Monday, 11 January 2010

Freaks and Circassians

Circassian lady from

The excellent Victorian Peeper draws our attention to a British Library online exhbition on Freaks. To add my contribution, I've hurriedly digitised a piece from the Era on Chang and Eng, the original 'Siamese Twins' on their comeback appearance in 1869. There is, unsurprisingly, a lot on the web about them (see here, for instance). More interesting, perhaps, is the passing mention of a "Circassian Lady" Zobeide Luti.

"The Circassian, Zobeide Luti by name, was rescued at four years of age, from a slave dealer, and was educated by her preserver, an Austrian nobleman. Such is the account given of this lady, who is very handsome, and has a profusion of strong and vigorous brown hair, not in long tresses, but standing out in a mass from her head. The "Circassian" speaks five languages, and any one is at liberty to test her skills as a linguist. She is dressed in a robe of brown satin, and wears Turkish unmentionables of the same material. Zobeide Luti is dark in complexion, and her receipts from selling her portrait must be something considerable. "

I've never come across a Circassian Lady before and had assumed that Zobeide was a one-off 'freak' (or whatever a 'beautiful' freak is called) but apparenty such women - and their stories of titillating pasts involving kidnap and slavery - were a standard feature of sideshow life in the 19th century - and most had names beginning with an exotic Z (cf. Zazel and Zuleilah!). See Sideshow World for some lovely examples and more information.

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