‘Mata Hari’: la madame butterfly – book review

Mata Hari: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A paragon of femme fatale with a name meaning Eye of Dawn in Indonesian, Mata Hari has become an unlikely figure of feminism that elevates a famous courtesan into a tragic martyr against male chauvinism. Some even have turned Europe’s first-class exotic dancer into an innovative artist, surpassing the great French-American creative dancer Isadora Duncan. Although Mata Hari expressed her unbridled erotic charge on the influential men in an era when the ideal victorian femininity still reigned in the social consciousness, she was hardly any more creative to the art of dance than Isadora Duncan and less manipulative than Delilah. This concise bioptic narrative about Mata Hari leaves the image of her open to creation on the reader’s perception of her.

Before her rebirth as Mata Hari, Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod was a divorcee from a Scottish-born dutch army officer. Her divorce from her husband was a ticket to her freedom from conventional womanhood whose place was home, tending her family and domestic affairs. Mata Hari used her womanly prowess tinkered with an exotically alluring atmosphere surrounding the sultry appearance that she used for the glamorous life. While reading the book, I found Mata Hari hard to sympathize with her, commiserate with her when she was hoodwinked by the men she fluttered with, and she believed to fall in love with. A life of courtesan she was leading was dangerous and ephemeral, and she didn’t seem to bother making her livelihood without toiling her hands into specks of dirt, as most of the poor women in her time had to earn a living.

It is not to say that her wayward lifestyle was meted with her unjust execution, which conspired to use her as a political and diplomatic scapegoat during World War One. She was an easy target to put all the misdeeds of the men involved with her and the faux-pas they wanted to conceal in consideration of her reputation as a persona non-grata with a questionable reputation. The trial of Mata Hari was nothing but a Kangaroo court procedure that only showcased the famed woman under an international spotlight behind which the real culprits of the espionage were hiding. However, her trust in beauty as a sexual prowess over men should not be confused with a woman’s symbol of an unyielding independent spirit under the pretext of being a divorcee without long-term financial security. The spirit of womanhood that evokes a feeling of camaraderie lacks in the figure of Mata Hari.

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