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Femme Fatale: A New Biography of Mata Hari

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In 1917, the notorious Oriental dancer Mata Hari was arrested on the charge of espionage; less than one year later, she was tried and executed, charged with the deaths of at least 50,000 gallant French soldiers. The mistress of many senior Allied officers and government officials, even the French minister of war, she had a sharp intellect and a golden tongue fluent in seve In 1917, the notorious Oriental dancer Mata Hari was arrested on the charge of espionage; less than one year later, she was tried and executed, charged with the deaths of at least 50,000 gallant French soldiers. The mistress of many senior Allied officers and government officials, even the French minister of war, she had a sharp intellect and a golden tongue fluent in several languages; she also traveled widely throughout war-torn Europe, with seeming disregard for the political and strategic alliances and borders. But was she actually a spy? In this persuasive new biography, Pat Shipman explores the life and times of the mythic and deeply misunderstood dark-eyed siren to find the truth.


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In 1917, the notorious Oriental dancer Mata Hari was arrested on the charge of espionage; less than one year later, she was tried and executed, charged with the deaths of at least 50,000 gallant French soldiers. The mistress of many senior Allied officers and government officials, even the French minister of war, she had a sharp intellect and a golden tongue fluent in seve In 1917, the notorious Oriental dancer Mata Hari was arrested on the charge of espionage; less than one year later, she was tried and executed, charged with the deaths of at least 50,000 gallant French soldiers. The mistress of many senior Allied officers and government officials, even the French minister of war, she had a sharp intellect and a golden tongue fluent in several languages; she also traveled widely throughout war-torn Europe, with seeming disregard for the political and strategic alliances and borders. But was she actually a spy? In this persuasive new biography, Pat Shipman explores the life and times of the mythic and deeply misunderstood dark-eyed siren to find the truth.

30 review for Femme Fatale: A New Biography of Mata Hari

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-Eggs Sunny Side Up

    How is a spy like a supermarket? When I first went to Bali, I saw billboard signs for Mata Hari and I thought wow, is there some sort of film about her life they are advertising? Then I discovered that the word for sun is matahari. Okay, but why the billboards I thought? The very prosaic answer was just round the corner: it's the name of the largest department store in Kuta. I don't really want to review the book, which was excellent, four and a half stars. It was about an extremely interesting, b How is a spy like a supermarket? When I first went to Bali, I saw billboard signs for Mata Hari and I thought wow, is there some sort of film about her life they are advertising? Then I discovered that the word for sun is matahari. Okay, but why the billboards I thought? The very prosaic answer was just round the corner: it's the name of the largest department store in Kuta. I don't really want to review the book, which was excellent, four and a half stars. It was about an extremely interesting, beautiful and intelligent woman who switched between extreme morality and amorality as and when it suited her. After a fascinating, adventure-filled life lived larger than most people's imaginations, she got executed. Ok, what I really want to write about is supermarkets. I feel that a country reveals itself through its supermarkets. What you see there is how people live, their most pressing preoccupations that can be fulfilled in a retail environment will be present, their appetites, drinking habits and economic status, all are on shown in the bright lighting of a supermarket. When I went to Bali for the first time my first stop was at the Bintang, Kuta's biggest and most modern supermarket. It caters for the reasonably well-off (think: Waitrose) and expats. The differences between it and Western ones was striking. The perishables all had their own closed-off plexiglass section which was lightly chilled to keep them in peak perfection. There were endless varieties of neon-coloured sweeties, some of them of candy-coated insects, all our candies are belong to Haribo. The merchandise section had the usual range of kitchen goods but instead of being able to buy a - say - dish drainer - in pink, you could buy it in about six shades of pink, and so it went. The sweetest section was the underclothes. There were panti-girdles with padded hips and bottoms for size 32" hips. Imagine being that slim and tiny and wanting to be bigger! I'm a size 6-8, and I need a large in Bali. The most extraordinary thing of all though was the lack of names. My driver (view spoiler)[driving here is like playing roulette in a casino, the house, the road, has the edge. Everyone owns a motorbike and it is driven on pavements, on roads four abreast, sometimes with girls sidesaddle in tight sarongs, and sometimes four up, kid standing in front, Dad, little girl and Mum in the rear holding up an umbrella (hide spoiler)] had told me that were only 4 names for 95% of Balinese Hindus - and if I called out Made (Mah-day) I would see. Made is the name given to the second child, boy or girl, and also to the sixth and, in a big family, the tenth! So I called out Made and an awful uncountable lot of people turned round. Luckily most people have nicknames, but it does seem that very large numbers of cafes are called Made's Warung. Is this the prescribed occupation for a second child? Then we went to a local supermarket. More surprises. There were no atmosphere-controlled rooms for the fruit and veg, there was no segregation and triple-wrapping of the stinky durian (view spoiler)[they just smelled of rotten onions, feet, cheese and something luscious like mangos. Luckily they taste delicous, if with a slight taste of rotten onions (hide spoiler)] . What they did have was bright green bread. Pistachio-coloured. What indicates gone-off to us doesn't to them, they like their bread dyed a brighter shade of grass. There were cigarettes in soft packs bearing almost-US labels and a vast array of lighters, like the kitchenware they like them in every shade. The beer, in six packs, was in wine-size bottles. There was a large selection of extremely cheap spirits with very dubious-looking labels that purported to come from France or the US (just like the perfumes). Indonesia is a Muslim country, but Bali is almost entirely Hindu and is the breadbasket of the country bringing in major amounts of foreign currency. I went to the Mata Hari department store. An amazing treasure trove of a place, whose supermarket was much like Bintang but smaller and even more upscale. It had sections of pick-your-own for nuts mixed with exotic-looking dried fruits and other comestibles I didn't recognise but were cheap and sweet and Good for Me. I love Bali, I used to do business there and go two or three times a year. If I could think up a business now that would entail trips that would end up being profitable I'd do it again. Meanwhile, this is a book review. The book is a good one, great for a gift to someone who likes unusual biographies and for me to remind me of my supermarket obsession. Read 24 Jan, 2012.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manda

