The Beauty Of Romanian Women

The esthetic appreciation of the external aspect of the Romanian imposed a non-differential consideration of the two sexes. However, the image of man has usually been in the foreground. To balance things, the numerous descriptions of Romanian women must be reminded. The physical features assigned to our people are to be found in the image of its feminine part, too. The favorable appreciations of the external look are more numerous than the unfavorable ones. The rule is delight, aversion is the exception. In point of fact, for the four decades we refer to there is only a case that can be mentioned of a traveler experiencing a feeling of repulsion towards a Romanian woman. It is the case of Hallberg-Broich (1839); even if he considered the Wallachians "a handsome, healthy people," he ascertained, quite disappointed, that:Women the stronger they are the lazier; they cover their chest only with a shirt, underneath which the shape of the breasts, hanging as some tobacco bags, can be easily guessed dangling in a strong and disgusting waving movement. And even the clothes of women, young girls and servants from the biggest houses are slovenly.This grotesque description must not be given much consideration because of its singularity; moreover, the same Hallberg-Broich speaks about Transylvania as a land of "roses… of beautiful girls and beautiful horses." Generally when we deal with not so eulogistic terms, they do not deny the extraordinary charm of Romanian women, but they cast it to the background, behind men. Griselini gives us the oldest example, when he portrays the men from Banat: On the contrary, the other sex, more numerous, is neither beautiful, nor harmoniously built, because to few women did nature show much generosity.In mid-19th century, the Meyers Lexicon says:As regards the beauty of the stature and forms, men are undoubtedly superior to women, an affirmation reiterated later (1860) by Steinhard, from whom we can learn that: Regarding the garb and forms, men are definitely superior to women.Kotzebue judges more personally when he maintains too that in the Moldavian mountains the attribute "beautiful race of people" refers particularly to men. However, these few isolated voices cannot compensate the multitude of those who praise the beauty of Romanian women. And more often, these voices do this to the detriment of men. An early proof of this dichotomy of judgments may be found in 1792 with Lebrecht who, on the one hand, presents the Wallachian people as "very wronged by step-mother nature," and on the other hand contradicts himself later when he asserts about one half of the nation:It is true that their women are strongly built, but they often have an unexpected charm, which distinguishes them from men. They wear their hair nicely combed, in plaits or brought around their head, with corals to their ears and around the neck, but otherwise they are simply dressed.In the first half of the 19th century, in literature rather little is said about the beauty of Romanian women. Only von Karaczay (after 1819) establishes that the fair sex is entirely characterized by beauty. Wilkinson's impression, in 1820, that taken generally, women are not too beautiful, but they have a good natural grace and an admirable lithe body, has been well-known to German readers due to Rudolf Lindau (1829, 1849). As the middle of the century approaches, German-speaking observers start to show a sudden and unexpected sensibility towards the charm of Romanian women, which will be ceaselessly underlined and quasi-univocally praised further on. The signal for what we called above the chorus of praising voices was given between 1848-1860 by Kotzebue and von Berg. On the occasion of his trip through Banat, at the sight of Romanian women he could observe from his camp in Orsova, Uhl (1848) was overcome with sheer enthusiasm:The hands and the legs, and especially their beautiful stature and the big strong breast, whose forms can be very well discerned through the light waving clothes that cover them, have a charm and a grace that cannot be described; otherwise, the entire being of the Wallachian woman gives off a perceptible nobleness in every movement; to all that, a great contribution has the picturesque costume, fluttering at ease around their arms and legs. When, in 1860, Kotzebue, describing the population from the Moldavian mountains, put men, esthetically speaking, above the rare beautiful women, he did not take into consideration the whole of Moldavia, because only three years before (1857) he had spoken about the fair sex which especially in Moldavia deserves its name. That is why von Berg's words, the first of our authors who tried to thoroughly analyze this beauty of Wallachian girls from the eastern part of the Austrian monarchy, sound like an echo of the former. He writes:The fair sex really deserves, in youth, this name, because I have never seen in any nation such beautiful and graceful creatures. The shape of the head and of the cheeks is the most beautiful, even and oval, the nose has Roman features. The eyes with long eyelashes and thick eyebrows are usually of a dark color, mostly black, like their hair, and they have a gentle look, one could say even dreamy, but if emotion turns up, as for example when dancing, they gain a vivid, though never wild, brightness.After he describes the girls' care for their hair, he carries on with their stature, their posture, their way of moving, and just like Zurich, he underlines the superiority of the Romanian type over the central