The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Zobeide Luti, ‘The Electric Amazon’

Zobeide Luti, ‘The Electric Amazon’

A carte-de-visite portrait of Miss Zobeide Luti, ‘The Electric Amazon’.

Almost every nineteenth-century sideshow featured the charms of a character known as the ‘Circassian beauty’. These women were presented as members of a pure Caucasian race from the mountainous region of the Black Sea who had been rescued from the slave markets of Constantinople. As supposedly the ‘purest’ type of white person, Circassians were said to be the most beautiful on earth, much prized by Turkish sultans for their harems.

Invariably dressed in titillating garments resembling underwear, with a generous flavouring of Orientalism, Circassian beauties remained a mainstay of dime museums and sideshows until the end of the nineteenth century, attracting white audiences preoccupied with issues of race and gender and fascinated by the ‘exotic’ East.

In reality, Circassian beauties were enterprising American women who had stiffened their hair with beer and adopted a name beginning in ‘Z’. Surprisingly proficient in English and mysteriously deficient in their knowledge of the Circassian language, in the end the unlimited availability of potential Circassians ruined them as attractions.

Photographer unidentified [reverse is blank].


Code: 124488
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© Paul Frecker 2019