The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1996, Volume 42, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

Lola Montez: The California Adventures of Europe’s Notorious Courtesan.

By James F. Varley. Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1995. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. 266 pages. $29.95 (cloth).

The subtitle of this book is somewhat misleading since one- half of Varley’s biography of Lola Montez (nee Eliza Rosanna Gilbert) is an accounting of this danseuse’s life prior and subsequent to her California sojourn. Notwithstanding, the author has done an admirable job of reconstructing Montez’s activities during her three-year residence (1853-56) in the gold mining regions of this state. Drawing extensively upon published primary sources, as well as manuscripts from the Bancroft Library, the Library of Congress, and New York City’s Municipal Archives, Varley has constructed a textual portrait that captures the likeness of his subject with considerable fidelity.

While she danced upon the stages of several mining camps, Montez established her residence in Grass Valley, then the sixth largest town in California. With a grizzly bear in her yard, and a succession of paramours in her bed, Montez became one that community’s more colorful characters. But what makes this book even more interesting reading is Varley’s portrayal of Montez as an embodiment of contradictionsÑa woman who, on the one hand, would use deceit masterfully as a tool for self-promotion and, on the other, would put her self in harm’s way by nursing sick miners. In sum, this new biography of Montez is a welcome addition to the small but growing literature about women in Gold Rush California.