From this Summer’s edition of Cabinet:
1900 The body of an unidentified young woman, an apparent suicide, is pulled from the river Seine. Enchanted by the mysterious corpse’s beauty, a morgue worker makes a plaster case of the woman’s face. Copies of this “drowned Mona Lisa,” as Camus would later describe her, soon proliferate across Paris, appearing first in the city’s salons and finally as a character in its literature. Nabokov later writes a poem titled “L’Inconnue de la Seine,” Rilke mentions her in his only novel, Man Ray photographs the mask, and a character in Louis Aragon’s novel Aurélien tries to resurrect her. In The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, Al Alvarez writes, “I am told that a whole generation of German girls modelled their looks on her . . . the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950’s.” In 1958, when the creators of Rescue Annie, the first popular CR dummy, need to put a face on their mannequin, they chose the Inconnue as their model, making her lips perhaps the most kissed of all time.
A singularly tragic story.