Victorian strongman Eugen Sandow was thought to possess the perfect male body. Like Oscar Wilde, he is essential to understanding modern manhoodby David Waller / December 1, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the evening of Tuesday October 29, 1889, at around 10 o’clock, a young man wearing a monocle and evening suit jumped onto the stage of the Royal Aquarium Music Hall in Westminster. There was a moment of astonishment among the crowd, followed almost immediately by catcalls of derision, as the feeble-looking youngster with flaxen hair and girlish face declared in a voice barely audible against the hubbub, that he intended to prove himself the strongest man in the world.
The man was an unknown Prussian by the name of Eugen Sandow (1867-1925). Having ripped off nearly all of his clothes, he triumphed on that evening and became an instant music-hall sensation, going on to great success as a performer in North America and throughout the British empire. He became an early example of a global celebrity, thought to possess the most perfect male body, and in my new book I argue that he deserves to be resurrected as a significant cultural figure. He straddled the Victorian world and the modern, and, like Oscar Wilde, helps us understand the birth of modern manhood. He also deserves credit for initiating the modern craze for physical fitness.