European one:The body and the stature are lithe and flawless, with nice round forms and with no useless addition. The legs and hands are small and thin. Girls' movements are, as their carriage, as graceful and flexible as they can be, and they could compete with the ladies from any salon. I believe that this extraordinary easiness stems from a certain assurance of the gait, for it is known that since early youth girls are used to wear small weights on their heads. It is true, the praise of von Berg regards the young unmarried Wallachian girls. Mature women are presented in a less advantageous light. As lovely and sweet to love are the young Wallachian girls, not the same thing can be said about women who, with the passage of years, neglect themselves so much that not even the rich ones preserve any sign of their former beauty. A year later, the thorough description of Romanian girls was plagiarized by Bohn (1861), and then restated by F. Umlauft – this time indicating the source – in his statistic geographical manual Die Oesterreichische-Ungarische Monarchie (1876), 3rd edition issued in 1897. Even more readers learned about the "far too beautiful stature and a well-defined body" – quoted in Klandens' Handbuch der Erdkunde (1867) and in Meyers Lexikon (1878), the first referring to the peasant women, and the second to Romanian girls in general. Mention must be made about the etymological synthesis, written in popular style, Die Völker der Erde (The Peoples of the Earth), by a Catholic monk, B. Platz (1894):The Romanian woman reaches early the fulfillment of her forms, and this is seldom noticed in the grace and the beauty of the body. These last affirmations from the above-mentioned compilations were confirmed by travelers and connoisseurs of our country in the last period of the 19th century. Extremely beautiful creatures may be found among women: lithe, black-eyed, with dark complexion and rich black hair. Their festive costume is gorgeous, Hamm declares, in 1862, about Moldavian women. And the Swiss Julius Wechsler exclaims enthusiastically (1880):What about Romanian women? So much grace and charm lie in their way of being, so much dignity and conviction in their gait! So much taste in clothing and arranging the house! And how wonderful they are even in their little trifles and oddities! As we can see, observers are impressed not by the woman's body features, but especially by her bearing, so graceful and confident, pointed out by Berg. What impressed him with young peasant girls is praised by Wechsler with the ladies from the upper classes. Wechsler's impression is shared by Mite Kremnitz who, in the second biography of Carmen Sylva, recognizes with Romanian women from the high society not only grace, but also a natural perception of beauty, putting at the same level the elegance of women from the capital of Romania with those from the French and Russian metropolises.As to luxury, elegance, modern polish, Bucharest can be compared to Paris and Petersburg. Romanian women have adopted an exquisite grace in Paris, in so far as their sense of beauty was not innate.The fact that this sense of beauty is not a feature of the ladies alone, on the contrary, the grace and noblesse can be found all over the country, is pointed out by Mite Kremnitz in the description of [Queen] Carmen Sylva's appearance, in 1866, on the solemn arrival of the young newlywed princely couple in Bucharest – a description that once again gives to woman a privileged place among her fellow townsmen:The people who cheered her arrival were not the conventional people of the northern cities. They were so beautiful in their original multicolored costumes, so full of dignity and grace that they seemed to be trained after artistic criteria by some director on the stage of a theatre, in order to play a princely procession.In contrast with such flattering exclamations, Ioan Slavici affirmed that the features of the beautiful women from Transylvania were not the round forms, but lithe bodies, small hands, small legs, thin lips, nice shoulders, small breasts, all these being features of most Romanian women; that affirmation seemed quasi-disappointed. Then Slavici made distinctions along geographical criteria:Beautiful women are to be met especially in Arad, Timisoara, Caransebes, Campulung, Nasaud, Brasov, but the most beautiful ones are in Sibiu, where the highlanders' wives stay home, weaving, spinning, embroidering and taking care of their beauty.Under the influence of Slavici, three years later, in the monograph Siebenbürgen. Eine Dartellung des Landes und der Leute (Transylvania. Description of the Country and the People), Rudolf Bergner revealed his personal impressions based on his own observations. Though he started from Slavici, Bergner came up with additional details on the subject:Few nations can boast so many amazing women and young girls who, when not beautiful, are at least attractive and pretty. Generally, I would like to notice that for most of Romanian women, a round face is more characteristic than a long one, cheeks that reveal health, beautiful teeth, thin nose, mostly pointed, and lithe body. It would be a big mistake to describe Romanian women as portly beauties; their breasts are often narrow and their hands and legs small and fragile. Many of them have chestnut hair, and the brunettes have white complexion. Blondes can be found in Nasaud and Maramures. Extremely beautiful women are in Sibiu and Brasov, also pretty attractive are the wives of the inhabitants of the Apuseni [Western Carpathian] Mountains, who