Beauteous Wonder of a Different Kind’: Hester Santlow’s Celebrity Status
In “Mr Pope’s Welcome Home from Greece,” John Gay compliments Hester Santlow as one “fam’d for dance.” Gay’s inclusion of Santlow in a scene depicting Alexander Pope’s friends waiting to greet him after his travels to Greece (or in truth, his time spent translating the Illiad) shows that she was rubbing shoulders with the literary and theatrical elite. Eighteenth-century dance writer and dance master at Drury Lane John Weaver praises Santlow as “the most graceful, most agreeable, [and] the most correct performer in the world.” Santlow not only captured the attention of Gay, Pope, and Weaver, but also John Essex, Colley Cibber, and Richard Steele. In other words, Santlow was a dancer in a celebrity culture just as much as she was a celebrity in a culture of dance. Having performed in over 800 dances and numerous stage productions, Santlow embodies that illusive and illustrious “it” quality as defined by Joseph Roach in It. Much like the phenomena caused by the fictional servant-star of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Santlow’s image—a reproduction of John Ellys’ painting of her as Harlequin—adorned snuff-boxes and was frequently sold. I track Santlow’s reputation both on and off the stage and suggest that to consider Santlow’s popularity in connection with Richardson’s Pamela helps to shed light on how that evasive “it” quality was defined by eighteenth-century British culture.
Marisa Iglesias is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida. Her current research focuses on eighteenth-century British literature that reflects experiences in the West Indian colonies. Her additional area of interest includes servants in texts by eighteenth-century British women writers.