Lola’s adventurous life and Lola comments on the arts and practicalities of beauty. She finishes with 50 satirical hints to gentlemen.

Lola’s beauty tips should not be followed. Some are harmless and even helpful, advising women to exercise, bath regularly and limit their late nights. Others are risky, such as a cure for scurfy scalp disease which contains a tincture of cantharides (Spanish fly). She also recommends a useless cure for wrinkles which was to bind the face with thin slices of beef at night. “I have no doubt of its efficacy” said Lola. However, I do (- have doubts).

Lola does recognise the dangers of some beauty treatments and warns women to avoid drinking from arsenic springs or taking small doses of quicksilver (mercury). It may give the lady a “pale and interesting complexion” but it can kill.

In the section dedicated to gentleman “Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating” Lola gives 50 satirical suggestions to fops, fools and dandies. She probably met too many of them in her life.

She makes the acerbic comment that “there are four things which always possess more or less interest to a lady – a parrot, a peacock, a monkey and a man and the nearer you can come to uniting all these about equally in your character the more you will be loved”.

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