Viral photographs of an enigmatic Belle Epoque horsewoman called Sélika Lazevski set me hunting through archives and circuses from St Petersburg to Paris to uncover the lives of elusive professional equestriennes who were celebrated artistes, survivors, and scapegoats of the nineteenth century. I’m telling their stories now in Amazons of Paris, which began as an essay series for Paris Review Daily (you can read them here). This is a Substack newsletter for the work in progress.
These stuntwomen were daredevils not only in the circus ring but also in their lives. Sarah l’Africaine became a star for a season in the teeth of gross racism and huge physical risk. Céleste Mogador battled her way up from an abusive home to a brothel and on to the aristocracy. Jenny de Rahden endured a murder trial and the loss of her sight. Émilie Loisset paid the ultimate price. I have more stories and lives to add to these accounts, as well as introducing you to the world of high-level European circus in the nineteenth century, where performers mingled with royalty while remaining outsiders, and everyone went to the ringside to see and be seen.
I’ve been working on the book for years in between freelancing and other projects. This newsletter is a way to share the discoveries I’ve made along the way. It will be free and irregularly published because I won’t send it to you unless I have some real treats to share. I’d be honoured if you’d sign up here at Substack.