Julia Pastrana’s Traces, or the Afterlives of the Victorian Ape Woman

  • Saverio Tomaiuolo


Julia Pastrana, known as ‘The Ape Woman’, was one of the most famous freaks in the Victorian age. Affected with hypertrichosis terminalis (since her body and her face were covered with black hair), Pastrana performed in tours in Europe and North America. She was reputed as a ‘bodily deviant’ creature in a society that structured its social, political and cultural discourses upon the notion of a ‘stable’ (female) body and identity. By reflecting on the notions of memory and forgetting, this chapter focuses on the ways in which Pastrana’s biography has been rewritten by Marco Ferreri in his movie La donna scimmia (1964), by Sandra Olson and Julian Fenech in their novel Julia Pastrana (2007), by Rosie Garland in The Palace of Curiosities (2013), and finally by Carol Birch in Orphans of the Carnival (2016).

Works Cited

  1. Altick, Richard. 1978. The Shows of London. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bergman, Jerry. 2011. The Dark Side of Charles Darwin: A Critical Analysis of an Icon of Science. Grenn Forest: Master Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bevan, Kate. 2007. I Hate Myself for Watching Freak Show TV. But I Can’t Help It. What Is It That Attracts Us to Programmes Like Those in Channel 4’s Bodyshock Series? The Guardian, April 3. Accessed 2 Feb 2018.
  4. Birch, Carol. 2016. Orphans of the Carnival. Edinburgh and London: Canongate.Google Scholar
  5. Boccardi, Adele. 2009. The Contemporary British Historical Novel: Representation, Nation, Empire. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bondeson, Jan. 1997. A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities. Ithaca: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  7. Brodesco, Alberto. 2014. Filming the Freak Show. Non-normative Bodies on Screen. Journal of History of Medicine/Medicina nei secoli. Arte e scienza 26 (1): 291–312.Google Scholar
  8. Browne, Janet, and Sharon Messenger. 2004. Victorian Spectacle: Julia Pastrana, the Bearded and Hairy Female. Endeavour 27 (4): 155–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark, Clare. 2016. Review of Carol Birch, Orphans of the Carnival. The Guardian, October 1. Accessed 25 Sept 2017.
  10. Clinard, Marshall B., and Robert F. Meier. 2008 [1957]. Sociology of Deviant Behaviour. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  11. Darwin, Charles. 1868. The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, vol. II. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  12. Davies, Helen. 2012. Gender and Ventriloquism in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. ———. 2015. Neo-Victorian Freakery: The Cultural Afterlife of the Victorian Freak Show. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  14. Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 1979. Living On. Translated by James Hulbert. In Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and Hillis J. Miller, 75–176. New York: Seabury Press.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 2004 [1972]. Dissemination. Translated with an Introduction and Additional Notes by Barbara Johnson. London and New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  17. Durbach, Nadja. 2009. Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture. Berkley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 2014. “Skinless Wonders”: Body Worlds and the Victorian Freak Show. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 69 (1): 38–67.Google Scholar
  19. Fenech, Julian, and Sandra Olson. 2007. Julia Pastrana: Inspired by a True Story. Bloomington: Trafford Publishing.Google Scholar
  20. Ferreri, Marco. (dir.). 2014 [1964]. La donna scimmia [Film]. Screenplay by Raphael Azcona. Italy: Cecchi Gori Production.Google Scholar
  21. Garland, Rosie. 2013a. The Palace of Curiosities. St Ives: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 2013b. Freaks Femininity and Reality TV. The Big Issue, May 1. Accessed 20 Mar 2017.
  23. Garland Thomson, Rosemarie. 1996. Introduction: From Wonder to Error—A Genealogy of Freak Discourse in Modernity. In Freakery: Cultural Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body, ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson, 1–22. New York and London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 2003. Making Freaks: Visual Rhetorics and the Spectacle of Julia Pastrana. In Thinking the Limits of the Body, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Gail Weiss, 129–144. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gregory, James. 2007. Eccentric Biography and the Victorians. Biography 30 (3): 342–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grotz, Elizabeth. 1996. Intolerable Ambiguity: Freak As/At the Limit. In Freakery: Cultural Spectacle of the Extraordinary Body, ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson, 55–66. New York and London: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Gylseth, Christopher Hals, and Lars O. Toverud. 2003 [2001]. The Tragic History of the Victorian Ape Woman. Translated by Donald Tumasonis. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing.Google Scholar
  28. Hutcheon, Linda. 1988. A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Jordan, Justine. 2016. Carol Birch: I am Amazed at How People Come Through Extreme Things—At the Strength of People. The Guardian, August 26. Accessed 20 Dec 2016.
  30. Kohlke, Marie-Luise. 2013. Neo-Victorian Biofiction and the Special/Spectral Case of Barbara Chase Riboud’s Hottentot Venus. Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies 18 (3): 4–21.Google Scholar
  31. Laurence, J.Z. 1857. A Short Account of the Bearded and Hairy Female. The Lancet, July 11, p. 48.Google Scholar
  32. Lynch, David. (dir.). 1980. The Elephant Man. Screenplay by Chrisopher DeVore, David Bergren, and David Lynch, inspired by The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves, and by The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu, Universal Pictures (UK) and Paramount Pictures (USA): Brooks films.Google Scholar
  33. Mitchell, Kate. 2010. History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Victorian Afterimages. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  34. Norman, Tom. 1985. The Penny Showman: Memories of Tom Norman ‘Silver King’. London: Privately Published by the Norman Family.Google Scholar
  35. Petterson, Lin. 2012. Definitely an Author to Watch: Rosie Garland on the (Neo-)Victorian Freak. Neo-Victorian Studies 8 (2): 200–223.Google Scholar
  36. Reay, Barry. 2004. Watching Hannah: Sexuality, Horror and Bodily De-formation in Victorian England. London: Reaktion Books.Google Scholar
  37. Ricoeur, Paul. 2004. Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Rigney, Ann. 2001. Imperfect Histories: The Elusive Past and the Legacy of Romantic Historicism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Scandola, Alberto. 2004. Marco Ferreri. Milano: Il Castoro.Google Scholar
  40. Selby, Jenn. 2014. Conchita Wurst Turned Eurovision into “a Freak Show”, says Terry Wogan. The Independent, November 4. Accessed 15 June 2017.
  41. Stelloh, Tim. 2013. Behold! The Heartbreaking, Hair-Raising Tale of Freak Show Star Julia Pastrana, Mexico’s Monkey Woman. BuzzFeedNews, December 13. Accessed 4 Jan 2017.
  42. Stern, Rebecca. 2008. Our Bear Women, Ourselves: Affiliating Julia Pastrana. In Victorian Freaks: The Social Context of Freakery in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Marlene Tromp, 200–233. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  43. White, Hayden. 1973. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saverio Tomaiuolo
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Cassino and Southern LazioCassinoItaly

Personalised recommendations