by Pat Shipman
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & he was a slut, so she must have been a spy. In the hysterical waning days of World War I, illogic like that put Mata Hari in front of a firing squad. And when you need to blame someone for half a million dead French soldiers, what's wrong with a little patriarchal thinking?
Hauled off to the Dutch West Indies by her brutal military officer of a husband, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod remade herself in the Paris of the Belle & Eacute;poque as an "international woman" famous for her pseudo-Hindu -- and, more to the point, nearly nude -- dances. Lascivious and famous for it -- she craved a man in uniform -- she wasn't exactly inconspicuous. When French spymasters tried to make use of her, it was like the CIA getting angry because they'd recruited Madonna and now everybody was recognizing her.
Mata Hari's notoriety and world travel make her the subject of a new biography about once every decade. The contribution of Pat Shipman's Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari lies mostly in detailing the lives of army wives in Indonesia (stifling heat, concubines, syphilis) and in sifting the evidence (mostly manufactured) of Mata Hari's ostensible spying on behalf of Germany. Trained as an anthropologist, Shipman veers toward academese, however, in the West Indies chapters; she tends to quote primary documents (legal, military and amatory) too extensively.
Mata Hari, meanwhile, always impulsive but enterprising, drifted to Paris but refashioned herself as an "artistic" dancer; she sought out officers, then drifted into dabbling at espionage. Amusingly, she didn't know or much care about troop movements in the Great War (unless they affected her Russian boyfriend). Oh, sure, she had a motive against the Germans: They'd confiscated her white cloak and several of her favorite furs.
Caught at the nexus of sexism, scapegoating and her own naivet & eacute;, Mata Hari was an unsuspecting butterfly caught in a net by master manipulators. Emphasizing that Mata Hari loved men too much and the truth too little, Shipman doesn't push the feminist angle. But today, if they only had flimsy evidence against her, would they be able to shoot Madonna?