American dancer Isadora Duncan is widely considered the mother of Modern Dance. Her greatest influences were Ancient Greece, Nietzsche and Richard Wagner.
She tragically died in an automobile accident in France. Her autobiography, "My Life", was published in 1927. Australian vegetarian composer Percy Grainger considered it to be a "life-enriching masterpiece." Following are some interesting excerpts (page numbers refer to the 1988 Penguin edition):
In 1899 Isadora, age 21, and her mother, sister and two brothers, all left America for London:
Chapter 6, p.40: "It was Raymond [her brother] who had the bright idea of searching round the wharves until he found a small cattle-boat going to Hull. The captain of this ship was so touched by Raymond's story that he consented to take us as passengers, although it was against regulations of his ship, and one morning, with only a few handbags, for our trunks had all been burned in the Windsor Hotel fire, we embarked. I believe that it was this trip which was the great influence in making Raymond a vegetarian, for the sight of a couple of hundred poor struggling beasts in the hold, on their way to London from the plains of the Middle West, goring each other with their horns and moaning in the most piteous way, night and day, made a deep impression on us."
We are not told whether Raymond became vegetarian at this time, or whether if just gave him the idea for later. During their year in London Isadora gives the names of many theatrical people she met who were close to George Bernard Shaw (already well known as a vegetarian activist), but makes no mention of him until much later, below. In 1900 the family moved to Paris, she describes spending time at the Louvre museum with Raymond:
Chapter 8, p.52:
"At the closing hour we walked back through the dusk, lingering before the statues in the Tuileries gardens, and when we had dined off white beans, salad, and red wine, we were about as happy as anyone could be."
Again we are not told whether this was a deliberate vegetarian choice - or a result of the poverty which Isadora describes in some detail. Meat would have been expensive at that time. The following year, the family all went to Greece, sailing in a small boat down the coast from Venice:
Chapter 12, p.88: "We stopped at the little Turkish town of Prevesa [now in Greece], on the Epirus coast, and bought provisions - a huge goats-cheese and quantities of ripe olives and dried fish. As there was no shelter on the sailing-boat, I shall never forget to my dying day, the smell of that cheese and fish, exposed all day to the blazing sun...."
We have other mentions of fish
below, possibly suggesting they may have viewed it differently to 'meat'. They were also not too concerned about the details:
Chapter 12, p.89: We had our lunch in a little wayside inn, where for the first time, we tasted wine preserved with resin in classic pig-skin. It tasted like furniture-polish, but making wry faces, we insisted that it was delicious."
However it now becomes clearer that the family was not (with the possible exception of Raymond) vegetarian at this time:
Chapter 12, p.92: "We invited the five families to a banquet where we had lamb on the spit, and other kinds of tempting food. We also served much raki - the cognac of the country."
Even Raymond actively participated in the next ceremony for their new villa:
Chapter 12, p.93: "With impressive solemnity the old priest commenced. He asked us to designate the exact line of the foundations of the house. We did this by dancing about it in a square which Raymond had already designed upon the ground. He then found the corner-stone nearest to the house and, just as the great red sun was setting, he cut the throat of the black cock and its crimson blood squirted upon the stone. Holding the knife in one hand and the slaughtered bird in the other, he solemnly promenaded three times around the square of the foundation."
Perhaps this ceremony made them think about what they were doing, soon afterwards:
Chapter 12, p.94: "The mornings were to be devoted to teaching the inhabitants to dance and sing. They must be made to celebrate the Greek gods and to give up their terrible modern costumes. Then after a light lunch of green vegetables - for we had decided to give up meat and become vegetarians - the afternoons were to be spent in meditation, and the evenings given over to pagan ceremonies with appropriate music."
In 1904 Isadora was invited by Cosima Wagner to dance at the Bayreuth Festival, and she appeared in Wagner's Tanhauser. Richard Wagner was well known to have been strongly promoting vegetarianism before he died, and whilst Isadora makes no mention of this she must have been aware of it. She also says that she was reading Schopenhauer and Nietzsche who were both significant influences on Wagner's vegetarianism. (photo right from 1904)
She then went to Russia for a while and in St. Petersburg says:
Chapter 17, pp.120-121: "That evening a magnificent carriage, warmed and filled with expensive furs, conducted me to the opera [no qualms expressed about the furs....] . . . . [next day:] As twelve o'clock approached, there were preparations for luncheon, but, at the table, Pavlowa [Anna Pavlova, Russian Ballerina] sat white and pale, and hardly touched food or wine. I admit I was hungry, and ate many podjarsky cutlets."
