There is no question of doubt that, both in real life and fiction, people who have been so unfortunate as to lose their limbs, and yet become heroes and heroines despite their misfortunes, have excited the sympathy and admiration of all classes of the community.
There was never in the annals of our island's glorious story a hero so beloved as one-armed, one-eyed Nelson; or in fiction a character so admired by boys, both old and young, as Captain Hook, the one-armed pirate in Peter Pan. Who has ever read Stevenson's "Treasure Island" or beheld its stage version, with the late Arthur Bourchier playing John Silver? Who has failed to realise the strange fascination and awe that Long John Silver, the one-legged smooth spoken, murderous old pirate exercised over Jim Hawkins and Captain Flint's villainous crew of buccaneers?
Captain Cuttle is one of Dickens' most lovable characters, and the craft of the novelist induced him to portray the old retired master mariner as being deficient of his left hand, which was replaced by a serviceable iron hook fastened to the stump.
To-day we have a one-armed cricketer making centuries to the admiration and applause of all lovers of the game.
Sarah Bernhardt, the greatest actress of our generation, it will be remembered, had the misfortune to lose her leg after she had passed the allotted span. Yet she went on bravely acting, impervious of her loss, and won even more admiration from the lovers of the histrionic art through her wonderful impersonations and agility.
Look a the sympathy that has recently been evinced for Mary Armstrong, a frail but sunny-faced cripple girl, who recently gave the Horncastle magistrates one of the queerest domestic problems a Bench has been asked to solve. She was born with only one arm, but a 20 year old farm labourer, named Percy Johnson, has fallen deeply in love with her and wants to marry her.
They put up the banns at Horncastle, but Percy's father saw the Vicar and forbade the marriage, as his son was not of age, and a girl with one arm was unsuited to be a working man's wife.
Percy then took advantage of the recently revised law, and asked the magistrates for permission to marry. He assured them that he was eager to make the girl his wife, so that he could stand by her in case anything happened to her father, who is seriously ill.
Mary Armstrong was called, and said that though she had only one arm, she did every bit of the housework at home, and she was sure she could make Johnson comfortable and be a good wife to him.
The Chairman! Do you love him? - Yes, I have loved him from first seeing him.
Enough to wait for him? - Yes.
The Chairman (to Percy Johnson): Do you care enough for the girl to wait for her? - Yes, I do.
The Bench then decided the boy and girl must wait until May, when they could get married.
It would be easy to multiply romances like the above. Our correspondence columns contains numerous instances even stranger than the one we have quoted above, but space forbids us to further intrude upon Mr. Wallace Stort's striking article.
There have recently appeared in these columns (writes Mr. Stort) a number of short stories and articles, featuring pretty one-legged heroines, or dealing with "Limbless Beauties," and in connection with them, one thing must have struck the observant reader. This was the fact that, in spite of extraordinary handicaps, none of these ladies seemed to lack admirers, all apparently possessing some strange attraction of their own.
No doubt many readers questioned this aspect of the case, being quite convinced that no sane person could find a crippled girl attractive. Yes, strange as it may seem, it is an undoubted and well-attested fact that pretty girls, lacking one or more limbs, do exercise a queer, inexplicable fascination for certain types of men.
Human nature remains to-day as mysterious and unknown a quantity as ever, and not all the learning and skill of philosophers and scientists have been able to plumb completely its profound depths. Even its normal workings contain many puzzles for the ordinary man. Why does such-and-such a man choose for his mate such-and-such a woman - and vice-versa? The onlooker simply cannot account for certain preferences of this kind. To him (or her) the individual chosen seems utterly lacking in attraction or charm.
Some men like big, stout women, others prefer tiny, fairylike creatures. Some gentlemen prefer blondes; quite a number brunettes.
Then certain minor defects have been considered adjuncts to beauty from the beginning of time. The absolutely perfect profile is not always attractive. The tip-tilted nose may be such more fascinating than a beautifully chiseled Roman appendage. A slight cast in the eyes of a beautiful girl lends a certain attractive piquancy to her glance; and a slight lisp has also its particular fascination.
Coming to more abnormal preferences, we enter the field of what is technically known to the psychologists as "Fetishism." In simple and non-technical language, "Fetishism" may be defined as a sort of overmastering obsession, on the part of a lover, for some particular quality, or object, possessed by the beloved. It is a condition that has long been recognised by psychologists and psycho-therapists, and a great deal of space has been devoted to it in the work of Havelock Ellis, Kraft-Ebbeing and other famous authorities of this kind.
There are many known forms of "Fetishism" which are quite familiar to readers of "London Life," though they may not heretofore have recognised them as such. The man obsessed by the craze for seeing women in abnormally high-heeled slippers is a fetishist; so is the man who is attracted by freakishly tiny waists, or very long hair of a certain colour, or who craves to see a woman heavenly and expensively bejewelled.