    This book provides a fascinating vindication of Mata Hari, one of the most famous alleged double agents in history. The distance of 90 years since her execution and a modern post-sexual revolution perspective allow the conclusion to be drawn that she was convicted before her trial even began for her sexual reputation rather than any real evidence of espionage. Mata Hari was a study in contrast, a self-made woman who still relied on men for her financial upkeep, yet the way she unapologetically t This book provides a fascinating vindication of Mata Hari, one of the most famous alleged double agents in history. The distance of 90 years since her execution and a modern post-sexual revolution perspective allow the conclusion to be drawn that she was convicted before her trial even began for her sexual reputation rather than any real evidence of espionage. Mata Hari was a study in contrast, a self-made woman who still relied on men for her financial upkeep, yet the way she unapologetically took what she wanted from life made her a woman two or three generations before her time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ayala Levinger

    very thorough. I would have liked if it included more details about her daughter.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carl Rollyson

    Mata Hari, the femme fatale convicted of espionage and executed by the French during World War I, is hardly a virgin subject for biography. She is a perennial of children's books devoted to famous spies and secret agents and no less of a draw in biographies for adults. Greta Garbo played her on the big screen as the subversive siren redeemed by love. Mata Hari's recent biographers doubt the evidence against her. French intelligence, it seems, fabricated a case, determined to find a scapegoat in Mata Hari, the femme fatale convicted of espionage and executed by the French during World War I, is hardly a virgin subject for biography. She is a perennial of children's books devoted to famous spies and secret agents and no less of a draw in biographies for adults. Greta Garbo played her on the big screen as the subversive siren redeemed by love. Mata Hari's recent biographers doubt the evidence against her. French intelligence, it seems, fabricated a case, determined to find a scapegoat in an exotic courtesan who happened to be in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. She began as the "little Dutch girl," Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, to borrow a phrase from Toni Bentley's entertaining and authoritative "Sisters of Salome" (2002). Adam Zelle treated his daughter like something special. She adored her wayward n'er-do-well dad with the gift of gab, and she grew up looking for a handsome man in a uniform to marry. Rudolf MacLeod, 20 years her senior, and a veteran of 20 years of slogging it out in vicious wars in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), obliged her. But MacLeod turned out to be a tyrant and Gretha, as she was known then, could not suppress her flirtatious nature. They parted in acrimony after several years together in the tropics. Although Gretha had an almost matronly figure, she moved well and seems to have made a keen study of native dancers. Her complexion was swarthy, and in costume resembled one of those goddesses hanging off of Indian temples. Her adopted name, taken from a Malay phrase, means something like "sunrise." With the dim lighting and a pair of small, cymbal-like cups covering her mammaries, she was able to enchant European audiences for the better part of a decade, claiming to offer dances that had their origins in the sacred rites of the East. She combined, as Pat Shipman notes in "Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari" the sacred and profane. Her titillations could be enjoyed as — shall we say — a cultural experience. World War I changed everything. France was losing the war. Who was to blame? Rather than accepting responsibility for the catastrophe, the French government, especially its intelligence branch, claimed that spies informing Germans of French military plans had undone the nation. And Mata Hari — a so-called "international woman" — came under suspicion. Why did she travel so much to Germany, England, and France, always consorting with military men? The answer is simple, Ms. Shipman replies: Mata Hari was a sucker for a uniform, relied upon men to give her money to support her extravagance, and took no notice of what others made of her itinerary. Determined to convict, French intelligence agents got Mata Hari to admit she had taken money from a German officer, and after they in turn offered her money to spy on the Germans, they accused her of being a double agent. Sentenced to death by firing squad after a trial in which her former lovers reported she had never even talked about the war, she went to her death with dignity, all the while proclaiming her innocence. So what is unknown in the story? According to Ms. Shipman, Mata Hari may have had syphilis — which would account for her erratic behavior and her husband's equally bizarre actions. He