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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.

Sleep brings no hope to me,
In soundest sleep they come,
And with their doleful imag'ry
Deepen the gloom.

Sleep brings no strength to me,
No power renewed to brave;
I only sail a wilder sea,
A darker wave.

Sleep brings no friend to me
to soothe and aid to bear;
They all gaze on, how scornfully,
And I despair.

Sleep brings no wish to fret
My harrassed heart beneath;
My only wish is to forget
In endless sleep of death.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 11th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, my! That's unbelievable!
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
I agree! Isn't it bizarre? I think it fits under the "truth is stranger than fiction" banner, for certain.
Oct. 11th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I am both amused and creeped out that Rescue Amnnie's face was based on this death mask.
Oct. 11th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
Seriously! Me, too.
Abbie [wordpress.com]
Oct. 11th, 2010 04:16 pm (UTC)
Dr. Amy, that is DELIGHTFULLY CREEPY. I'd never heard of this mysterious mask before. Very interesting. It also reminds me of that joke about how people who jump off a bridge in Paris are inSeine...

I was just about to take a nap, but then I read the text of the day...
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)

I'm so glad you think so - that's exactly what I thought. You just can't make up this kind of stuff. InSeine, haha.

Yep, that poem will wake a person up quickly, won't it? *shivers*
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
Great story about the death mask. Way to manufacture spookery :)
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Way to manufacture spookery :)

Ha! And hang it on your wall.

"I know, dear, let's do this room in 'Death Mask Chic'!"
Oct. 11th, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
Surely you meant: "Death mask chick"?
Oct. 11th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
*groans* ;P
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
It looks like a lovely mask, and an interesting/complicated provenance. I think the key word in your description is "legend." Tricky thing, those unverified "legends." ;o)
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
Tricky thing, those unverified "legends." ;o)

So true! ;P

The funny thing is that I actually find the response of people who believed this was a death mask (displaying the replica in their homes as artwork, trying to mimick her hairstyle and "look," etc.) creepier than the actual mask itself, you know?
Oct. 11th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree! It's similar to a fascination with a celebrity death.

And, not to wax all "political" on you, but you probably know by now that I am a skeptic through and through and I find a willingness to "believe" and have "faith" to be truly, real-life irrational/scary. Oh well... back to my minority corner... ;o)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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