The Mask of Glory: 1920

Mrs Daffodil will caution the sensitive that some may find this post (and its illustration), which is about French soldiers disfigured in the Great War, disturbing.

The Mask of Glory

Paul Junka [pseudonym of “Mlle Ferponnes”]

A powerful car, marked with large white initials, U. S. A., called for me to begin my series of visits to the principal establishments of the American Red Cross in and around Paris. I was shown to-day one of the most ingenious and touching things that has arisen from the war, which if it has developed means of destruction to a degree hitherto unknown, has, on the contrary, exalted to sublimity acts of devotion and the divine art of healing sorrow.

“Now,” Miss Farrand, my guide, announced, with that lovely smile which told at the same time her intimate pride in the great things she showed me and the modesty which she brought to her role. “Now I will show you the masks.” “The masks?” “Yes; for the mutilated.”

We crossed Paris and reached that part of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, which, with its little houses behind gates hung with ivy and glycin, recalled a corner of our calm Provinces, where, in similar dwellings and silent gardens, grow the virile virtues which our race has proved to the world—to the world that knew only its superficial and glittering side. The motorcar stopped before one of these homes, well designed to shelter the dream of a thinker and artist.

“Here is the studio of Mrs. Maynard Ladd, under whose direction the masks for the wounded are made.” said Miss Farrand.

We followed an alley between two walls covered with vines and entered a room where one noticed only plaster casts and molds, the habitual equipment of a sculptor’s studio. From thence we climbed three flights up to Mrs. Ladd’s private studio, and at first saw but a vast bay-window showing a sunlit perspective of sky and foliage. Several people were working here, and I was presented to Mr. Wlerick, the sculptor, Mrs. Ladd’s collaborator. As Mrs. Ladd was at Vichy, he courteously placed himself at my disposition to furnish me all details of interest.

A soldier rose to go, but Mr. Wlerick cordially called him back. “Wait a moment, will you, old fellow? Madame came to see the masks. Will you kindly show her yours?”

With military discipline the soldier made a haft turn and stood before me, his face raised for my inspection. He was a sharpshooter, with slightly olive complexion, and on the ardent face, under his rakishly worn cap, I could find nothing whatever abnormal. I was surprised, and said: “And the mask?” Mr. Wlerick smiled, saying, “He has it on. Look closer, Madame.” I approached and could, indeed, distinguish a faint line upon the soldier’s check; a shadow, rather, that went from mouth to ear. It was so slight a thing that I said, “Oh, yes,” out of politeness, not being able to realize that beneath the perfect appearance of the face was a terrible mutilation. Then, pressing the soldier’s hand, I added, “My friend, it is wonderful; no one could believe that you wear a mask!”

My sincerity was obvious, my astonishment so complete that I was not conscious of it. The poilu was overjoyed, saluted and went out; shortly afterward I understood why my simple words gave him such keen pleasure.

On one side of the large bay-window that lighted the studio numbers of plaster molds were lying. I started forward to see them and stopped, horror-struck. It was almost impossible to discover human lineaments in these casts that, nevertheless, represented poor martyred faces which had been serene, often beautiful, almost always smiling from being loved, from being young, and having all the future before them, and which were now but terrible formless ruins, something indescribable, “which has no more a name in any tongue.” There were noses torn off, twisted lips, disfigured chins and crushed foreheads—the whole gamut of deformity.

While I gazed, wide-eyed, Mr. Wlerick explained to me that these were the first molds, made upon the mutilé exactly as his wound had left him. Finally a second mold is modeled after a photograph of the blesse taken before his wound, which is a reconstruction of his normal face. To restore a complete resemblance to this visage and give back its proper psychological expression a medical study is often necessary, examination of the throat, etc. This work requires a rather long and delicate series of processes, no less than ten in number:

  1. A plaster negative on the mutilé.
  2. A plaster positive on the mutilé.
  3. Modeling after a photograph prior to the wound.
  4. and 5. Plaster molds on the portrait model.
  5. Galvanoplastie (deposit of sulphate of copper by electricity).
  6. Work of adjustment upon the blesse.
  7. Unalterable painting upon the mutilé.
  8. Placing of artificial eyes, lashes and brows.
  9. System of spectacles to hold the mask in place. “When this difficult work is ended and the arrangement is as it should be, it is difficult to realize that the one who wears this mask is generally completely disfigured,” continued M. Wlerick. “You have seen it in the case of the sharpshooter whom I presented to you just now. Here is his cast. . .”