had probably infected her. Ms. Shipman devotes many pages to making such a case, but then, really, so what? How has the story changed? Yet Ms. Shipman persists with tag lines such as, "No previous biographer has noticed." One especially dubious move is Ms. Shipman's reliance on Adam Zelle's book about his daughter, a tendentious narrative that Mata Hari herself ridiculed. Ms. Shipman acknowledges that Zelle's work is self-serving, but then she quotes Mata Hari's letters, which are available only in Zelle's narrative. Who is to say that Zelle did not alter or even invent some of this correspondence? Other biographers, such as Erika Ostrovsky in "Eye of Dawn: The Rise and Fall of Mata Hari" (1978) find Zelle so compromised that they hardly mention his book. As Toni Bentley points out, the significant event in Mata Hari's life occurred in 1985 when the sealed dossier of evidence against her was opened for biographer Russell Warren Howe. This disclosure established that the case against her amounted to very little indeed. Although Ms. Shipman belittles previous researchers it is hard to see how her book could exist without them. Certainly she has discovered a few nuggets and provided some riveting passages on what it was like for that poor little Dutch girl in the East Indies, but only devotees of femme fatales need trouble themselves over her biographer's lucubrations on the intricacies of her possible disease.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kristy

    I found this book very interesting. I didn't really know much about Mata Hari except that she was a dancer and somehow notorious. The story of her life is extremely interesting. I won't give a review of her life but she survived by using her intelligence as well as her beauty. Unfortunately, these things were also her downfall. Those who thought her immortal decided that this was enough to charge her as a spy. In the whirlwind of wartime she was convicted and sentenced to death with no evidence I found this book very interesting. I didn't really know much about Mata Hari except that she was a dancer and somehow notorious. The story of her life is extremely interesting. I won't give a review of her life but she survived by using her intelligence as well as her beauty. Unfortunately, these things were also her downfall. Those who thought her immortal decided that this was enough to charge her as a spy. In the whirlwind of wartime she was convicted and sentenced to death with no evidence supporting the charge. Even the prosecutor in her case admitted after her death that they had to evidence. It is amazing that, with all her lovers and the wealth they provider her, she was completely abandoned to her fate. Or maybe it's not so amazing. An intelligent and sexual woman was condemned for those very traits. (Though I do have to admit men were convicted in similar ways, slim evidence, wartime fervor = guilty). I would recommend this book as a great biography of a unique woman living her life as she wanted to.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    What begins as a fascinating biography of a woman everyone's heard of and no one actually knows eventually turns into a tedious list of the basics: names, places, dates. Pat Shipman works hard to prove Mata Hari was not a spy for the Germans during World War I in Femme Fatale--and thanks to her exhaustive research Shipman succeeds--but I wish the charm of the book (and Mata Hari herself) wasn't lost along the way.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    It's very sympathetic to Mata Hari and the author continuously mentions that "no other historian" or "no other biography" looked into some of her sources. I would have liked it more if the prose had been more neutral; Shipman is very persuasive with the case she builds against Mata Hari's ex-husband and the holes in the story of Mata Hari as a master spy, but her pointing it out to the reader breaks the fourth wall in an uncomfortable way. PopSugar Reading Challenge 2017 | Task 40: Book you bough It's very sympathetic to Mata Hari and the author continuously mentions that "no other historian" or "no other biography" looked into some of her sources. I would have liked it more if the prose had been more neutral; Shipman is very persuasive with the case she builds against Mata Hari's ex-husband and the holes in the story of Mata Hari as a master spy, but her pointing it out to the reader breaks the fourth wall in an uncomfortable way. PopSugar Reading Challenge 2017 | Task 40: Book you bought in a trip (to WWI museum in Kansas City, MO)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Interesting and generally well written life story of Mata hari. I spent a lot of the book trying to work out if she was indeed a clever woman or a very foolish one. Still not completely sure. I liked the writing style apart from the several times when the author stated 'she was the only biographer' to spot/investigate/discover various aspects of Mata Hari's life. The book stands on its own without this sort of author puff.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Isabel

