>Mata Hari- WWI Spy?

>My husband and I have been really enjoying watching episodes of Young Indiana Jones on Netflix.  They started out with a childrens learning show tone but our latest episode was definately not kid-friendly.  As a young man in his early twenties we find young Indy in the Belgian army (it’s a long story) where he meets and is seduced by Mata Hari while in Paris. The episode is called- The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones- Demons of Deception (here on IMDB).
What I like about these shows is that they are brilliantly well done and most of the costumes are pretty accurate (though Mata Hari wears more 90s-meets-1910s costumes) and they include documentaries on the extras about the famous people they tie into the plots of all the shows.

Mata Hari is such an icon- we’re all familiar with her photo if we know it or not. Most famously I remember seeing images of the Dance of the Seven Veils. Or we see her with elaborate headdresses and wearing round brassieres encrusted with jewels.  She always appears so sure of herself- and her gaze seems to pierce right through the camera, even though it’s been nearly 100 years since her death.
How could I have come to this age and not been aware of the sadness of her story?
Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Netherlands in 1876.  She was born to a wealthy hatmaker, but soon her childhood illusions were shattered when her father became bankrupt and shortly after her mother died.  Her father remarried and the family was torn apart- by some accounts he abandoned her, by some accounts she left to live with her godfather.
She was married in 1895 to a Dutch Colonial Army officer and they moved to Indonesia.  It was a very unhappy marriage.  She had two children, one of whom died, and her husband was an alcoholic.  She found escape in studying the culture and dance of Indonesia.  Their marriage ended in divorce and he was granted custody of their daughter.  Mata Hari (she had adopted the artistic name while still in Indonesia) moved to Paris to reinvent herself and struggled as a circus horse rider, artists model, and eventually as an exotic dancer.  She was very good at publicity and would have photographs taken of herself and send them to the press to publish.  She was noticed by the rich and by high up military officials, and ended up being a courtesan as well as famous exotic dancer.  Pre-war Paris seemed to love her- the over the top dazzling lifestyle she led, the exoticism of the glimmer of far away places and the erotic movements of her dance.  She danced many times until she was only wearing a brassiere (she was self-concious because she was small breasted) and her jewels, though some think she did wear a full body stocking.  But war was looming and soon Mata Hari’s exotic and luxurious world was to be shattered.
The rest of her story seems quite a muddled mess.  She was very good at creating and maintaining a mystique- often claiming she was born and raised in many different places and creating stories about herself that varied depending on her audience.  She once claimed to be a French spy, but it is still uncertain if she did this because she thought it would cement her as a Femme Fatale and do good for publicity or if she was actually a spy.  She had many international admirers and lovers, including high ups in the military of different countries.  She was eventually accused of being a double agent and arrested for treason and the murder of 50,000 French soldiers and found guilty of the charges.  She was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917.
There is a lot of doubt as to whether she was actually guilty of the charges.  The head of French Espianoge, George Ladoux, was himself accused of being a double agent and many think he used Mata Hari as a scapegoat and to take pressure off of himself.  The files containing the information about the trial were not to be opened for 100 years (2017), but a newspaperman bribed his way into having the seal opened early and he found her to have been innocent- just as she had claimed.  Perhaps in another six years we might know more about the end of the story of Mata Hari.
There is a lot of mystique surrounding her death and her remains.  Some claim she flung off her coat at her execution and was completely nude underneath and the executioners were so amazed by the beauty of her naked body that she was able to escape.  Her actual remains were put into a French museum- her head was preserved and her body was also given to the museum since no family members claimed the body but both have seemed to have gone missing.  The head could not be accounted for as early as 1954 and was most likely stolen.
A fascinating story with such an mysterious ending.  What do you think?  Was she a spy?  Was she guilty?  Or was she just the unfortunate victim of wartime paranoia?

For more detail about the life and death of Mata Hari here are some interesting links:
Mata Hari- photo slideshow on Life Magazine
Mata Hari on Wikipedia
Mata Hari’s Lost Head
Mata Hari on TruTv
The Execution of Mata Hari
Mata Hari Photo Gallery
Scandalous Women Blog- The Truth about Mata Hari Part I and Part II

9 Comments on >Mata Hari- WWI Spy?

  1. Brittany_Va-Voom Vintage
    January 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm (6 years ago)

    >I remember being in 3rd grade at the school library, coming across a picture and short blurb about her in a book and being totally fascinated by her ever since! I love the legend that she blew a kiss to her executioners! We'll never know to the truth behind Mata Hari but something tells me that she probably told too many myesterious tall tales about herself and that's what got her in trouble. I love that last picture you posted of her- what a beauty!

  2. Wearing History
    January 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm (6 years ago)

    >Oops! I just found out that wasn't actually her (though it did look a LOT like her), so I removed it. Darn! Shows how much I know… lol.Very cool story- I agree with you- her tall tales did eventually get her in trouble. There's something so mysterious about her whole story- it's really amazing that she's still such a well known person even today. If you mention Isadora Duncan most folks probably wouldn't know who she was, but if you mention Mata Hari it's a different story!

  3. Brittany_Va-Voom Vintage
    January 6, 2011 at 7:20 pm (6 years ago)

    >*lol* Well, whoever that gal was, she's gorgeous! :)

  4. Erin
    January 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm (6 years ago)

    >Fascinating! I never knew anything about her.

  5. weenie_elise
    January 6, 2011 at 10:37 pm (6 years ago)

    >it's all very fascinating and tragic.

  6. Java Bean Rush
    January 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm (6 years ago)

    >What an intriguing post. Thanks.– Java

  7. Sew Country Chick
    January 8, 2011 at 7:55 am (6 years ago)

    >That is so interesting. I've heard the name forever but never quite knew who she was. I wonder if Josephine Baker was influenced by her?

  8. Jen O
    January 10, 2011 at 2:21 am (6 years ago)

    >cool post about one of the century's more exotic characters–and what a Halloween costume that would be!(p.s. I posted a little mention of your blog this week)

  9. casey
    January 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm (6 years ago)

    >How fascinating! Thanks for posting this, Lauren. I don't know much about Mata Hari, aside from passing mentions in books on WWI and the early 20th century, so it's neat to know a little more about her. Maybe one day I'll dig up a good book to read–those sorts of historical figures always fascinate me!♥ Casey | blog

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