Of the actual working of this strange form of "Fetishism," innumerable examples could be given. One case that came within my own experience is interesting. An intimate friend of mine and myself were some years ago invited to a dinner party at which the guests were mainly young people. We were rather late, and dinner had already started when we arrived. There were a number of pretty girls at the table; but one in particular, an extremely pretty and vivacious girl of about 22, attracted my friend at once, and they were soon laughing and talking with each other across the table.
Towards the end of the meal, the younger people got rather noisy and out of hand; and one of them, a pretty little flapper, began to tease the girl I have mentioned, throwing little pellets of bread at her, and the like. The girl laughingly threatened the flapper with all sorts of dire punishments, but the latter still carried on her bombardment.
At last the girl jumped up suddenly, and, amid the cheers of the party, made off after the flapper, but to my astonishment and that of my friend, we saw the girl was actually hopping after the flapper, and as she came fully into view it was at once obvious that only one leg, in a well fitting silk stocking, was revealed below her skirts, held well above the knee as she hopped. She had, too, kicked off her slipper before starting off after her tormentor, and was hopping on her stockinged foot.
I turned with a laugh to my friend, and was astonished at the sudden change in him. He had gone quite white, and was watching the girl with a queer, excited look in his eyes.
I said nothing at the time, but it was significant that he was with the girl all the evening, and eventually escorted her home. They were married within a year - the local papers, by the way, making rather a splash of the wedding of a "Pretty One-Legged Bride" - and it was from his own lips that I learned later that from a youth he had been strongly attracted by one-legged girls, but until that evening had never actually made the acquaintance of one.
One curious little sequel may be worth recording. My friend always retained a most vivid and, to him, highly pleasurable memory of seeing the girl, who was to be his wife, hopping round the table after the flapper, and to this day he likes to see his wife hopping about the flat without crutches. So much so, that nowadays she usually discards her crutches in the house and hops gaily about with an ease an expertness that to a stranger must always appear quite an astonishing feat.
Perhaps I need hardly add that this charming and vivacious little lady is the original of the heroines that have already appeared in my stories in "London Life."
An obvious case of this type of attraction was revealed only a short time ago in a letter contributed to the correspondence columns of "London Life" by a pretty one-legged girl who, it will be recalled, stated that, in spite of the fact that she was one-legged, she never lacked for admirers, and had, in fact, already been engaged twice. She put her success down to the fact that she was pretty and dressed attractively; but there is no doubt that she attracted a certain type of boy who found a curious fascination in her onelegged condition, and I am quite willing to wager that the man she marries will eventually confess to the possession of this peculiar "kink."
Though it may seem incredible, there have actually appeared matrimonial advertisements inserted by individuals seeking wives lacking one or more limbs! Quite a number of advertisements of this type have appeared in German papers, the advertisers being mostly desirous of meeting girls with only one leg; but in one case, at least, an armless woman was specified, and in another it was bluntly stated that the advertiser wished to meet a lady "who has lost both legs by amputation, of fair complexion and big built, not under 40, homely and pleasant rather than pretty. Adviser would prefer the lady to be completely without legs, thighs, or movable stumps." This advertiser explained his queer preference, by the way, by the fact, that his wife, who had recently died, had been quite legless, and he wanted someone to take her place
Within my own experience there have appeared at least two advertisements of a similar type in English publications. The first appeared about 1906 in a weekly periodical, now defunct, and which, for a time, ran a matrimonial column. The actual wording of this advertisement, as far as I can recall it, was as follows:
"A gentleman, 21, of independent means, would like to meet, with a view to matrimony, a young lady of about 19 or 20, pretty, fond of dress, a devotee of tight-lacing and high heels, and with only one leg, the other having been amputated, preferably at the thigh. Write, enclosing a photo and giving particulars of amputation, to - "
The other advertisement appeared in a publication entirely devoted to matrimonial advertisements as recently as 1920. It ran something like this:
"Gentleman, in good position, good-looking, attractive, would like to correspond, with a view to matrimony, a young lady lacking a limb or otherwise crippled".
In this same publication there also appeared an advertisement from a lady "whom the surgeons knife has deprived of lower limbs," and who wished to correspond with "a sympathetic member of the opposite sex who may, or may not be, similarly handicapped."
And from time to time there appeared several advertisements from gentlemen wishing to make the acquaintance of lame girls!
