On a recent visit to Hull’s Maritime Museum (in my home town) I found this handsome fellow or is it a pretty maid? When x-rayed it turns out not to be a mermaid at all but is part-monkey skull with ivory teeth and glass eyes, part fish tail and part wire. In the 1820’s a similar beautiful ‘mermaid’ toured Beverley near Hull, much to the amazement of the flocking crowds. According to the museum the earliest fake mermaid dates back to the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth century there was real (fake) mermaid mania! What I particularly loved about seeing this mermaid was how different it was to the mermaids/sirens I’d just seen (in the Feren’s Art Gallery not in the marina!). Ulysses and the Sirens is a beautiful painting and the sirens in it are seductive and beautiful. It’s a relief that Herbert James Draper used his imagination and didn’t cross Queen Victoria Square to see these examples.
In reaction to the visit, my mermaid constructs herself – cutting herself with a razor clam and sewing herself up with fishing wire. She stitches herself up as well as us. Perhaps real mermaids faked themselves to keep their secret safe and pulled such horrible expressions above so that we wouldn’t come looking for them? My mermaid is smart too – she keeps her own collection of fish in her tail which she uses to keep her modesty. She’s clearly a much harder catch than Draper’s sirens and probably just as deadly.