    There was something lacking in this btiography. It felt like too many research students had been on hand and the narrative lost its sparkle. Talk about labouring the point about Mata Hari having an incurable sexual disease. A bit disappointing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    My first reaction was must publish my thesis or go bust then I checked out the author - professor of anthropology. My first reaction was must publish my thesis or go bust then I checked out the author - professor of anthropology.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Not bad, not great. I certainly know more about Mata Hari than I did before reading it. I give the author a great deal of credit for tracking down as much information as she did. My complaints are that the years between her divorce and 1915 are pretty much glossed over, and that I never felt that I knew her at all. I also found that I was slightly disturbed by this book, because I realized that over 100 years later women are still shamed, scorned, etc. for the same reasons that Mata Hari was.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anna Alexander

    Born Margaretha Gertruida Zell, Mata Hari was the Paris Hilton of her day. The daughter of Dutch parents, her father showered her with gifts and fancy clothes and it was clear she was the favorite of the family. When her father went bankrupt, Mata Hari was sent to live with relatives who sent her to a boarding school. Here she learned sex equals power and sex with powerful men equals power AND status. Mata Hari was in love with being in love which showed when she married a much older Colonel in th Born Margaretha Gertruida Zell, Mata Hari was the Paris Hilton of her day. The daughter of Dutch parents, her father showered her with gifts and fancy clothes and it was clear she was the favorite of the family. When her father went bankrupt, Mata Hari was sent to live with relatives who sent her to a boarding school. Here she learned sex equals power and sex with powerful men equals power AND status. Mata Hari was in love with being in love which showed when she married a much older Colonel in the Dutch Army. The marriage offered her money and a position in society and it also offered her syphilis which she acquired from her husband. The couple had two children and the marriage went to shit when her first child, a son, died. It was believed the boy died from the mercury treatment he was getting for syphilis. Both parents fell into a deep depression and the Colonel got violent. Mata Hari left her daughter behind and fled to Paris where she reinvented herself as a mixed-race princess trained in sacred and sexual temple dances of the east. She was the belle of the ball in Europe and danced before large crowds and small garden parties. The cash flowed but Mata Hari spent lavishly on clothes, hats and a lifestyle to which she was accustomed. She left behind great debts and her creditors constantly hounded her. When things were lean she would insist on spending anyway and couldn’t figure out why her creditors took her furniture. Like all good things, they must come to an end. World War I broke out and Mata Hari’s gig as a dancer dried up. So she did what she did best and “entertained” officers and high-powered men in her hotel room in Paris. She fell in love with a Russian spy who was injured in a battle and she agreed to spy for him. Now this is where things get dicey. Pat Shipman points out that Mata Hari probably passed on a secret or two or made a phone call but she was not “responsible for the death of 50,000 soldiers” as she was charged. Plus, she argues, it would be difficult for an easily recognizable person to be a spy. She was simply made a scapegoat for flaunting her lifestyle and sexuality. The evidence against her was weak and the government was suspicious of someone who traveled during war time, had several high-powered lovers, and spoke several languages. She was found guilty anyway. When she was executed, Mata Hari walked with her head held high and refused a blindfold. Overall, I found this book to be very satisfying. I did not know anything about Mata Hari going into the book and I enjoyed learning about the infamous Femme Fetale. Shipman’s writing style is very approachable and her research was thorough. The only problem I had was that I did not like Mata Hari. I admired her for doing what she had to do get by but I still didn’t like her. She reminded me of Paris Hilton and seemed only to care about her lavish lifestyle and nothing else. Despite her self-absorption, she did not hurt anyone and did not deserve to be thrown to the wolves.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    Not my favorite. The historian was obviously very fond of Mata Hari and took all opportunities to go on about how beautiful, charismatic or loved/admired every male was by her. She came off more oblivious and men/money hungry than anything else and the world's biggest scapegoat. I think I was put off at the beginning by a bit of a comment about McLeod's family refusing to let the lock of hair from Mata Hari's son(who passed at a very young age) be tested to prove the Author's theory of syphilis. Not my favorite. The historian was obviously very fond of Mata Hari and took all opportunities to go on about how beautiful, charismatic or loved/admired every male was by her. She came off more oblivious and men/money hungry than anything else and the world's biggest scapegoat. I think I was put off at the beginning by a bit of a comment about McLeod's family refusing to let the lock of hair from Mata Hari's son(who passed at a very young age) be tested to prove the Author's theory of syphilis. It just seemed unsympathetic and like the family just didn't get it's importance to history (her book's history more so I think) so they were being selfish. Meh. I struggled on by definitely not my favorite biography.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gaynel

