‘The wives of geniuses I have sat with’
Body hair, genius and modernity
in The last taboo
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The current absence of a debate around the cultural meanings of body hair within the many existing feminist discussions on the post-capitalist and post-colonial female body would be surprising if it did not reflect how body hair, ‘superfluous’ and ‘unwanted’, is hardly visible. This chapter examines the various meanings of body hair, without taking for granted a dichotomy between natural and artificial – instead looking at its various formations. It looks at a number of texts on the basis of their references to body hair on women; their different claims to modernity; and the common link between hairiness, ‘uncommon’ intelligence and femininity. These works include Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1859–1860), in which the single mention of the heroine's facial hair marks the eruption of masculinity in the heroine, signalling her potential danger; Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), where body hair links estrangement and disgust; and The Lady Who Loved Insects, a twelfth-century fragment translated from the Japanese into English by Arthur Waley in 1929.

The last taboo

Women and body hair

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