Marthe and Juliette Vesque’s Diary

If Gallica is our most important access to information about Japanese acrobats and their imitators in France, there are other electronic resources, and I will introduce some of them on this blog.

Today I would like to present the Vesque sisters. As there is an excellent article on them on Circopedia, I will be quick. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Vesque sisters were regulars at circus spectacles, and they meticulously recorded what they saw and what they heard with paintings and an extensive diary.

This diary has been digitized and is searchable online. Its index is very precise, it allows finding individual artists and circus acts by names. Open search is also possible. It is a truly remarkable resource, and we can be grateful for it.

One hopes that the drawings will follow the same electronic publishing process.

This diary is precious because it gives unique information that the Vesque sisters collected through their long and exceptional familiarity with the circus milieu.

Here is, from 1924, an example of information about accidents and group mentality (for the French original, see the French version of this post):

“As people keep on setting up a cage, we keep on talking. “Do you know the crazy woman?” asks L.C. After our negative answer, he tells us an incredible story, that, I think, he wrote about, with altered names, in a short story in the magazine Candide. It is about a tightrope walker. She appears only seconds before her act, and she always arrives surrounded by her Japanese colleagues. In the backstage, they constantly watch over her, and nobody else talks to her. One day, she found herself alone, and she was seen collecting horse shit with her bare hands. She was crazy! … Without much thinking, I let the name Andos come out of my lips. “Yes, that’s her”, Legrand answers, and he tells us that he never dared asking any question about her situation. Did she become crazy after an accident? We will never know. In this milieu there are so many incredible stories, so many unspeakable events. These artists always try to confuse people who approach them; they are inclined to fanciness.”


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