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The Marvelous Hairy Girls

The Gonzales Sisters and Their Worlds

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks

View Inside Price: $35.00

June 16, 2009
250 pages, x
40 b/w
ISBN: 9780300127331

Out of Print

This book tells the extraordinary story of three sixteenth-century sisters who, along with their father and brothers, were afflicted with an extremely rare genetic condition that made them unusually hairy. Amazingly, the Gonzales sisters were not mocked or shunned, but were welcomed in the courts of Europe, spending much of their lives among nobles, musicians, and artists. Their double identity as humans and beasts made them intriguing, and the girls and their father were the subjects not only of medical investigations but also of a considerable number of portraits, some of which still hang in European castles today.


Using the Gonzales family as a lens, historian Merry Wiesner-Hanks examines their varied and wondrous times. The story of this family connects with every important change of their era—political and religious violence, colonial conquest, new forms of scholarship and science—and also provides insights into the complex relationships between beastliness, monstrosity, and gender in early modern life.

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her many books include Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World and the prize-winning Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, now in its third edition. She lives in Mequon, WI.

"A stimulating and innovative book."—Charles Zilka, author of The Book of Witchcraft

"The Marvelous Hairy Girls is a wonderful book, meticulously researched, witty and beautifully written. It takes the reader on a journey into the ordinary world of marvelous monsters, strange women and astonishing events. Wiesner-Hanks offers us a very different glimpse into the sixteenth century and its inhabitants, which ultimately offers us a different vision of ourselves. There is something to stimulate and fascinate on every page." - Barbara Creed, author of The Monstrous-Feminine

"Wiesner-Hanks uses her subjects to explore Renaissance notions of the marvelous and the miraculous."—The New Yorker

"Merry Wiesner-Hanks...uses art, historical records, and scientific treatises to piece together the first comprehensive account of the Gonzaleses' lives and times."—Ann Landi, ARTnews

" enjoyable read, packed with fascinating bits."—David Luhrssen, The Shepherd Express

‘[Weisner-Hanks] tells the story superbly…Her skilful narrative also demonstrates how the history of early modern Europe has been transformed over the last decade…This is microhistory as it should be. Anyone in search of a riveting introduction to the mindset of early modern Europeans should read this book.’

"For those who are unfamiliar with the history of the Gonzales family, this book is probably the easiest place to learn about the lives of this family, whose rare medical condition—hypertrichosis—produced excess hair growth, and made them some of the most famous marvels of their day. . . . The stories  of the hairy girls and their worlds are an enjoyable read."—Kathryn A. Hoffmann, Renaissance Quarterly

"This book is remarkable not only because of its provocative subject, but also on account of Weisner-Hanks' adept weaving of the Gonzales family history with research on a wide variety of early modern topics."—Jean Dangler, Europe: Early Modern and Modern

"In a tour de force, [Wiesner-Hanks] examines the wider world of ideas, folklore, and popular culture, including dangerous beasts, the unnatural, monsters, the exotic, and the role of women in her discussion of exploration and discovery, religion, marriage and the family, and Renaissance science and collectors. . . . Highly recommended." —D. C. Baxter, Choice