    ((Sigh!!)) I was happier when I thought Mata Hari was a double agent. Now I know her for what she truly was - a self-involved, vain, greedy dummy who couldn't see the obvious if it kicked her in the teeth. I also know that this author will belabor one detail with tons of words like maybe, perhaps, probablys, possiblys, in order to convince the reader that the subject had something (like congenital syphillis - the author was fixated on it) even if she doesn't have any actual proof. The author was ((Sigh!!)) I was happier when I thought Mata Hari was a double agent. Now I know her for what she truly was - a self-involved, vain, greedy dummy who couldn't see the obvious if it kicked her in the teeth. I also know that this author will belabor one detail with tons of words like maybe, perhaps, probablys, possiblys, in order to convince the reader that the subject had something (like congenital syphillis - the author was fixated on it) even if she doesn't have any actual proof. The author was way to enamoured of her subject losing objectivity - She said Colette was catty when the woman was less than impressed with MH's dancing. I wish I'd read one of the other bio's.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rozonda

    Very serious and well-researched bio of a fascinating character, it throws a lot of light on her conviction as a spy and on the real motives behind it. A sad but illuminating story, entertaining and well-written.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    The subject is quite interesting since this is the first book on MH I have read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    I have joined one of those book of the month challenges, in part because for January the book had to be an autobiography and I had already picked this one. Whether or not I can manage the next 11 choices remains to be seen. If Shipman had maintained the momentum of the first 30% or so of this book, it would have been a solid four stars. As it is, it's a shaky 3 because it bogged down badly in the second half. The author is less than impartial, in spite of being a member of academia. Yes, I know t I have joined one of those book of the month challenges, in part because for January the book had to be an autobiography and I had already picked this one. Whether or not I can manage the next 11 choices remains to be seen. If Shipman had maintained the momentum of the first 30% or so of this book, it would have been a solid four stars. As it is, it's a shaky 3 because it bogged down badly in the second half. The author is less than impartial, in spite of being a member of academia. Yes, I know that's a ridiculous statement, but there it is. Her strident defense of Mata Hari at every turn gets louder and louder as the book progresses; according to Shipman, she was being punished by the establishment not for espionage, but for openly being a courtesan (ie high-priced prostitute)--but at least she avoided using the buzzword "patriarchy". There were then and have always been courtesans, and Paris did not lack them at the beginning of the century, so IMO that falls rather flat. Repeatedly. She goes on and on about Mata Hari's exotic beauty; well, in all the images I've ever seen she is rather coarse featured and common looking, but aesthetics change over time, and perhaps she was more attractive in person and when speaking and dancing. The images left me more than cold, but then of course that's an opinion, just as Shipman's was. She claims to have some kind of special insight that other authors didn't have, and yet her quotes are poorly translated. She repeatedly mentions the syphilis that was the legacy of Mata Hari's disastrous early marriage to MacLeod, and yet never stops to think that this disease, ineffectively treated, was probably at least partly responsible for the breakdown at the end of her life, as it is well known that in the long term it affects the brain causing erratic behaviour, mood swings etc. By that time Mata Hari had been infected for a couple of decades, and the mercury-based treatments available probably weren't doing her any favours, either. Shipman speaks of the syphilis being "in remission" as if it were some form of cancer simply because there were no skin lesions evident, instead of acknowledging (if indeed she knows it) that it can lie apparently dormant in the body for decades, working away under the surface. The text is sadly repetitive in the second half; it needed a good editor to cut out the deadwood that abounds and force Shipman to do something about all that "may have, might have, could have" conjecturing. I bet she wouldn't put up with it in papers written by her students! I certainly don't in papers by mine. As I always tell them, "If you can't back it up, don't write it down."