London Life

London Life | 1926

Famous Though Limbless

Further authentic stories of half ladies

by Wallace Stort

The absence of limbs need be no detriment to an artistic career. Sarah Biffin, gold medallist of the Royal Academy, the miniature painter to Queen Victoria, was born entirely without limbs and painted exquisitely with her mouth. Another limbless is artist Miss Rose Forster. She was born in Southhampton, and has been exhibited both in England and America for many years. She was, as a matter of fact, on exhibition at Olympia, London, during the annual Christmas Fair of 1921, and a year later at the Agricultural Hall, Islington. In Miss Forster's case, however, stumps of arms to the elbow are present, and with these, aided by her mouth, she is able to write and draw with a great deal of facility. Curiously enough, Cupid also came her way despite her lack of limbs, for she was married about three years ago in Southampton, her native town. The third case is perhaps the most remarkable of all, as not only is she practically a newcomer to the show world, but she challenges comparison with any example of this class of anomaly that has preceded her. She is professionally known as "Violetta", a native of Bremen, Germany, and is only seventeen years of age. She is at present on exhibition at Coney Island, this being her first visit to America.

Pretty and Plump

The girl is quite pretty, with good regular features, a fine round bust, and a small and shapely waist - but actually and without exaggeration she is merely a beautiful trunk and nothing more! The arms are completely absent from the shoulders and the legs are completely absent from the hips! Like Madam Gabrielle mentioned in a previous number, she is exhibited resting upon a pedestal, and, as far as appearances at any rate are concerned, she is quite as legless as that lady, despite her claim to be unique in that respect.

Not Married Yet

The complete absence of all four limbs is all the more apparent from the fact that while on exhibition, Violetta's costume consists of a very tight and smooth- fitting gown of black velvet, that is moulded to the rounded lines of the slightly protruding shoulders and the curves of the well-modelled trunk, and is closed at the lower end to fit closely round the hips and beneath the trunk. And yet she is apparently happy and cheerful, is very fond of reading, and is extremely intelligent. She has been trained to use her mouth, and is able to write with wonderful facility in a bold, round "hand". The descriptive booklet from which the foregoing facts have been taken concludes with the intimation, a little startling under the circumstances, the Violetta is not yet married!

La Belle Parisienne

But the most intriguing of all the personalities of this type that have appeared before the public was a lady well known as a feature of the side-shows both on the Continent and in America some years before the war, retiring from public life on her marriage to a wealthy Greek in 1911. This was Mademoiselle Defries, a Belgian girl, professionally known as "La Belle Parisienne". She was exceptionally pretty and vivacious, and was often described as the "unfinished Venus". The girl presented the curious anomaly of having been born without arms and with only one leg, the only example, at any rate among women, ever recorded. The only other case of such triple deficiency on record is that of a man, an Italian, who, however, was never exhibited and lived to the ripe age of seventy years.

No trace of arms

The only limb possessed by Mdlle. Defries was her right leg, the arms being entirely absent from the shoulders, and only a short round stump, three inches long from the hip, replacing the absent left leg. Otherwise, according to the report of the surgeons who exa- mined her, she was perfectly formed, with beautiful, satin-skinned shoulders that not only revealed no trace of arms, but also no blemish of any kind, and a leg and foot as exquisitely shapely and dainty as those of any stage beauty's. Even the stump of the absent left leg was perfectly rounded, without blemish of any kind and revealing no trace of any scar such as would have resulted from amputation.

Proud of her unfinished beauty

The girl herself gave many indications of a curious pride in her unfinished beauty - a not very uncommon thing, by the way, among abnormally formed people. She always exhibited herself in the filmiest of silk tights, the bodices of which were always cut extremely low to leave bare the armless shoulders, while the stump of the absent leg was, of course, also left very much in evidence by the adoption of such a costume.

Rings on her toes

She wore costly rings on all her toes - left bare by the "mittened" tights - and always at least one jewelled anklet round her ankle. Her references, while addressing her audiences, to the formation of her body, to her shoulders, her leg, and even to her stump - which she would lift to display while standing perfectly balanced on her only leg - were all couched in the style of one pointing out the excellences and beauties of some work of art! She even joked about her deficiencies, suggesting to the male members of her audience that she would would be an excellent bargain as a wife, as she would require no gloves and only a single stocking and a single slipper, and could never run away! And all her auditors came away quite convinced that she was perfectly satisfied with herself, and in fact rather proud of her unique body than otherwise.

A versatile show-woman

She was really a very clever and versatile "show-woman", doing all the usual stunts with her foot and toes with extraordinary ease and facility, all the while making a running and very gay commentary in her pretty broken English, on her performance. She usually concluded her performance by hopping down quite easily and expertly from her platform and mingling with the audience so that, as she put it; "they could see that she was real and not an illusion," and she would hop about and maintain her balance without difficulty for any length of required.

Married to a wealthy Greek

She was only twenty-three when she married the wealthy young Greek who had fallen a victim to her incomplete charms, and, retiring from public life, was never heard of, at any rate in the show world, again. She attracted the attention not only of surgeons and doctors, but of artists, and I understand that more than one sculptor perpetuated her figure in marble, while a painting of her in the nude that was exhibited at a Viennese academy caused a controversy that resulted in the picture being withdrawn.

Writes and draws with her mouth!

Miss Rose Forster was born in Southhampton and has been exhibited both in England and America for many years. She was, as a matter of fact, on exhibition at Olympia, London during the annual Christmas Fair of 1921, and a year later at the Agricultural Hall, Islington. In Miss Forster's case, however, stumps of arms to the elbow are present and with these, aided by her mouth, she is able to write and draw with a great deal of facility. Curiously enough, Cupid also came her way despite her lack of limbs, for she married about three years ago in Southhampton, her native town.


London Life, September 25, 1926 p. 18
London Life | 1926