Mata Hari was the stage name of Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, socialite, exhibitionist and spy Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. We can all agree Mata Hari was probably an easier name to use.
She picked up the name while in Indonesia, participating in a loveless marriage. Given that the marriage was initiated when she answered an advertisement in a newspaper, it probably shouldn’t have been difficult to predict a lack of love. It didn’t stop them from having 2 kids and it didn’t stop them from divorcing in 1903 after 9 years of marriage.
Margaretha went to Paris and made her way to fame as an exotic dancer (but a really classy one) with a mysterious exotic origin (despite being Dutch, the Indonesia thing really worked for her). She was the life of the party and sought after as a courtesan (like a mistress-escort but more old fashioned and therefore socially acceptable). She fell on hard times, however, as imitators sprung up and Europe went to war. Nobody wants promiscuity in times of war. Since the Netherlands remained neutral in World War I, Mata Hari was allowed to freely move across international borders. Due to her notorious reputation, she was well-known and therefore well-noticed during these movements. At one point, while interviewed by British intelligence, she admitted to being a French spy — but it could be that she was just trying to show off.
The Germans, reflecting their extreme distaste for all things Dutch, exotic, and classy, purposely broadcast a transmission (in a code they knew the French had already broken) that outed Mata Hari as a German spy. The French didn’t like the idea of their courtesan lady friend acting as a double spy against them and therefore arrested Mata Hari, tried and convicted her of spying and sentenced her to death. She appealed for clemency to the French president but was denied. She was executed on October 15, 1917.
While attempting to find more funny things to say about her, I stumbled across a surprisingly poignant account of her execution, worth reading in your own time. Describing her death by firing squad, the reporter intimated
She did not die as actors and moving picture stars would have us believe that people die when they are shot. She did not throw up her hands nor did she plunge straight forward or straight back. Instead she seemed to collapse. Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. She lay prone, motionless, with her face turned towards the sky. A non-commissioned officer, who accompanied a lieutenant, drew his revolver from the big, black holster strapped about his waist. Bending over, he placed the muzzle of the revolver almost – but not quite – against the left temple of the spy. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore into the brain of the woman. Mata Hari was surely dead.
Given Mata Hari’s bonafide bohemian status and artsy-dancer career, I’m guessing she would’ve been a big fan of Robert Smith; The Cure would’ve gotten some serious airplay on her iPod. Furthermore, given her propensity to pose for photographers and artists, one song in particular fits her perfectly:
remembering you fallen into my arms
crying for the death of your heart
you were stone white, so delicate lost in the cold
you were always so lost in the dark
looking so long at these pictures of you
and never hold on to your heart
looking so long for the words to be true
and always just breaking apart, my pictures of you
It’s pretty easy to imagine early 20th century exotic dancers grooving to 80’s alternative music. Especially with all the dark eyeliner and mascara to go around.