Sunday, 4 March 2012

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

Eliza Gilbert spent the summer of 1842 at Almond House, Hornsey Road. 

She was in trouble. She'd already done a Lydia Bennet (married a flashy lieutenant when she was sixteen) and a Becky Sharp (run off with a better-connected lieutenant when she was nineteen) and she didn't have many options left. 

Her husband wanted to sue her for adultery, her reputation was shot and as well brought up young lady she didn't actually know how to do anything.

She should have caved, but she didn't. Instead, she reinvented herself as Lola Montez, the great Spanish dancer:

Joseph Karl Stieler 'Lola Montez' 1847
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

She didn't speak Spanish, she'd never even been to Spain, she couldn't dance, and she'd never been on stage. Somehow, though, she got herself onto a gala performance at His Majesty's Theatre to do her 'Spider Dance' where she pretended that a spider had climbed up her skirts. The audience and the papers loved it, but her husband's friends ratted her out and she had to leave town.

She spent the next two decades sweeping into places with a flurry of letters to the editor and sold out performances and sweeping out as people turned on her. 

Through it, she had affairs with Liszt and Petipa, appalled Wagner who called her a 'heartless, demonic being',  persuaded the King of Bavaria (who had a thing for her feet) to name her Countess Landsfeld and nearly lost him his throne.

When she grew too stiff for dancing she took to lecturing, and charged more that Dickens could for his readings. 

1955 Lola Montes movie poster, thanks to Wikipedia
The movie tanked.

She was heroic in a way, but for all the shine and drama of her life she was also horrid. She hit people who couldn't hit back, lied extravagantly and continually, campaigned against women's rights and for slavery. She might not be the worst person to have lived on the Hornsey Road, but she'd take some beating.

This post's title is from an Adler and Ross song for Damn Yankees, whose lyrics capture her willful awfulness better than I can: 'I always get what I aim for/ And your heart and soul are what I came for/ Whatever Lola wants/Lola gets [...] I'm irresistible you fool/Give in.'

For much more, and a more sympathetic take, see Bruce Seymour's 'Lola Montez', Yale University Press, 1996. Oh, and Madonna used 'Lola Montez' as a pseudonym.


  1. I happen to be a Lola Montez expert. In Edinburgh a few years ago I saw a Trestle Theatre production of Lola (of which this is sadly a fairly accurate review, but the dancing was good).

    Also, she figures fairly heavily in Royal Flash, which you should clearly read as soon as possible. How can you resist a novel which is not only a gigantic parody of the Prisoner of Zenda, and not only features Lola Montez and Bismarck as major characters, but in the process "fictionalizes elements of the Schleswig-Holstein question"?

    Also, "she'd take some beating" might not have been the phrase you were looking for.

  2. Also, I should stop starting sentences with "Also".

    Apparently there was even a movie made of Royal Flash, which I should clearly try to see.

  3. Weirdly, blogger thought your comments were spam. Clearly, spammers like George MacDonald. I must now read Royal Flash.

    As for beatings, I take your point. But surely a Lola post should have at least one double entendre in it?