I, ANNA CSILLAG.

The inimitable Poemas del río Wang continues to astonish: the latest post rescues from the dustbin of history a person—nay, a phenomenon—ubiquitous a century ago, the Hungaro-Moravian Queen of Hirsutism, Anna Csillag (pronounced CHILL-log; csillag is the Hungarian word for ‘star’ and is derived from csillog ‘shine,’ from Finno-Ugric *ćɜlk-). The redoubtable Ms. Csillag had ads in every periodical in Europe, in Russian, German, Hungarian, Polish, and who knows what else, all featuring a drawing of her holding a sprig of flowers and displaying a floor-length, luxuriant head of hair and beginning “I, Anna Csillag…” They talked of how she had once had such scanty hair that her entire town pitied her (she claimed to be from “Karlovice in Moravia”—there are several towns of that name in Moravia, as well as Velké Karlovice ‘Great Karlovice’), but God had favored her with an infallible remedy that not only produced her staggering mane but allowed the men of her town to grow awe-inspiring beards and mustaches. These ads were as well known and commonly referenced in their day as Avis’s “We Try Harder” was in the 1960s, and Studiolum of río Wang has gathered a florilegium of ad reproductions and literary quotes in various languages: Bruno Schulz, Józef Wittlin, Czesław Miłosz, Karl Kraus, Leonid Dobychin, and a bunch of Hungarians. (Incidentally, I just spent much of the morning creating the Dobychin Wikipedia entry, since I was distressed they didn’t have one on this tragic, too little remembered figure.) The post ends with an actual photo of the lady in question a photo of an “anonymous double of Anna Csillag” [thanks, Studiolum!]; while her hair is impressive, it is not as long as in the drawings. You can’t trust advertising.

Comments

  1. It’s not up on wiki yet, can you add a link when you know it’s up?

  2. It’s up. Someone who knows how to do it ought to add this picture.

  3. I just tried, but evidently I’m not someone who knows how to do it.

  4. John Emerson says:

    I just bought a 1953 edition of Carco’s fictionized life of Gerard de Nerval, and inside the cover was an ad clipped from a newspaper: “Apprenez l’art d’ecrire: Augmentez votre valeur de 100%” and on the other side “Voulez-vous savoir dessiner?”
    As I understand, Carco was a working class Bohemian and self-made author of a type not common in the US. He wrote dozens of books including early noir fiction.

  5. No, I knew you couldn’t do it Language. I wasn’t expecting you to. I remember we’ve had this problem before.

  6. No, I knew you couldn’t do it Language. I wasn’t expecting you to. I remember we’ve had this problem before.

  7. i’ve read a few of his short stories right now and it feels as if one reads one’s blog entries, just the time is different, so feels live and real
    a great find, thanks
    hope he escaped
    the hair, my classmate in the secondary school had Anne Szillag’s leghth of hair, but she never had it down like that, only in one or two braids, it looked beautiful
    and then she cut it and it was the time of mullets in vogue, but her hair had so sharp edges she looked like the cartoon character from Penny arcade, his bob looks exactly like hers, so i recall her everytime i look at those comics

  8. I found this book (Antoine, by Antoine Cierplikowski, 1945) on Google Books, which says on p. 96, “Little girls objecting to the torture of hair-brushing and tight braiding were always consoled by the promise of hair as long as Anna Csillag’s. But at the mature age of seventy-six, Anna Csillag, probably bored with being an example, had her trademarked hair bobbed and ran the old house of Csillag into bankruptcy.” Unfortunately, I can find no indication anywhere of her dates. There’s a nine-page article about her here that probably has all the information one might want, if one could 1) see more than a couple of snippets and 2) read Hungarian.

  9. My wife’s hair is as long as in that photo; of course it’s always braided.

  10. Thank you very much, Language. Just a minor issue: the last photo is not of Anna Csillag. It’s an anonymous photo from the collection of the author of the essay who, giving a lyrical description of it, compares it to Anna Csillag: “W czasie, kiedy wykonano to zdjęcie, szpalty gazet zaludniał wizerunek Anny Csillag… Dziewczyna ze zdjęcia to nieznany sobowtór Anny Csillag, jakaś jej inna, zapoznana wersja.” – “At the time when this picture was made, newspaper columns popularized the image of Anna Csillag… This girl on the picture is like an anonymous double of Anna Csillag, like another, unauthorized version of hers.”
    The Hungarian book you have quoted is a propaganda journal from the times of Hungarian Stalinism (1949-1956). The figure referred in it as “Anna Csillag” has nothing to do with the protagonist of the old ads. She was a Communist invention: an orphan peasant girl who, under the patronage of the party, became a tractorist, and a Stahanovist at that. Contemporary propaganda literature depicted through her carreer the breath-taking achievements of the young Communist regime.