We have not been able to find any reference to 'podjarsky cutlets' - but there were several vegetarian societies and restaurants in Russia at this time, so possibly some sort of nut cutlets...? Isadora then went to Berlin where she set up her first dance school.
Chapter 18, p.130: "Dr. Hoffa was one of the greatest benefactors of humanity, a famous surgeon who was paid fabulous prices for his services, and then spent his entire fortune on a hospital for poor children, which he ran at his own expense, just outside Berlin. From the beginning of my school he constituted himself our doctor and surgeon in all matters concerning the health of the children and the sanitation of the school. In fact, without his untiring aid I could never have brought these children to the beautiful result of health and harmony which they afterwards attained. He was a great, robust, fine-looking man, with red cheeks, and possessed such a friendly smile that all the children loved him as much as I did. […]
The children made phenomenal progress, and I believe their good health was due to the very sane vegetarian diet advised by Dr. Hoffa. He was of the opinion that, at any rate for the education of children, it is necessary to have a diet of fresh vegetables, plenty of fruit, but no meat."
There are references to a Dr. Albert Hoffa, and a Dr. Emil Hoffa in Berlin at this time - possibly the same person with one source having the wrong name, but either way no further details are currently available. Not long after this is a reference to Isadora's mother eating shrimps, which still leaves the question of how they defined vegetarianism, or whether just mother had reverted to eating fish.
In 1910 Isadora became involved with the sewing machine millionaire Paris Singer, who she refers to as 'Lohengrin' in the book. He took her on Mediterranean cruise on his private yacht, stopping at Pompeii:
Chapter 22, p.169-170: "Lohengrin ordered dozens of bottles of wine and a lamb à la Pélicaire, which we ate Arab fashion with our fingers. . . . Then too I learned to know all the really good restaurants in Paris . . . For the first time I learned the difference between a poulet cocotte and a poulet simple . . ."
Clearly his money had tempted her away from her vegetarianism, and there were further references to champagne and caviar. But Isadora also says she learned that wealth did not bring happiness and yearned for a simpler life again. On another cruise, this time down the Nile:
Chapter 23, p.175: "Egypt is
a land of dreams for us - a land of labour for the poor fellah - but, in any case, it is the only land that I know where labour can be beautiful. The fellah, who lives mainly on a soup of lentils, and unleavened bread, has a beautiful, supple body, and whether stooping in the fields or drawing water from the Nile presents always a bronze model to delight the heart of a sculptor."
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Isadora was running another dance school in Paris. (photo right taken during the war)
Chapter 28, p.220-221: "For in those days of the war everyone felt the same enthusiasm. That marvellous message of defiance, the wonderful enthusiasm that was to lead to miles of devastated countryside and graveyards, who can say whether it was right or wrong? Certainly at the present moment [she was writing this in 1927] it seems to have been rather useless, but how can we judge? And Romain Rolland [well known as a vegetarian activist and pacifist] sitting in Switzerland, above it all, calling upon his pale and thoughtful head the curses of some and the blessings of others."
. . . "Bernard Shaw [also notorious during the war as a vegetarian pacifist] says that as long as men torture and slay animals and eat their flesh we shall have war. I think all sane, thinking people must be of his opinion. The children of my school were all vegetarians, [presumably this refers to the Paris school as well as the earlier one in Berlin] and grew strong and beautiful on a vegetable and fruit diet. Sometimes during the war when I heard the cries of the wounded I thought of the cries of animals in the slaughter-house, and I felt that, as we torture these poor defenceless creatures, so the gods torture us. Who loves this horrible thing called war? Probably the meat-eaters, having killed, feel the need to kill-kill birds, animals - the tender stricken deer-hunt foxes.
The butcher with his bloody apron incites bloodshed, murder. Why not? From cutting the throat of a young calf to cutting the throat of our brothers and sisters is but a step. While we are ourselves the living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on the earth?"
Isadora now seems to have thought a little more about various forms of animal cruelty, during the war she visited Havana, Cuba, where she met a woman with a large collection of monkeys in her large garden, some of which often rode on her shoulders:
Chapter 29, p.236:
"She told me that in her will she had left her entire collection of monkeys to the Pasteur Institute for experimental work in connection with cancer and tuberculosis, which seemed to me a peculiar form of showing post-mortem love.
However she was still rather inconsistent, mentioning later owning an ermine coat which was pawned when she ran out of money, and admiration for her Irish-American grandfather's stories about the war against the 'redskins' on his way west in a covered wagon. The precise details of Isadora's vegetarianism may never be know, but at least she made an some attempts to move in the right direction. She died in a motor car accident shortly after writing her memoirs in 1927.