Fearing the Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Over at the blog of Harvard University Press, Francesca Lidia Viano has a fascinating post about why so many Americans have feared the Statue of Liberty.  The piece comes from her book Sentinel: The Unlikely Origins of the Statue of Liberty.

Here is a taste:

Americans started fearing the Statue even before she arrived in New York, in 1885, as a gift from the French. Many were puzzled or even upset that foreigners insisted on putting such a cumbersome gift in their harbor. But where did the fear of the Statue’s supposedly malign power come from?

One source certainly is the Statue’s appearance. Upon first arriving in New York harbor, Karl Rossmann, the immigrant protagonist of Franz Kafka’s Amerika, thinks he sees a sword rather than a torch in her upstretched hand. More recently, in the dystopian Man in the High Castle, the Statue, wearing a red sash with a swastika, raises her arm in a Nazi salute. Why is it so tempting to portray the Statue as aggressive? Though we seldom remember the circumstances, she was, in effect, born of hatred and vengeance. A year before sailing to New York, Bartholdi had fought in the Franco-Prussian war, in the Vosges, where Giuseppe Garibaldi had taken command of a troop of volunteers. They lost the war; Bartholdi’s hometown, Colmar, and all of Alsace fell into German hands. Bartholdi sailed to America to advertise his colossal statue of liberty (then of the Republic, as he called it), but not even this journey distracted him from his sorrows. While busy marketing the statue in New York and Philadelphia, Bartholdi drew sketches of a vindictive female embodiment of Alsace, bent over a wounded figure and raising her hand to curse the Germans (in a gesture reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty), her face green and contorted. At about the same time, Bartholdi added spikes to the simple diadem the Statue wore in all of his earlier models. Why?

Read the entire piece here.

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