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    In Femme Fatale.. , Pat Shipman does a lot of research to discover whether Margaretha Zelle (Mata Hari) was truly a spy or just a woman who lived an unconventional life. Her early life in Holland was happy, she had a father who doted on her. This was upset by her parents' divorce and subsequently, her mother's death. Margaretha was forced to live with unwilling relatives. She made an unwise marriage looking for an escape, only to find another cage. Her marriage to Lt. MacLeod led to a few years In Femme Fatale.. , Pat Shipman does a lot of research to discover whether Margaretha Zelle (Mata Hari) was truly a spy or just a woman who lived an unconventional life. Her early life in Holland was happy, she had a father who doted on her. This was upset by her parents' divorce and subsequently, her mother's death. Margaretha was forced to live with unwilling relatives. She made an unwise marriage looking for an escape, only to find another cage. Her marriage to Lt. MacLeod led to a few years in Dutch West Indies- which gave birth in some way to her alter ego, Mata Hari. Her marriage was unhappy. The unhappiness grew to misery after death of their child, a little boy named Norman. Shipman speculates as to whether Norman was the victim of congenital syphillis as well as both parents being afflicted. Their young daughter, Non, survives but MacLeod is increasingly mistrustful of his wife. Their relationship becomes more volatile until "Gretha" contacts her father for help in procuring a divorce. MacLeod frees her with the stipulation that she will never see her daughter again. She heads for Paris and reinvents herself as Mata Hari. A patron showcases her dancing, bordering on striptease, and suddenly she is the toast of the town. Engagements in opera houses and theatres ensue, but these paying jobs can't keep her out of debt. She becomes the mistress of many of Europe's elite- a financial arrangement for the pleasure of her company. This extravagant and loose lifestyle is what ultimately gets her into trouble. When WWI breaks out, she is in Berlin, engaged by the opera for several weeks. Mata Hari breaks her contract and her trunks of clothes, costumes, furs, and jewels are seized. When she goes to a German official to see if she can recoup her belongings and obtain a visa for Paris, she sets a series of events into motion that lead to her conviction and execution for espionage. Fascinating subject matter- not sure why there hasn't been a more recent film biography of this larger than life character.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Sherman

    I was interested in this because Mata Hari is one of those prominent figures I know of, but not much about, other than that she was probably innocent. Shipman's book makes that "definitely." When WW I broke out, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod was a divorce, a celebrated dancer (claiming Mystic Rituals of the East to turn her semi-nude performances into something educational and spiritual) and a woman with a whole string of lovers, many of them officers (she liked men and their money, they liked her and I was interested in this because Mata Hari is one of those prominent figures I know of, but not much about, other than that she was probably innocent. Shipman's book makes that "definitely." When WW I broke out, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod was a divorce, a celebrated dancer (claiming Mystic Rituals of the East to turn her semi-nude performances into something educational and spiritual) and a woman with a whole string of lovers, many of them officers (she liked men and their money, they liked her and paid her bills). When she was identified, by chance, as a possible spy (she'd traveled all over Europe), suspicion of her lifestyle and the desire by the authorities to catch a big important spy outweighed trivial things like the utter lack of evidence (there was some, but Shipman makes a good case it was forged). And so the myth of Mata Hari, whose betrayals cost the lives of 50,000 allies, was born ...

  20. 4 out of 5

    dejah_thoris

    Feminists and lovers of women's history should read this book because Mata Hari was truly a victim of her times. It all began as a result of her "dark complexion" which, despite being 100% Dutch, generated rumors throughout the Indonesian colonies that she was "half-caste". All she really yearned for was adventure and officers, so she created a persona to free herself from the inadequacies of marriage. Unfortunately, her regal bearing and lack of modesty, even going so far as to refer to herself Feminists and lovers of women's history should read this book because Mata Hari was truly a victim of her times. It all began as a result of her "dark complexion" which, despite being 100% Dutch, generated rumors throughout the Indonesian colonies that she was "half-caste". All she really yearned for was adventure and officers, so she created a persona to free herself from the inadequacies of marriage. Unfortunately, her regal bearing and lack of modesty, even going so far as to refer to herself as an "international woman" (i.e. promiscuous), found her on the wrong side of the French military, which decided she was a spy and prosecuted her as such. Shipman does a wonderful job recounting the real facts of Mata Hari's life, so if you like page-turners about wild women embracing their sexuality despite society's restrictions, I highly recommend Femme Fatale.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Elizabeth