  11. Thanks very much for both corrections!

  12. @Someone [...] ought to add this picture.
    Done.
    @Studiolum
    Just a minor correction: szpalty gazet zaludniał wizerunek Anny Csillag is literally ‘newspaper columns were populated by the image of Anna Csillag’ and I think zapoznana means ‘overlooked, ignored’ here.

  13. @AJ: Yes, you’re right. “Popularized” was a – perhaps excessively – free translation, while “unauthorized” instead of “overlooked” for ‘zapoznana’ was an intentional pun on the “authority” of the decades long ad of Anna Csillag.

  14. Hmm … so did the “Anna Csillag” of the adverts actually exist?

  15. It is not known for sure. But we know that their central office at Seilergasse 7, visited with excitement by the young Hitler, surely existed. A faithful reader of río Wang, viator has visited this shop today and has sent a photo of how it looks like today. It is disillusioning. Sic transit gloria ad Astra.

  16. rootlesscosmo says:

    By the late 1920′s, John Held Jr. was doing ironic-old-fashioned woodcuts for the New Yorker, including one of the Seven Sutherland Sisters; I haven’t found it isn’t online, but the Sisters are here:
    http://www.sideshowworld.com/tgod7sutherlands.html

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Isn’t it strange that besides Anna, only the men in the town were able to grow a lot of extra hair, but the women were not? Did she want to be the only woman with such abundant hair?

  18. DeeXtrovert says:

    I wish I could find the link, but about a year ago – some time after I’d been reveling in Bruno Schulz’s stories – a big fuss was made about the “discovery” of this ad (in Polish) which was proof that Schulz, who quoted it at length in one of his stories, hadn’t simply made it up himself. It’s weird to read of the absolute pervasiveness of these ads so soon afterwards!

  19. In college I had a Czech friend with very long hair — when she visited we used to joke that Paula and her hair came — but she always rued that she couldn’t get it as long as her ancestors. She had photos of the women of the family (turn of the last century), their heads all turned flirtateously to the side, the better to show off their hair, which flowed nearly to the floor. It was very impressive, but I can’t imagine it would have been easy to care for. Paula’s hairwashing took over an hour and involved a lot of products to make it possible to comb it all out.

  20. AJ: done
    It seems very easy. I must try and remember how you did it.

  21. Sorry, Anna, you’ve been bested:
    The world’s longest documented hair belongs to Xie Qiuping (China) at 5.627 m (18 ft 5.54 in) when measured on May 8, 2004. She has been growing her hair since 1973 from the age of 13.
    I live in a building full of Chinese women–most of whom have very short “bobbed” hair–most also showing bald spots enlarging in the centers of their pates–I would have never guessed that a Chinese woman could grow 18 feet of hair.
    And I thought my hair was long!
    ur fiend,
    thegrowlingwolf

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Most people have a fixed length beyond which individual hairs will stop growing and instead fall off after a while. This is most obvious on other parts than the top of the head (look at eyebrows and eyelashes) because the hairs there are short, but for the hair on the head this natural limit is rarely reached because people usually cut their hair and shave their beards. Those extra-long-haired people must have a rare gene what keeps hair growing much longer than the average, and for some, almost indefinitely. Long head hair (including beards) must be one of those “display features”, like the tail of the peacock, or the huge antlers of the male moose, the growth or which, way beyond their biological usefulness, indicates their “owner”‘s reproductive fitness.
    Huge beards: when I was around 7 years old I read a story in a children’s magazine about a character called “Barbithorax”: On l’appelait Barbithorax parce que sa barbe lui couvrait le thorax, and the beard continued to grow and grow.

  23. John Emerson says:

    My brother took a glaucoma medication that made his eyelashes grow longer. It was a real nuisance because when he worked north of the Arctic Circle his eyes would freeze shut, so he trimmed them. But normal uncut eyelashes taper to a feathery point, whereas cut eyelashes are sturdy and sharp-edged on the end and gouged his cheeks. He had to learn to live with it.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    In the movie The English Patient one of the characters is a Sikh, and Sikh men don’t cut their hair or beard but keep them neatly tucked into their turban. The actor is himself a Sikh, and at one point he is shown without his turban, his hair at least waist-length.