The sculptor indicated a plaster mold which seemed a strange animal head and which would have appeared to be a caricature had not we compared it with the corresponding cast which showed the head reconstructed. For this terrible deformation was due to the absence of the whole lower part of the face, and I had not even guessed it! I understood now why my unthinking compliment had so delighted the poor soldier!

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

An example of a mask for a wounded soldier, 1919

Upon further inquiries I learned that the invention of the mask is due to Captain Derwent Wood, of the Second London Hospital. Mrs. Ladd adopted it as it was first made, but it has been since developed and perfected. The first masks were necessarily heavy and quite different from the models of delicacy and lightness which were shown to me. The masks, if need be, may contain a dressing and are indestructible; if the wounded is careful they will last indefinitely. They are made at the expense of the American Red Cross, and the painting upon them has been rendered completely unalterable.

I approached another soldier who was seated in the center of the room. Standing beside him an artist, a colleague of Mrs. Ladd’s. was moving a paint-brush across his cheek with a light, gracious movement that would have seemed a gesture in a game if one had not known, as I had just learned, that this motion on the wretched wounded face represented the height of art and love. At this moment the painter was giving the finishing touches to the indefinable bluish tone that the razor leaves upon a close-shaven cheek. It was unbelievably natural, and one would have to be informed that it was not a face fresh from the hands of a careful barber, but rather an extraordinary imitation of a human visage.

“Oh, it is fine; it is splendid! How they should bless you, these young men!” I cried, considering by turns the soldier beaming with pleasure and the artist, who stood there as modest as though she had accomplished the most ordinary work. “Certainly they will never forget you; you make them again the lovely boys they were before their wounds; you give them back all the joys of life, all the possibilities of happiness.” Ah! how he looked at me, the poor poilu so terribly disfigured. I am sure this boy, tried beyond human endurance, was upheld in his adversity by the tenderness of a dream, and for him this mask, which hid so admirably his fearful and glorious misery, was the Mask of Love!

I was delighted with this sudden thought that came to me; then I smiled, for what I had believed to have been an inspiration was only a memory. The Mask of Love is the title of one of the most famous books by Daniel-Lesueur.

“These masks,” I said to those about me, “are a glorious achievement, indeed, and one can never sufficiently realize how much patience and talent is spent here to lessen the heroic suffering of our soldiers. However, it seems to me that the using of this mask implies a real vanity upon your part; for one should not hide a glorious wound, but wear it proudly. …”

They smiled, flattered, because in the depths of their simple souls they had sincerely thought themselves too disfigured to appear in public. A little farmer of Châlons expressed the humiliation that indiscrete looks cause our wounded. “Oh! you know, Madame, one does not like to be conspicuous. …”

Still filled with my idea. I continued, “Listen, I have an inspiration. I owe it, moreover, to your modesty. I shall call the article which I am to write concerning you the Mask of Glory, because it is, indeed, your glory you mask!” There were many exclamations around me, and Mrs. Ladd’s collaborators approved heartily.

Later, talking with Mrs. Ladd herself concerning the zeal expended and the difficulties conquered, Mrs. Ladd smiled gently and said, “We are amply rewarded by the joy of our mutilés. They write me very lovely letters; would you like to see them?” I accepted her offer eagerly and quote here two of the most affecting:

Dear Madame: I am so greatly satisfied with my mask that I cannot wait to come to thank you again. My parents, too, are very happy to see me as I am. When I arrived they scarcely recognized me as the same wounded man. Also the neighbors wondered how it is possible for one to make such a beautiful nose in so short a time! Briefly, it is a tremendous success. If I return to Paris, as I hope, I will certainly come to see you.François Gorall, September 6, 1918.

Madame: I surprised my parents with my mask and I can find no words to paint their delight; they could hardly believe it was I! You have done so much for me that I do not know how to express my gratitude, for it is thanks to you that I will be able to have my own home. My fiancée finds me not unpleasing and has not refused me as she would have had the right to do. She will soon be my wife.Marc Maréchal.

“All who enter here leave hope behind” was inscribed upon the portal of Dante’s Inferno. I would that a poet of genius might find the fitting inscription for Mrs. Ladd’s studio, where so many beings, secretly despairing, have found and will find supreme comfort. And once more the homage of our gratitude goes out to the American Red Cross, which has discovered here an incomparable and almost divine means of soothing one of the most poignant forms of human suffering.

The New France, Vol. 3, 1920: p. 544

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this Armistice Day we remember the service of veterans everywhere, and especially the wounded, who bear scars both visible and hidden.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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