Madame Maria Teresa: The Amazing Corsican Fairy

One of the smallest women in the world was Madame Maria Teresa (sometimes spelled Teresia) who became known as the Corsican Fairy but usually billed herself as the “Amazing Corsican Fairy.” She was born in 1743 in Corsica, the same island where Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769. However, Madame Maria Teresa was born in Stata Ota.

Corsican Fairy Painted by William Hinks in 1774, Courtesy of The Royal College of Surgeons of England from the BBC

Corsican Fairy Painted by William Hinks in 1774. Courtesy of The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

By the time she was in her twenties, the Corsican Fairy had attained a height of a mere 34 inches and weighed just 26 pounds. People claimed she was an ideal miniature person. Like the famous French Giant, Monsieur Louis, she was “finely proportioned” and an exact miniature of a normal-sized person. Of the Corsican Fairy the Caledonian Mercury reported in 1775:

“Her amazing littleness (which never fails to make the most surprising impression on the mind of the spectator) cannot entitle her to the character of a Dwarf; for, besides that of her being a Beauty, her exact proportion and symmetry, may without the least falsehood, allow her to be called one of the most perfect and admirable productions of human nature, in miniature. … In show, she is the most extraordinary curiosity ever known, or even heard of in history; and the curious, in all countries, where she has been shewn, pronounced her to be the finest display of human nature, in miniature, they ever saw.”[1]

Corsica Fairy in Comparison to a Normal Woman, Public Domain

Corsica Fairy in comparison to a normal-sized woman. Public domain.

She wasn’t just the perfect tiny replica of a normal size person, she was also polite, well-spoken, and beguiling. It was also reported that she spoke French and Italian with the “greatest vivacity.” In addition, she was described as lively, spirited, and intelligent.

As others who were physically different, she appeared in England several times. Her first appearance likely occurred in 1770 because on 11 June 1770 in Birmingham the following was printed about her:

“Novelty has sometimes Charms sufficient to engage the Attention of the Public; but if the Curiosity exhibited has no real Merit, that Attention will be found but of very short Duration. It is quite the Reverse with Maria Theresa, the Corsican Fairy. Her astonishing Littleness, admirable Symmetry, and pleasing Vivacity, daily attract great Numbers of the Curious to see her. Struck with an agreeable Surprize at her amazing Form, they bestow the highest Enocomiums on her, and confirm that Opinion of the Judicious in all Countries where she has been shewn, that she is the finest display of human Nature, in Miniature, they ever saw.”[2]

A year later, in 1771, she appeared at several fairs, including the Bury, Bartholomew, and Colchester Fairs. She also reappeared in England in 1773, 1774, and, in 1775, when she exhibited herself in London.

Advertisement for the Corsican Fairy in 1775. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When people saw the Corsica Fairy they were impressed, and this included London’s royalty. In fact, London’s majesties were so impressed they reputedly viewed her three times, but it was not just royalty interested in her. the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson was also fascinated by he tiny woman and in a biographical sketch of him it was reported:

“He was desirous of seeing every thing that was extraordinary in art or nature … He was able to make himself entertaining in his description of what he had seen. A spark was enough to illuminate him. The Giant and the Corsican Fairy were objects of attention to him. The riding-horses in Astley’s amphitheatre … he went to see; and on the fireworks of Torri he wrote a Latin poem.”[3]

As for Londoners, they could generally see the Corsican Fairy at her apartment on High Street, where, admittance was 1 shilling. In 1775, her exhibition there ran from eleven in the morning until seven at night and patrons could see her perform a minuet or dance a Corsican jig. Numerous advertisements ran touting her appearances. For instance, she appeared at the Theatre Royal in the comedy, “As You Like It,” in January of 1776. At the end of the second act she performed a mock minuet and at the end of the fourth act, she danced a Corsican jig. She also appeared in character as Columbine in the play.

For the 1775-1776 season, the Corsican Fairy moved to Dublin, Ireland and then to Edinburgh, Scotland. Soon after, she gave up performing. The next time newspapers reported on her was when she died during childbirth in Norwich in 1790.

References:

  • [1] Corsican Fairy, in Caledonian Mercury, 13 November 1775, p. 3.
  • [2] Langford, John Alfred, A Century of Birmingham Life; or, a chronicle of local events, from 1741 to 1841, 1868, p. 146.
  • [3] Piozzi, Hester Lynch, Johnsoniana, 1884, p. 192.

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