  25. In Norway, we use sandpaper and antifreeze on our eyelashes.

  26. Zythophile says:

    Paula’s hairwashing took over an hour and involved a lot of products to make it possible to comb it all out.
    This raises a point I have wondered over for years: in the many tens of millennia before scissors and knives, what did our ancestors do with their hair to make it manageable? Did they all look like Rastafarians?

  27. J. W. Brewer says:

    I got off on the wrong foot with the appellation “Queen of Hirsuteness,” because for me (and fwiw wikipedia seems to share my idiolect here insofar as it redirects to “hirsutism”) hirsuteness in reference to a woman is not a positive description of luxuriously flowing locks but rather implies a socially-disadvantageous condition of having hair sprouting from parts of the body where typically only males manifest it. I say this not to be snarky but out of genuine curiosity as to whether the word has a different meaning/valence in our host’s idiolect or whether it was a jocularly-intended extended use that didn’t work on me because I hadn’t had my coffee before first reading it.

  28. “The actor is himself a Sikh, and at one point he is shown without his turban, his hair at least waist-length.”
    That would be Naveen Andrews, currently starring as Sayid in the popular TV series Lost, but he doesn’t look like that anymore: http://www.tv.com/naveen-andrews/person/51875/summary.html
    (Originally, I was going to post a picture from TVGuide, but gu*de.com is questionable content).

  29. J. W. Brewer says:

    I see that I misquoted our host, which is embarrassing, but “Queen of Hirsutism” has if anything more of the pejorative implications for me than the misquoted “Queen of Hirsuteness” did. It makes (to my ear) the lady sound like a sideshow attraction, which presumably was not the key to a successful marketing campaign, unless Habsburg consumers were odder than I would have thought.

  30. John Emerson says:

    “Hirsutism” as a diagnosis seems to be limited to excess body hair, especially on women. I don’t know what the word would be for Anna.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    in the many tens of millennia before scissors and knives, what did our ancestors do with their hair to make it manageable?
    One of the things they did was singe it off, a custom that was still practiced recently among some Native Canadian people as a sign of mourning. But cutting instruments date back to the Stone Age, flint and especially obsidian being in demand for this purpose. Braiding was also very popular, and still is in many places in the world.
    If you look at older European pictures of ordinary lower- or middle-class life, many people are shown with hats or other head-coverings, even when they are inside a house. In the absence of shampoo (a word of Indian origin) and of personal hygiene in general, many poor people cut their hair short or even shaved their heads but kept them covered. Selling one’s long hair for wigs and other hairpieces was a common way for poor women to make some money in desperate times (of course, it could not be done too often). Wigs became popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, partly because they don’t get dirty as quickly as one’s actual hair and they keep their style much longer. You could wash your shaved head at the same time as your face, then put on your wig. The elaborate styles of Louis XIV-type wigs could not have been maintained on anyone’s actual hair without spending hours on them every day (and few people would have had enough hair for this, even if they had had enough time).

  32. Wiki “Razors”:
    Razors have been identified from many Bronze Age cultures. These were made of bronze or obsidian and were generally oval in shape, with a small tang protruding from one of the short ends.[citation needed]
    Here’s (one third of the way down) an allegedly 5-10th century “Byzantine” razor. A bit too rusty to have been very practical, possibly.
    William of Ockham (c. 1285–1349)
    Wiki: The term “Ockham’s razor” first appeared in 1852 in the works of Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet (1788–1856).
    I’ve noticed that “Ockham’s razor” has become a very popular term recently, I wonder why?

  33. I believe what we have here is the Recency Illusion in action. I’ve been reading about Occam’s razor (usually so spelled) all my life, and haven’t noticed any recent uptick.

  34. Well I’m looking for pictures of William of Ockham (isn’t he usually spelt that way, even if his razor isn’t?)with a beard. And if I find one, I’m going to put a note up at Wikipedia: For Occam’s razor, see Hamilton’s razor. So there.

  35. John Emerson says:

    Some peoples plucked beards rather than shaving them. Presumably these were less-hairy peoples.

  36. Hairy peoples may have used beeswax (I’m guessing).

  37. My grandmother (I thought of her as my living link to the Victorian Age) had a head of hair that hung to the small of her back, and she brushed and braided it every evening before going to bed. During the day she wore the braid coiled on the back of ther head.

  38. I forgot to mention that the brushing was 100 strokes.

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