Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Fall of the Muse

In today's world, we read with interest and curiosity about the escapades of young, gorgeous, high-profile women. We elevate to celebrity those beautiful and talented but flawed women and then cast them down. We cluck and carry on about all the news space devoted to them and we treat all of it as recent phenomenon. Not so. Consider Evelyn Nesbit. (1884-1967)

Nesbit was an artist model and muse. By all accounts, she was an exceptionally beautiful young woman and the sole support of her family. She first came to notice as the model for Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl."

For 20 years the Gibson girl epitomized beauty and grace. From the late 19th to the early 20th century her image was merchandised on everything from cups and saucers to umbrella stands. Women strove for the "Gibson Girl" look.

Today, Nesbit would be a supermodel. She even commanded modeling fees equivalent to about $200/half day and $400/ full day.

Like today, all that came to an end for Nesbit at a young age. (She was 21) Her husband shot and killed the man who was her ex-lover. The newspapers ran sensationalized and often fictionalized stories
about her even though she had nothing to do with the murder. It would create much curiosity and interest in her - until the next scandal came along. (Think of the movie, "Chicago.)

What is it about our regard for women? We have many ill-behaved, naughty male actors and sports figures. Yet, once they get sober or stop the behavior, we accept them. Why isn't it the same for most women?

Nesbit said that her dead lover was lucky. He died in the middle of his career as a very successful architect while she lived the rest of her life remembered only for the sensational murder. As a biographer wrote of Nesbit, "Her celebrity lasted from ages 14 to 21 and her entire life was defined by that period."


  1. I know what you mean. Perhaps we forgive men because "boys will be boys?" Maybe it's because we judge women more as "good girl" or "bad girl." Whatever it is, it doesn't seem fair. Nancy

  2. The old double standard is still alive and well. Women are expected to be "nicer". It starts at a very young age. Little girls are supposed to quietly play with their dolls, while the boys are boistrous and rowdy. I like to think it's getting better, slowly. sz

  3. Yes a double standard...

    But then again, there was a triangle of persons involved. One ended up dead (albeit, in the midst of his career), the other, exchanged her fame for notoriety. The third, her husband? What happened to him?
    My next question would have to be: How is it that the dead man, the "ex" became a re-invested party, within her circles?

    Now today, in this day and age, I would immediately think, "Oh I get it, she was the sole provider for her family... maybe she was bitter that her husband didn't provide for her family, so she had an affair with her 'ex'" which would then bring him up close and personal and within her circle; perhaps not really in an 'ex' status after all. As an 'ex,' one would think he'd be long gone, nowhere to be seen; an 'ex' is an'ex' is an 'ex'.... until rekindled. Human nature doesn't change all that much over the ages.

    Perhaps, in the end they both DID suffer, he lost his life, she lost her livlihood. Hard to say, when we don't have all the facts.

    On thing I have learned over the years, is that even when girls are supposed to sit quietly and play with their dolls, they listen and they learn, and their dolls? Their dolls play out those fantasies....

  4. To Anon:

    You can read a synopsis of the book of her life at:

    That might explain in more depth what happened than I can answer here. However, the details of the motivations to murder were not so much what I was referring to.

    My interest was in pointing out how little compassion and forgiveness the public has in their judgment of women even today.

    Over one hundred years later, we watch while young women ruin their careers because the public won't let them make mistakes and forgive them. We may have cut women free of corsets but we still don't give them the freedom to make the same mistakes as men.