Readers of the recent articles in "London Life" on "Limbless Beauties" will have noted that quite a number of these ladies were married - Madame Gabrielle, the legless "halflady," has been married twice, by the way - a fact which goes to prove that certain types of men found them attractive. One of the cases cited, that of "Princess Anetta," the armless and legless girl who was actually stolen from the show where she was on exhibition, and married by her ardent admirer, is a remarkable instance of this peculiar "fetish". And another extraordinary example is that of Mdlle. Defries, the beautiful armless and one-legged girl, with whom a wealthy Greek, who saw her on exhibition, fell in love at sight and married amid great public ceremonial. One astonishing theory, too, about all these limbless ladies, on exhibition all over the world, is that they are the recipients of letters from numerous admirers, and proposals and marriage sent through the post quite common;
A remarkable example of the power of this attraction came to light in the American papers of 1915 or 1916. A beauty contest was being run in one of the Southern States, and it was discovered that one of the competitors was a very beautiful girl, quite without legs, both having been lost in a street accident when a child.
She did not win one of the big prizes, as perfection of figure as well as of face was being taken into account; but a special price was awarded to her. As a result of the publicity, she received shoals of letters of congratulation, and many proposals of marriage. She eventually married one of her correspondents, and, according to the published account, was carried in full bridal attire to the altar by her father, and carried from the church, after the ceremony, in the arms of her newly-wed husband. One of the photographs taken after the ceremony showed the bride, a very radiant and beautiful girl, lying in the arms of her husband, and revealed quite clearly that she was entirely without legs, as the thin, filmy silk of her skirts hung quite slack and empty from her hips.
A somewhat similar case occurred in the North of England a few years ago. Among the victims of a bad railway smash was a girl whose injuries resulted in the amputation of both her legs at the thigh. She was the recipient of many letters of sympathy from total strangers, and a friendship developed with one of her correspondents that ultimately led to marriage.
One rather incredible aspect of this strange subject is that this fetish, in common with a large number of others, is actually catered for in certain quarters, though I must confess I have no personal experience of this.
In various continental cities, and in South America, notably in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, there exist agencies of a certain type, through which clients are introduced to suitable members of the opposite sex. the usual procedure is for the client to make his choice from sets of photographs amounting in all to several hundreds, one set being devoted to women lacking one or more limbs.
The majority of these women are, or course, one-legged, though one or two examples of armless or legless women have been encountered; and even, in one case at least, a young girl entirely without limbs; The informant to whom I am indebted for these facts also told me that at once, in a certain night haunt in Buenos Aires, he encountered a very attractive and voluptuous Spanish woman, sitting drinking at one of the tables. After an introduction and a chat, he asked her to dance and, we a little amused laugh she simply picked up the skirt of her thin crepe de chine frock and let it fall slackly over her knees, thus revealing the startling fact that she was quite legless from the hips; He learnt that the woman was a well known habitue of the place, and had her admirers just like any other woman.
Fetishism of any kind, including this particular form of it, is, by the way, much more common in men than in women, some psychologists being the opinion that it is extremely rare in women. But one form of it, though not, of course, a true form, does exist - namely, the keen desire in a woman to gratify the fetish or craving in the man.
Thus woman will take a keen delight in wearing abnormally high heels, or in extremely tight-lacing, in order to gratify these cravings in a lover. And, of course, as every girl knows, she very often takes a delight in these things for their own sake. In exactly the same way, strange as it may seem, cases are in record in which women have come to regard their lack of limbs with a perverse pleasure, and even pride; Often this arises, somewhat naturally, because of the admiration of the man who has fallen in love with their incomplete charms. They press themselves under his administration, and so come to regard their deficiency as something at least novel and interesting.
This curious pride, or whatever it is, is most frequently observed, however, in women born without one or more limbs, and who are exhibited as freaks before the public; and, in a way, it has merciful dispensation. In many cases they look upon themselves as unique human beings, especially if they are pretty and their forms, except for the absence of limbs, are built on pleasing lines.
A pretty armless girl, on exhibition in America, when asked if she did not miss her arms, replied characteristically:
"Why should I miss them? I never had them, and my feet and toes do everything I ask them. I guess, anyway, arms ain't anything to worry about. Here and there you should see a good looking pair, but mostly they don't amount to much; and they sure would spoil my shoulders if I had them!"
The girl in question had a perfect pair of shoulders, revealing no trace of arms and without a blemish of any kind, and surgeons and artists have commented upon their wonderful symmetry. She was therefore quite unashamedly proud of her armless shoulders, and really enjoyed exhibiting her deficiency and showing how cleverly she could do without such useless and unornamental appendages as mere arms.
At least one case is on record of a pretty girl undergoing voluntary and complete amputation of a crippled leg, as she preferred to have one pretty and shapely leg to two, and one of which was unsightly. The case attracted public notice because of an attack made on the surgeon who amputated the limb, and he defended his action as not only humane, but necessary, as the girl's health had improved enormously since her recovery from the operation.
"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed on in your philosophy, Horatio," wrote Shakespeare, and the immortal words are as true to-day as when the great dramatist penned them, three hundred years ago.