Tuesday, June 28

Be a Head: The Amazing Story of Madame Tussaud | Babelia

Wax figure of Marie Tussaud in the Madame Tussaud Museum in London.
Wax figure of Marie Tussaud in the Madame Tussaud Museum in London.

She used to carry around a copy of herself. He placed it next to him and it was seen in duplicate. Or it just looked, without more. He looked at himself in a mirror that he was not going to imitate her, that he was going to stay still, watching her. The story of Marie Grosholtz, the well-known and fierce Madame Tussaud, is the story of a lonely girl fascinated by the power to summon the dead — the power, actually, to defeat death itself — of the wax that bees make. That of someone who went everywhere with a small silver tray, the small silver tray that served for a time as his father’s jaw, and a doll, which perhaps he called Marta, and who lost the opportunity to stay with his mother forever for not having molded on time. One day he woke up and hung himself up, and his first thought was: “Could we still replicate it?”

Like a paleontologist facing the hole-filled drawing of the skeleton of some kind of mythological being, Edward Carey (North Walsham, age 50), recently published playwright and novelist Little (Blackie Books), spent 15 years shaping (pun intended) the figure of such a misunderstood artist – has he even had himself as such? – obsessed with the importance of his legacy – everything that Tussaud shaped, shaped it Before photography was invented – and replicas of gigantic characters, from Robespierre to Marie Antoinette, through Voltaire and Marat – the latter, molded by herself, still in her famous museum in London – captured much more than any portrait in oil, allowing them to travel in time and settle in all possible futures. Something, for Carey, deeply humanistic.

How did he get fascinated by such an under-claimed creature? “When I was 20 or so, I worked at Madame Tussauds in London. My job was to make sure that nobody touched the figures. And I started trying to really want to protect them. He spent a lot of time with them. And I realized that being next to works that she had made with her own hands was the closest thing to being in History. The closest to the French Revolution he has ever been. I also noticed how each of his works spoke in some sense of a moment in his life. He couldn’t stop staring at Marat. How his Marat was much more authentic, seemed a terrifying monster, than the pictorial version of Jacques-Louis David, completely idealized and absurd, pure fake news of the time”, Carey told in an interview.

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He read about her. He couldn’t believe it. An orphan who was born in Bern, Switzerland, the year in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his harpsichord minuet (1761) at the age of five and who, by family misfortune – absolute ruin – has just become the servant of a guy who works shaping parts of the body for a hospital, and is fond of helping him with his little hobby: that of replicating heads. Tired of thinking about a future that is going to be horrible anyway, her mother hangs herself from a beam one day – she is barely six years old – and leaves her alone with this Curtius, the very rare but harmless wax model who will carry her. with him everywhere, and from whom he will learn the trade, which, little by little, and as the ego of his clients expands, will become a good business. Why limit yourself to replicating Nobody’s heads when famous heads can be replicated?

Thus, something that was born as a bizarre sophistication of the portrait – the shopkeepers placed their own heads in the windows of their stores and sold more because customers wanted to see and touch them than because whatever product they were selling was a good product -, it becomes After the passage of writers and philosophers through Curtius’s workshop, in a small collection of, they are surprised at first, great interest for anyone. The human being wants to know what an exceptional human being really looks like. He wants to hold Robespierre’s head in his hands and observe it as one would observe a being from another planet. Upon his transfer to Paris, and before Marie, still Grosholtz, becomes “the person” with whom Princess Elizabeth plays in the Palace of Versailles and has to sleep on the shelf of a closet, they founded, in the Casa de los Monos —a place that housed monkeys that can be visited—, its first wax museum, a direct antecedent of the famous Madame Tussauds.

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At first, it was a museum of heads. Because all they had were politicians, literati, scientists. Guys distinguished by their intellect. How did the idea of ​​replicating your body also come about? Apparently, and according to Carey, it has been “as historically honest” as possible, and fiction has only been allowed in those moments when everything was dark – there was not a single piece of information about what Tussaud’s royal stay at Versailles was like. , although it is known that he passed through the palace and what his role was – it arose when they decided not to reproduce only distinguished beings. When they thought it might be okay to see how they did or did not look like a murderer. They chose Antoine-François Desrues, a very famous and perfidious poisoner. Since his mind had lost control, they decided that they would also expose his body, because it was the one that had performed their actions.

The Baba Yagá of the French Revolution

And so, it would seem, was how the Chamber of Horrors of the future Madame Tussaud was born. “She met all those people, what we see is real,” insists Carey over and over again, in the interview he gave to the Entertainment Weekly. “His life is almost a fairy tale, and one of the classics, macabre. She is something like the Baba Yagá – that is, the White Lady of Death and Renaissance – of the French Revolution. He died before photography was invented, but he bequeathed history to us, in techno-color ”, he said. His novel Little does more than tell his life.

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Turning it into a delightful and brilliant exercise in the Dickensian style, from a Dickens who could have read his most hilarious descendant, TC Boyle, and also the always dazzling Susanna Clarke, Carey elevates such a portentous figure to the Olympus of Artists Never Unfairly Taken as Artists. And in turn, it transforms her into one of the best (novel) characters of all time. Why did you decide that the novel would be called Little, that is to say, Little? “Because she might seem small, and she was, she was short, tiny, but when you are close to her, when you stand next to her wax figure and see how smart she seems, her expression of wisdom and command, because there is no doubt, she was in command, she always knew what she wanted and how, you tell yourself that none of that. That they might want to belittle her for being a woman and coming from where she came from, but she made her way into a world of men, and had an overwhelming success, “said, on one occasion, Carey, to later regret that she is known with her husband’s last name, who was “a nobody, a waste of time and space, who was about to ruin her.”


Author: Edward Carey. Translation: Lucía Barahona. Blackie Books, 2021. 544 pages. 23.95 euros.


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