Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2014
On ne disait plus: Nous allon à la Gaité mais bien: nous allons à Menken. Assister à ce spectacle etait plus qu'une affaire de curiosité, plus qu'un plaisir intellectuel et artistisque, c'etait un veritable satisfaction des sens.
In September 1866, Menken went to Paris and became La Menken, a cosmopolitan celebrity, available for private viewing in photographs, but living on a distant, brilliant plane. She was now an international figure and marketed her image through photography with a savvy never seen before, creating a kaleidoscope of images to tantalize the public. Yet her letters suggest it was in this period, shortly before her death, that she privately began to pull away from the exterior image. She once commented to an admirer, poet Charles Warren Stoddard,: “I am still a vagabond, of no use to anyone in the world – and never shall be. … The body and soul don't fit each other; they are always in a ‘scramble.’” Her feelings of discordance reveal themselves in her publicity and public actions as she engineered scandal and flaunted personal liberation to increase visibility and yet also seemed to slip further away. From her beginnings in Cincinnati, the Menken image had been crafted like a mask; now its wearer seemed to grow weary of the sticky inner contours and long to set it aside. She set to work on substantiating her intellectual image as her celebrity identity grew tiresome and worn.