Hair colors literary, artistic representations

Marilyn Marks

Princeton NJ -- Jonathan Swift and James Joyce first made Anne Margaret Daniel see red.


Consider "Gulliver's Travels," where Swift notes that young, female Yahoos are most dangerous to poor Gulliver when "the hair of the Brute is of a red colour." Joyce topped that in "Ulysses," where Buck Mulligan states simply: "Redheaded women buck like goats."

That was enough for Daniel, a lecturer in English, to begin a study of literary, artistic and cultural represen- tations of redheads from about 1600 through today. In her work, based primarily in English, Irish and American literature, Daniel examines real redheads, fictional redheads, and even redhead-wannabes who dye their hair a coppery cast.

"It started when I became interested and repelled by depictions of redheads in Irish literature, particularly in Swift and Joyce," said Daniel, a redhead herself. She soon found that throughout literature and the arts, redheaded women typically are portrayed as smart but venal, amoral, sexy, ill-tempered, unpredictable, and either evil or zany. Redheaded men generally are depicted as large, noisy, politically involved or great warriors.

Her subjects are mostly women, because when people think of redheads, they don't think of men, she says. "We think of the dizzy and dazzling Katharine Hepburn, or the lavish and lustful Rita Hayworth," Daniel writes in a synopsis of her work. "We think of copperheads and irresistible peril."

Daniel's subjects include Mary Magdalene ("the reformed prostitute -- always a redhead"), Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline (smart and always in trouble, usually with young, suave Pepito) and Queen Elizabeth I (a strong woman who sometimes pretended to be weak and used her red hair to prove she was not a bastard). Daniel also considers artistic representations such as Michaelangelo's "The Temptation" fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in which Eve's hair changes from mousy brown to copper after she accepts the apple from a red-headed serpent.

Daniel hopes to finish a book based on her research in about a year.


May 21, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 28
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