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Allan, Maud (1873-1956)  
 
page: 1  2  

In 1908 Allan went to London and took the city by storm, giving more than 250 performances that year. As a result of her fame, she received the patronage of members of royalty, as well as Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his wife Margot. Allan developed a close friendship with Margot Asquith, who for many years paid the rent for Allan's luxurious living quarters in the west wing of Holford House, a villa overlooking Regent's Park.

In 1910 Allan left Europe and toured extensively for several years, performing in America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In 1915 she went to California to spend time with her parents. During that sojourn she played the title role in a silent film called The Rugmaker's Daughter. It featured excerpts of three of her dances, including The Vision of Salome. No copies of this film are known to survive.

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"The Cult of the Clitoris" Libel Case

In 1916 Allan returned to England in hopes of reviving her faltering career. In 1918 she became involved in a bizarre court case in connection with her performance in a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. The case was a tangled thicket of personal and political animosity, as well as , anti-Semitism, and war-time hysteria.

Allan sued for libel against an Independent Member of Parliament, Noel Pemberton Billing. In addition to his political career he ran a newspaper called the Imperialist, later renamed the Vigilante, which he used to promulgate his views that Germany was a thoroughly degenerate country owing to the power of Jews and homosexuals there and that German agents were attempting to weaken the moral fabric of Britain by luring its citizens into vice.

In the January 26, 1918 issue of the Imperialist, Billing claimed that the Germans had a "Black Book" containing the names of 47,000 British men and women who were vulnerable to blackmail or had betrayed state secrets because of their "sexual peculiarities." His source for this claim was Captain Harold Spencer, who had been invalided out of the British Army and British Secret Service for "delusional insanity."

Billing invited a lawsuit from Allan by printing an item in the February 16, 1918 issue of the Vigilante headlined "The Cult of the Clitoris." In the brief article he suggested that subscribers to Allan's upcoming private performance of Wilde's Salome were likely to be among the 47,000 listed in the "Black Book."

The use of the word clitoris was a calculated one by Billing and Spencer. The latter testified that, in the course of searching for a headline "that would only be understood by those whom it should be understood by," he had elicited the word from a village doctor, who had informed him that the clitoris was an "organ that, when unduly excited . . . possessed the most dreadful influence on any woman...." Allan's acknowledgment of knowing the word was presented as evidence of sexual perversion.

Billing further used innuendo by introducing the fact that Allan was the sister of a convicted murderer. His argument was that murder showed evidence of sadism (defined, in the testimony of Spencer, as "the lust for dead bodies"), which Billing alleged was hereditary. He discussed various perversions that he claimed to find in Wilde's Salome, implying that a performer willing to depict these might well practice them herself. He also tried to insinuate that Allan had an unusually close friendship with Margot Asquith.

Another witness, Eileen Villiers-Stuart, who claimed to have seen the "Black Book," testified that the names of both Herbert and Margot Asquith were in it (along with that of Charles Darling, the judge presiding in the case).

On the final day of the trial, Billing suddenly claimed that he had never suggested that Allan was a lesbian, only that "she was pandering to those who practised unnatural vice by [her] performance."

Following long and rather confusing instructions from the judge, the jury deliberated for less than an hour and a half before returning a verdict in Billing's favor.

Later Years

After the trial Allan resumed her career, but her popularity soon waned.

For at least ten years, from the late 1920s to 1938, Allan shared the west wing of Holford House with Verna Aldrich, her secretary who became her lover.

Allan lived out her final years in California. A film loosely based on her life, Salome, Where She Danced, was directed by Charles Lamont and produced by Walter Wanger in 1951.

Allan died October 7, 1956 at the age of eighty-four.

Linda Rapp

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    Bibliography
   

Bland, Lucy. "Allan, Maud." Lesbian Histories and Cultures. Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 24-25.

Cherniavsky, Felix. The Salome Dancer: The Life and Times of Maud Allan. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1991.

Hoare, Philip. Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy, and the First World War. London: Duckworth, 1997.

Travis, Jennifer. "Clits in Court: Salome, Sodomy, and the Lesbian 'Sadist.'" Lesbian Erotics. Karla Jay, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1995. 147-163.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Allan, Maud  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 28, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/allan_m.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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