= Fascism, the operetta.
See it happening: fabric and fur enwrap her like thought and she takes on thought’s luminance. Crowned finally with the feather, she travels light.
At arm’s length, she looked like this
because of this.
On the same day she stood in a studio to be recorded as what she was, the economic engine that had powered printing press and camera published these instructions for interpreting her image with its text. At the heart of their grammar was a doom. One of its authorities was the New Testament and two of its kernel sentences were “She must possess if she hopes” and “None can achieve.”
And off the record, her throat was beginning to grow corded. If she had been able to take off the deathcap for an instant and let her readers see her hands begin to unclench and her hair flow and the studio’s light reverberate in her eyes, the text about her would have been unreadable then but knowable now. What we might have experienced was a general beauty, not fashioned to be read but created to be seen: Eve-naked, antipodal to the dark side of time.
But the lamps in the engine room had not been trimmed. In the studio log’s archival black and white, the foolish virgin’s face communicates nothing about the color that might have shone from her eyes. But it does confirm that the devils who fashioned her mode were blue.
This cover opens to reveal the dinner menu for Friday, March 1, 1901, on board the world’s first purpose-built cruise ship, the German yacht Prinzessin Victoria Luise. The generic lithograph on the cover doesn’t depict the princess, but she was a pretty boat indeed. Here is the way Michael Zeno Diemer, the Oberammergau portraitist of ships and zeppelins, imagined her as those who bought their passages in her must have felt she deserved to be imagined. When we are on board, of course, imagination is the only way we have of seeing the vessel that bears us.
But in the physical, outside the realm of imagination, we at least can see what is physical of ourselves, and try to make those images approximate themselves to the beautifully comprehended images that we imagine. Our dinner on March 1, 1901, would have included turtle ragout and strawberry ice cream, followed by music of Wagner, Bizet, and John Philip Sousa. So perhaps, after that experiment on the senses, we might have gone sightseeing on deck, in the dark.
You see how we have posed ourselves there. One of us is languidly reclined in spotless spats. Another has painted himself into an icon of energetic masculinity with cap and cape and mustache wax. A third has contracted to something feminine, hugging herself deep inside a shawl. Our bodies and their impelling forces differ, but when they’re on deck together they communicate in a mutually understood body language. Behind us, a huge machinery emitting smoke and green light propels its boatload of bodies, signaling to all destinations that we haven’t yet arrived. We won’t shut down at sunrise, because the sense of sunrise has been postponed. We’ll still be talking when the day dawns on March 2. Silently, without any need for words, our clothes and their bodies will have promised us, that night on deck, that we’ll never die.
Launched in 1900, Prinzessin Victoria Luise was wrecked in the Caribbean just six years afterward, a casualty of navigation error. Her captain saw all his passengers safely off, then killed himself.
But for these voyagers transported by the princess through 1901, 1901 is visibly forever. You see that in the remaining record before you. In their lithographer’s presence, the voyagers within the princess became a smiling history of confidence in the everlastingness of dark.
Take big strides. Swing your left foot in front of your right foot, then your right foot in front of your left foot. Blank your face.
In the air above you, your support group will be soaring.
The image of the “flesh” crayon and its antique-store label comes from Bob Doto’s “The Elusive Flesh Crayon: Ig’nant Toys,” https://notnewyork.net/2011/06/03/the-elusive-flesh-crayon-ignorant-toys/. At https://onmilwaukee.com/family/articles/crayolablog.html, Molly Snyder writes: “Crayola changed the name of this crayon in 1903, from ‘flesh tint’ to ‘flesh’ to ‘pink beige’ and then back to ‘flesh.’ It finally switched for good to ‘peach’ in ’62.”
The fashion print dates from 1897 Chicago and is at https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2018695709/. I post-processed it to restore contrast and color, and (because I lack a chemical analysis of the pigments in the original and a knowledge of clothing design in the 1890s) that involved guesswork about what Photoshop’s hue and saturation controls were meant to show me. The fourth man from the right in the front row, especially: in Chicago in 1897, would his suit really have been that shade?
Well, under their clothes all of the men in this image really had to be uncolored. Twenty-two years after 1897, Chicago’s Henry Blake Fuller had to self-publish his novel Bertram Cope’s Year because it hinted at gaiety. Even so, I suppose it may be that once upon a time in 1897 Chicago a fabric artist could at least have dreamed of a purple suit.
Elinor Glyn’s novel Three Weeks was a prominent meteorological phenomenon of 1907. The tiger-skin scene was the steamiest. The Erté poster dates from 1968.