Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rescue Annie Is A French Suicide Victim From Late 1800's?

Did you ever take First Aid & CPR classes? Ever wonder about the face of that dummy that they use? Probably not. I actually didn't until I took an instructor class a couple years back. For some reason this just popped into my head and I thought it was a bit morbid and a little interesting so I would pass it on.

Rescue Annie or Resusci-Annie depending on who one asks, is the More common form of CPR dummy that is used for practice in class.


Annie isn't just an innocent CPR practice victim though. Annie may in fact be the death mask of "L'Inconnue de la Seine" which is (French for "the unknown woman of the Seine") was an unidentified young woman whose death mask became a popular fixture on the walls of artists' homes after 1900. Her visage was the inspiration for numerous literary works.

According to an often-repeated story, the body of the young woman was pulled out of the Seine River at the Quai de Louvre in Paris around the late 1880s.


The body showed no signs of violence, and suicide was suspected. According to some accounts a pathologist at the Paris morgue was so taken by her beauty that he had a moulder make a plaster cast death mask of her face. The identity of the girl was never discovered.


In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable morbid fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Albert Camus and others compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, inviting numerous speculations as to what clues the eerily happy expression in her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.

The popularity of the figure is also of interest to the history of artistic media, relating to its widespread reproduction. The original cast had been photographed, and new casts were created back from the film negatives. These new casts displayed details that are usually lost in bodies taken from the water, but the apparent preservation of these details in the visage of the cast seemed to only reinforce its authenticity.

Critic A. Alvarez wrote in his book on suicide, The Savage God: "I am told that a whole generation of German girls modeled their looks on her." According to Hans Hesse of the University of Sussex, Alvarez reports, "the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950s. He thinks that German actresses like Elisabeth Bergner modeled themselves on her.


There are additional speculations as to the origins of annie but this seems to be the most widespread one, and by far the most interesting that I came across. So, next time you're taking a CPR class and it's your turn to practice rescue breaths, you'll look at the dummy differently I think.

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