African Queen

African Queen

The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Saartjie Baartman was twenty-one years old when she was taken from her native South Africa and shipped to London. Within weeks, the striking African beauty was the talk of the social season of 1810--hailed as "the Hottentot Venus" for her exquisite physique and suggestive semi-nude dance. As her fame spread to Paris, Saartjie became a lightning rod for late Georgian and Napoleonic attitudes toward sex and race, exploitation and colonialism, prurience and science. In African Queen, Rachel Holmes recounts the luminous, heartbreaking story of one woman's journey from slavery to stardom. Born into a herding tribe known as the Eastern Cape Khoisan, Saartjie was barely out of her teens when she was orphaned and widowed by colonial war and forced aboard a ship bound for England. A pair of clever, unscrupulous showmen dressed her up in a body stocking with a suggestive fringe and put her on the London stage as a "specimen" of African beauty and sexuality. The Hottentot Venus was an overnight sensation. But celebrity brought unexpected consequences. Abolitionists initiated a lawsuit to win Saartjie's freedom, a case that electrified the English public. In Paris, a team of scientists subjected her to a humiliating public inspection as they probed the mystery of her sexual allure. Stared at, stripped, pinched, painted, worshipped, and ridiculed, Saartjie came to symbolize the erotic obsession at the heart of colonialism. But beneath the costumes and the glare of publicity, this young Khoisan woman was a person who had been torn from her own culture and sacrificed to the whims of fashionable Europe. Nearly two centuries after her death, Saartjie made headlines once again when Nelson Mandela launched a campaign to have her remains returned to the land of her birth. In this brilliant, vividly written book, Rachel Holmes traces the full arc of Saartjie's extraordinary story--a story of race, eros, oppression, and fame that resonates powerfully today.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2007.
ISBN: 9781400061365
Characteristics: xiv, 161 p., [16] p. of plates :,ill. ;,22 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Feb 13, 2016

Terribly written like a cheesy historical fiction novel, but I rated it three stars because the subject matter is important and fascinating. It's worth laughing through the odd narrative style in order to learn something, of this black woman because I doubt literature on this type of modern racial exploitation is readily available to most people. I'm still somewhat skeptical about the validity of some details, as there are many parts that are asserted as facts in the beginning, yet so much pertinent information is missing and/or acknowledged by the author as speculative.

May 08, 2007

When Saartjie Baartman landed in London in 1810, she was billed as the Hottentot Venus, a label that would haunt her even after death. Her unusual features were a curiosity to Georgian England, and spectators were especially interested in her voluptuous backside. The cartoons of the day ridiculed her features and belittled her talents. Still she persevered. A side show without actual chains, however, Saartjie was enslaved by her manager who exploited her for live public shows and private parties as if she were a specimen in a jar. When she died her brain and some other parts were preserved in jars and kept until the 1990''s, if you can believe. Then in 2002, her remains were returned to her homeland and buried there with the dignity that she never received in life.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top