chapter  3
24 Pages

1879, Part I

Suspending Identity with the Hanlon-Lees
WithJennifer Forrest

The celebrated acrobatic pantomime troupe, the Hanlon-Lees, bedazzled Paris during their 1878–79 season at the Folies Bergère with their mind-bending acrobatics and scenarios. The brothers introduced the city’s literary and artistic inhabitants to the principles of pantomime and circus through which the performer offers the paradox of a real acrobat performing his own body as an object, a phenomenon literally embodied by the mirror routine of Une soirée en habit noir. The mirror routine, characterized by alarming semantic rupture, became a recurring theme in the Decadent imaginary. In these tales, mirror images do not reflect back and confirm the identity of the original, but are objects possessing their own, sometimes nefarious, agency.