Mata Hari The Legendary Femme Fatale

A Femme Fatale, A Femme Forte, The Eye of The Day

A famous femme fatale in history, Mata Hari was an impressing  character and the inspiration of several novels and movies. Mata Hari is an archetype of the femme fatale and the femme forte, a dangerous seductress and one of those women who used the art of feminity in the best way.

The daughter of a Dutch hat manufacturer, Mata Hari  was born in 1876. Her original name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. When her father bankrupted, she married Captain Campbell Maclead, a member of Dutch colonial army who she met through a newspaper ad, when she was 19. They lived in Indonesia for five years. They had a son and a daughter. She had a normal life at the beginning. However, her husband was fond of alcohol and night clubs. They divorced soon after they returned back to Netherlands and also her son died.

Mata Hari

Mata Hari

Then her life changed and Margaretha, this young divorcee became the famous femme fatale of history, Mata Hari. She called herself Mata Hari which means ‘eye of the day in Java that she learnt while she lived in Indonesia and began to dance in Paris.  Her first exotic dance performance took place in at the Museum of Oriental Art. One floor was decorated for her seductive dance before six-limbed Shiva statue of the Hindu God. Her performance was extremely erotic, provocative and seductive. She liked being sexually explicit and she performed striptease shows with her shawls gradually peeled away, known as shiva dance, the dance of the veils.

Her freedom of movement, nudity and extreme feminine seductiveness attracted the attention of her audiences including high ranking military officers and politicians. She performed her exotic dance in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna and many other European cities in her fantastic costumes and became an international star, famous with her shiva dance of the veils. She did not hesitate to pose topless and bottomless to a photographer in the beginning of 1900’s. She had skills with men as well as on the stage. Mata Hari spoke seven languages and had many lovers who were mostly French and German military officers who rewarded her feminine skills and seductive performances generously with jewels, furs and money.

Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo

However, when the World War I approached, her fate changed once more. Her lovers who once enjoyed her companionship, turned against her during the wartime. As an independent, international woman travelling alone all over Europe and having relationships with both French and German military officers, politicians, she became a suspect for spying. French Secret Service recruited her in 1916 to find out about German side using her flirting skills on German officers. However, British Intelligence Service informed French Intelligence that Mata Hari was paid by German side. She was accused of being a double agent. When she returned to Paris to visit a lover in 1917, she was arrested and found guilty of ‘spying for Germany and causing the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers’ and sentenced to death. Today, it is still a mystery  whether she was really a great woman spy or a scapegoat. Some people believe that she was paid for love by Germans, not for espionage and paid the cost of being an ‘international woman’ sleeping with numerous military officers across Europe by death. According to those people, France needed a victim to blame for the defeat in the battle field and therefore sent Mata Hari to death. Some others think that this exotic woman used her flirting skills to get military secrets of two countries for her greed. It was a closed door trial and the explanations about her case is still not found sound enough. Although proof was found by French to sentence her to death, people argue that the proof may be fabricated.

As a femme female, she used her flirting skills to please upper class men and lived in luxury as a high paid courtesan. As a dangerous seductress, she was punished by death. And as a femme forte, a strong woman, she met her fate in a cool way. According to an eye witness of her execution, Mata Hari, the eye of the day refused wearing a blindfold, she did not even move a muscle when twelve rifles targeted her and her head was always up without any change of expression.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, the legendary femme fatale figure in history known as Mata Hari is regarded as the inventor of striptease in Europe with her shiva dance of the veils. She once said, “Stripping is my art form.” This was her weapon to trap high class man who paid for her art generously. She was not known as a beautiful woman but surely, Mata Hari was a highly desired woman and a skillful seductress. All those men, who desired her, caused the death of this femme fatale at the end.

The life story of this legendary femme fatale, the exotic woman spy, a femme forte, Mata Hari was filmed in 1931. The movie ‘Mata Hari’ starring Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro has also been an unforgettable Hollywood classic.  Several versions of Mata Hari movie were produced several times and a new version is also planned to be filmed this year. However, shiva dance performance of Greta Garbo as if making love to the Shiva statue, was one of the most memorable scenes of the most successful Mata Hari movie. It seems that neither the mysterious legendary femme fatale nor the legendary actress Greta Garbo in the role of Mata Hari will ever be forgotten.