seduce with their freshness and health.The following year, Bergner published another book entitled In den Marmoros. Ungarische Culturbilder (1881) in which, comparing Romanian women to the Carpatho-Russian women, he noticed: With no other people can there be found so many well-built, attractive and beautiful women as with the Wallachians. Most of the times they are tall and thin, with beautiful and round arms, and a chaste plenitude of the breasts, which delight the eye and flatter the senses. With most, the head has a classical shape, the cheek is often an excellent oval, and the nose has a rigorous Roman cut. But the most beautiful part of their face is the eyes, cheerful and at the same time gentle and shy, almost always of dark color and shadowed by long black eye-lashes. Last, but not least, we must point out the rich hair and the delicate skin of the Wallachian woman, her small mouth adorned with strong and healthy teeth, and the lips, red as fire, that challenge the fresh colors of the cheeks. Such a Wallachian girl is nothing but milk and blood, she walks into the world with a simple shirt and, as an ornament, she wears in front and at the back a woolen apron, weaved by herself and sewed in ancient patterns (peasant skirt - catrintza).As a matter of fact, the thesis of Romanian charm played the role of a current argument in the national struggle, as proved in 1892 by Bergner, in the study Zur Topographie und Ethologie Siebenbürgens, as it was used to explain the power of the Romanians from Transylvania and their great preponderance over the other nations there. Although he distanced himself from such an opinion, Bergner writes:Anywhere a Romanian meets elements of foreign people, he proves stronger; not even the Serb, the Carpatho-Russian, or the German can modify the linguistic boundary to the detriment of the Romanians. There is a widespread opinion that 'the Romanian element drinks greedily foreign blood' and that Romanian women denationalize, imperceptibly but incessantly, by their beauty and wits. Finally, let's wrap up this collection of praise from the 19th century with testimonies from Meyers Lexikon, 1890 and 1897; this time we deal with comparisons suggested by ancient works of art.Romanian girls stand out through the beauty of their forms and gait; the head and the features of the face often remind of ancient statues; black eyes, shadowed by long eye-lashes give an ideal expression to the face.In opposition with that multitude of commendations, only by chance and exceptionally can there be found a reserved or critical voice. For example, the admiring applause for Romanian femininity is more stifled than with the authors above in some portrait sketches from the end of the 19th century. Thus, Thurn, in 1876, stands up polemically against the exaggerations coming out from the quills of some previous travelers, which he did not name:Excessive praises of Romanian beauties that the authors of some hasty travel sketches used to offer to their readers are hogwash. What Thurn cannot discover precisely is the grace remarked by von Berg, Wechsler and Mite Kremnitz; on the contrary, he asserts that the Wallachian woman is not accustomed to use her arms. According to him, just like the Greek woman, she ages too early and, lacking motion, she puts on weight. There is no doubt that he referred to women from the upper classes. However, Thurn does not either act as an opponent of his criticized but undisclosed predecessors when he admits that:Among the boyars' wives there are many portly creatures, most of the times of middle stature, beautiful complexion, black eyes and hair, of a delicate southern kind. The observation that Romanian beauty does not last and that from a girl's charm soon too little remains for married women, may have been emphasized by von Berg. This can be found again with Hellwald (1878) and Heksch (1881) who, as seen before, considered that Romanian woman had a classical head any painter would wish for, adding however:This beauty disappears soon. A 30-year-old Romanian woman is quite old, the more so when at that age she is already a grandmother.To conclude, something must be said about the German representation of Romanian woman at the beginning of the 20th century. It is interesting that she appears brilliant in war literature. Indeed, in the appreciations made by the participants in the 1916-1917 campaign, we may find superlatives that outdo all previous praises. F. C. Endres (Der Krieg gegen Rumänien, 1917) finds that Romanian woman is almost classically graceful; while M. Osborn (Gegen die Romänen, 1917) found many times, during the march, girls as beautiful as fairies, with wild sensuous eyes and slightly tanned skin. Very impressed was the infantry regiment physician and writer Hans Carossa who, in Rumänisches Tagebuch (1961), described the women and young girls he had met in a village in Transylvania at the end of November 1916. Esthetical points of view vie with biological, anthropological and ethnological findings:Firstly, I saw on the road old men, then young women and girls. The last ones are an elegant stock, with a free easy gait, proud chest, healthy round cheeks, nicely self-contained in the spirit. The first thing you think of is Italy, but there is still something else, some kind of wild grace, to which a certain hesitation is added, an ancient and primitive noblesse, that calls to one's mind Asia. from The Image of Romanians in German-Speaking Countries 1775-1918.Selection by Dumitru HÂNCU, published in Arc magazine no. 1-2/1993

by Klaus Heitmann