October 11th, 2010


20 Days Until Halloween

To start the work week, I offer a tribute to a truly haunting phenomenon, that of L'Inconnue de la Seine ("the unknown woman of the Seine"). Legend has it that an unidentified woman committed suicide by throwing herself into the Seine in the 1880s, and a Parisian pathologist, enchanted by her tragic loveliness, made this death mask to preserve her beauty. (Others since have claimed that the mask was made using a teenaged model who was very much alive at the time, but this explanation failed to fascinate the public in the same way as the rumor of a doomed maiden driven to suicide.) Replicas of the mask quickly became morbid fixtures in the homes of artists and laypersons alike.

inconnue de la seine Pictures, Images and Photos

Regardless of whether this is truly a life or death mask, however, one thing is clear: the poignant, Mona Lisa-like expression on the young woman's face has inspired uncounted international literary tributes (from authors as diverse as Rainer Maria Rilke, Vladimir Nabokov, and Chuck Palahniuk), not to mention fashion trends. The erotic ideal of a generation was inspired by a young woman who was definitely mysterious and unknown -- and, according to the popular imagination, most likely, tragically, dead.

Later, her cryptic face became the model for Rescue Annie, the first mannequin used to teach CPR.

Further reading:

L'Inconnue de la Seine

Text of the Day: Here's the eerie "The Horrors of Sleep" by Emily Brontë (1818-1848).

Sleep brings no joy to me.
Rememberance never dies.
My soul is given to mystery,
And lives in sighs.

Sleep brings no rest to me;
The shadows of the dead
My wakening eyes may never see
Surround my bed.

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