The “Princess Daredevil” of the Belle Époque

Susanna Forrest at The Paris Review:

There is a dual quality to Émilie’s life at this time: her bravado in the ring and her celebrity are ranged against repeated accounts of a modest, single-minded loner. After her mother’s death in 1880 and Clotilde’s retirement from the circus, she traveled only with a maid and a huge, white shaggy dog called Turc who followed her everywhere and slept at the foot of her bed. She would live alone in a small apartment near the circus at which she was engaged, and was said to enjoy books, music, and art, and receive few guests. She would only permit admirers to give her flowers—she had no interest in jewelry or more lucrative tokens. When her followers crammed into the circus stables to see her, she offered them only “banal” smiles calculated to be polite but not enticing. Not that that mattered. The circus managers issued invitations to every aristocrat in town as soon as her first performance was scheduled, feeding on Clotilde’s notoriety. Some of the writing about her is feverish: “Our little queen!” “The most beautiful will-o-the-wisp anyone could imagine!” “A female centaur!” “The diva of equitation, the Patti of haute école, the most intrepid amazone, the most charming, the most dizzying experience since the advent of the Amazons!”

more here.