Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture

By Nadja Durbach | Go to book overview

THREE
The Missing Link
and the Hairy Belle
Evolution, Imperialism, and “Primitive” Sexuality

IF “THE DOUBLE-BODIED HINDOO BOY” elicited concerns about colonial sexuality, similar debates about the erotics of the imperial—and thus nonnormative—body were playing out in the 1880s on the stage of the Westminster Aquarium in London. In 1883 the great Canadian impresario G. A. Farini unveiled his latest discovery: “Krao, the Missing Link.” Krao was a seven-year-old girl from what Victorians called “Indochina”1 whose small, dark-skinned body was covered in soft brown hair. Farini exhibited her in the United Kingdom for seven months as “A Living Proof of Darwin’s Theory of the Descent of Man,” the missing link between man and monkey.2 She then appeared in France, Germany, and the United States. Indeed, Krao was a staple of the late nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury international freak show circuit, performing with Barnum and Bailey, then Ringling Brothers, and later their combined circuses, until her death in 1926 from influenza. This chapter argues that Krao was an extremely popular freak show act because her exhibition capitalized on late nineteenth-century preoccupations with the interrelationships among Darwinism, imperialism, and the sexuality of the “primitive” body.

Krao made her public debut in January of 1883 at the Westminster Aquarium, although she had been shown to members of the press during the 1882 Christmas season. “The Aq,” as it was affectionately known, had been built in 1876 as part of London’s expanding entertainment industry.

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