    Femme Fatale was a good biography, especially for someone who doesn't know a lot about Mata Hari, her origins and the story itself. I can say that before I read this, the name was used as a reference to a seductress, but really I had no clue about who this person ever was. So from that perspective I found the book really interesting and it certainly helped me shape a picture of who Mata Hari is. It appears that the consideration of her NOT being a spy is perhaps a unique angle, and the imprisonm Femme Fatale was a good biography, especially for someone who doesn't know a lot about Mata Hari, her origins and the story itself. I can say that before I read this, the name was used as a reference to a seductress, but really I had no clue about who this person ever was. So from that perspective I found the book really interesting and it certainly helped me shape a picture of who Mata Hari is. It appears that the consideration of her NOT being a spy is perhaps a unique angle, and the imprisonment and subsequent trial are documented sensitively and persuasively. An easy book to follow, plenty of images to put faces to names, and an interesting snapshot of a woman who is infamous so many years later.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Interesting read if you're not very familiar with the story of Mata Hari, like I was. The book describes Mata Hari with a lot of sympathy as a strong and resourceful woman making her fortune in a completely male-dominated world. The inevitability of her downfall is a heartbreaking story. The book is on the whole well written, making good use of contemporary letters and other documents. However, the writer has two theories to prove that probably would have been in better hands with a professional Interesting read if you're not very familiar with the story of Mata Hari, like I was. The book describes Mata Hari with a lot of sympathy as a strong and resourceful woman making her fortune in a completely male-dominated world. The inevitability of her downfall is a heartbreaking story. The book is on the whole well written, making good use of contemporary letters and other documents. However, the writer has two theories to prove that probably would have been in better hands with a professional historian, since she interprets all available evidence to argue the cases of Mata Hari's husband's syphillis, and of her innocence as a spy. There seems to be sufficient reason to doubt both hypotheses. However, the book does a very good job at describing her early years before she came to Paris. Surprisingly, her subsequent rise to fame is only given cursory treatment with the remainder of the book more like a detective story about spying in the First World War.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sifati Farhana

    The book was wrote by a journalist after the execution of dancer mata hari aka Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She was declared as a German spy during WWI and executed as a show off. I found mata hari as an insecure mother who is very lack of maturity. If only she had taken decisions that hurry her could be different. Very recently around after 100 years of her death french govt published all the files related to Mata Hari and declared herself not guilty. In real she was sacrificed for the country.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pallavi Deshpande

    The first time I read about Mata Hari was through Paulo Coelho's book 'The Spy' and I was intrigued about her personality and the mystery surrounding around her execution. I wanted to know about her and this book did the job. The memoir of Mata Hari is based against the back drop of World War but the moral of the story is applicable even today. Excessive materialism and lust one way or the other tends to end badly.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Babe of Darkness

    I have been seduced by Mata Hari and I love it! But how is it that every book I have read about her including this book is so boring?! Don’t get me wrong this read had interesting facts but unholy hell it was difficult to stay focused on the story when it was just so blah. Im my opinion this book seems more accurate then the other books I read about this seductress.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Iglesias

    Mata Hari: Spy or Set Up? A bit difficult to follow at times, and boring at others, Femme Fatale did provide a bit of colorful insight into the notorious Mata Hari. An independent women who was in the business of selling herself, she ultimately pays the price for playing by her own rules.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    Thoroughly researched, well written, it's a good hard look at Mata Hari's life. Shipman underpins the story with plenty of historical context, which really helped me see the big picture of the woman versus the strict social conventions of the time in which she lived.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lise Pomerleau

    Really interesting. I didn't know anything about this woman except her name. A tragic story. I did find myself skimming a lot through extraneous details. Well researched and well written.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Basto

