Civil War Siren
Adah Isaacs Menken was a 19th-century actress known for her audacity on and off the stage. A new biography uncovers the woman behind the scandals.
Adah Isaacs Menken was known for her beauty, her daring, and her ability to flout just about every convention of her day. Her most famous role was as the warrior prince Mazeppa in a play inspired by Lord Byron’s poem. As Mazeppa, Menken was strapped to the side of a galloping horse while wearing nothing but a body stocking, which earned her the nickname “The Naked Lady.”
Menken lived only 33 years, but in that time she had five husbands and a string of lovers, including the writer Alexandre Dumas and the poet Algernon Swinburne. She gambled, posed semi-nude, and made headlines across the country. And, as Michael and Barbara Foster reveal in their new biography, A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar, she was also a committed Jew and frequently published poems and essays defending her people.
The Fosters join Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to speak about Adah Isaacs Menken’s political allegiances, her public liaisons, and her ethnic pride. [Running time: 17:14.]
In the latest installment of Tablet Magazine’s illustrated question-and-answer column, we consider life’s seeming senselessness—and the recycling system at Whole Foods