Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century

By Kyla Wazana Tompkins | Go to book overview

3
“Everything ‘Cept Eat Us’
The Mouth as Political Organ
in the Antebellum Novel

The Venus [speaks]:
Petits Coeurs
Rhum Caramel
Pharaon
Bouchon Fraise
Escargot Lait
Enfant de Bruxelles
(Rest)
Do you think that I look like
one of these little chocolate brussels infants?

—Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus: A Play1

Toward the end of Suzan-Lori Parks’s play Venus, the embattled Saartjie Bartman, also known as the Venus Hottentot, is offered a box of chocolates by her lover and captor, the Baron Docteur. Parks’s 1997 play dramatizes the life of Bartman, a nineteenth-century woman who was brought to England from Africa as a freak-show performer because of her allegedly large buttocks and hips. When the real Saartjie Bartman died in 1815, Georges Cuvier—botanist, zoologist, and the model for the Baron Docteur character—dissected her body and preserved her genitals— pickled them, actually—in a jar at the Musée d’Homme in Paris. There, along with a plaster cast of her buttocks, they remained until the 1980s, when public pressure caused the museum to remove them from view. The body parts were finally returned to South Africa and buried in the town of Hankey in 2002, to much fanfare in the South African press. Over the

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