    I enjoyed reading and learning about the fascinating life of "Mata Hari", famed dancer, beauty and convicted spy. Her life begins in Holland as Margaretha Zelle. She gets abandoned by her father at an early age yet her father tries to aid her in her many plights throughout her life. In fact, the author uses much of her father's biography on his daughter's life to help the story along. One of the issues I had throughout this book is how often the narrative is interrupted with pages of information I enjoyed reading and learning about the fascinating life of "Mata Hari", famed dancer, beauty and convicted spy. Her life begins in Holland as Margaretha Zelle. She gets abandoned by her father at an early age yet her father tries to aid her in her many plights throughout her life. In fact, the author uses much of her father's biography on his daughter's life to help the story along. One of the issues I had throughout this book is how often the narrative is interrupted with pages of information about sexual diseases and what life was like in the Dutch East Indies. At first it's interesting but pages upon pages of what life was like with Rudolph, her first husband starts to feel extraneous. I always enjoy reading backstory but often it proceeds for many pages. When the subject returns back to Mata Hari, her dancing and all the military men she was involved with the narrative becomes interesting again. The fact that she took advantage of her "gifts" and received gifts from military men all over the world in order to keep her fashionable lifestyle told a great deal of her priorities and what she really wanted in life. To have the best of everything and to be taken care of by a score of men! Everything changed after the inception of the First World War. No longer could she travel where she pleased and once she took money from a German ambassador for spying(and there's little evidence she really was a spy) she was under a cloud of suspicion by the French. In fact, she was asked to spy for France and she tried. However, as the war was winding down, the French needed a scapegoat to prove to the Germans that they were making a point. They needed a boost for their cause. Mata Hari was a sacrifice on the altar of war. She loved military men but in the end, all the men she loved abandoned her. Placed in jail and ultimately executed by firing squad, she was a woman who wanted to live her life on her terms. With her beauty, charm and grace, she was able to do this for many years. She was an anomaly at the time, single, free loving, brazen and coy! But in the end she was stoic and brave and faced her executioners with class and style. The other issue I had with this book was there was quite a bit of repetition in the writing. Why have to repeat the belief that Mata Hari was not a real spy over and over? The author would make a valid point but it would then be reiterated on the pages that followed! The other distracting issues was the use of letters throughout the book. It was just too much. I'd get involved in the narrative only to have to read prosaic letters and journals. Some of the minute details were just boring. The subject matter was the most interesting feature of the book. I think this book could have been edited to a much shorter narrative. The author could have stuck to the narrative, shortened the backstory and weaved in some of the letters, rather than feature them on most every page. The book could have flowed a bit more smoothly if the author had just stuck to the main story!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Mortensen

    Margaretha Zelle was born on August 7, 1876 to Dutch parents. As a teenager she found herself alone and in poverty. To climb her way out she sought marriage to Dutch military officer, who took her to the Dutch West Indies and her years in the orient had a profound impact upon her. This would be the first of many military men in her life. Several years later when the marriage collapsed Margaretha was alone again in search of money. Up to this point she had lived life on the edge and it is possibl Margaretha Zelle was born on August 7, 1876 to Dutch parents. As a teenager she found herself alone and in poverty. To climb her way out she sought marriage to Dutch military officer, who took her to the Dutch West Indies and her years in the orient had a profound impact upon her. This would be the first of many military men in her life. Several years later when the marriage collapsed Margaretha was alone again in search of money. Up to this point she had lived life on the edge and it is possible she might have acquired syphilis along with her husband and two children. Her next chapter in life found her in Paris, France as a seductive exotic oriental dancer under the stage name Mata Hari, which soon became known throughout Europe and beyond. Wearing sheer silken costumes adorned with accessories such as fancy boas, she wooed audiences packed into lavish theaters with a backstage orchestra. As her artistic dance performance evolved, gravity slowly took hold of her clothing, gracing the stage floor in a final crescendo. Mata Hari was very comfortable with her lifestyle taking her show across Europe. The vast sums of money she acquired were soon depleted by travel expenses, including upscale hotels, dining out and trunks of new costumes. She was drawn to military men and became a lover to some and a mistress to many, which brought in additional revenue. When World War I erupted in 1914 European citizens on both sides of the war adjusted their mindset. However Mata Hari at age 37 remained rather oblivious to the turbulent surroundings as she continued with her normal pattern zigzagging from Germany to France and other European countries. Her money transactions caught the eye of the French government and she was placed under surveillance. Mata Hari provided services to many clients, but was spying a new part of her venue? Was she French agent H21, German agent AF44 or a double agent? It’s possible, but the threads connecting her as an intelligence agent were as scant as her costumes. On February 13, 1917 Mata Hari was arrested by the French government and officially charged with being a spy and war criminal. Following a brief trial she was sentenced to death and killed by a firing squad.

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