Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Also, head on over to Edwardian Promenade for a behind the scenes look at Washington, DC during the Edwardian era.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
The movie is very loosely based on the life of the 17th century Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), who, in the film, falls in love during her reign but has to deal with the political realities of her society. It was billed as Garbo's return to cinema after an eighteen-month hiatus.
The plot in a nutshell: The film opens with the death of King Gustavus Adolphus during the 30 years war. The little Queen is brought into court and takes the oath of office. Years pass, and Christina is now grown up and chafing under the restraints of office. There is much speculation about who she might marry, including her cousin Charles, but Christina declares like Queen Elizabeth I of England that she will never marry. To escape the burdens of the crown, Queen Christina rides off into the countryside, dressed like a man. There she meets and secretly falls for the dashing Spanish envoy on his way to the royal court. The envoy is of course delighted when he finds out that his companion for the night is not a man but a woman. Of course, he doesn’t know that she is the Queen of Sweden. At court, Christina realizes that her people will never countenance her marrying a foreigner. Torn between her duty and her heart, Queen Christina makes a fateful decision to abdicate to live a life of a private citizen, leaving her cousin Charles Gustav as King of Sweden.
The film was made during what could be considered the Golden Age of the historical biopic. During the 1930’s Hollywood churned out film after film based on the lives of Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari, Marie Curie, Emile Zola, Disraeli, Alfred Dreyfus, Juarez, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Louis Pasteur. Although it was filmed solely on a Hollywood soundstage, the viewer gets the feeling that they are seeing what life was like in 17th Century Sweden. All the important personages of Christina’s life appear in the film, Ebbe, Carl Gustav, and Magnus. But the film goes off the rails when it imagines a love affair between Christina and the Spanish Ambassador Antonio (played by John Gilbert). It reduces the real Christina’s life to worn torn between duty and desire instead of over religion. Also the idea that Christina couldn’t marry Antonio because he’s a foreigner doesn’t wash. A marriage was once proposed between Christina and Archduke Ulrich, the nephew of the King of Denmark. Antonio being Catholic would have been the problem. In 1651, Christina made the momentous decision to convert, knowing full well that she would have to abdicate, Catholicism being illegal in Sweden at the time.
After her father's death, her mother, Maria Eleanora, insisted that Christina sleep with her, where a casket of her father’s heart was kept. The royal apartments were kept dark so that no daylight could filter in while priests intoned sermons day and night. This went on for three years and Christina never forgot the experience. From that moment on she was disillusioned with the state religion, Lutheranism. She felt that it was gloomy and spent too much time emphasizing sin.
The film does emphasize her other romances, one with Count Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, a nobleman who was half-French and half-Swedish. He was handsome and charming and Christina made him Colonel of the Queen’s Guards and Ambassador Extraordinary to France. However it only hints at her relationship with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Ebba Sparre, who she nicknamed Belle. The complete opposite of the Queen, Belle was timid and shy, with no intellectual interests. The Queen once shocked the English ambassador by declaring that ‘Belle’s’ inside was as beautiful as her outside.
Although the film plays fast and lose with the historical record, Greta Garbo gives a masterful performance as Queen Christina. Just watching the scene where she’s pretending to be a man and has to share a room with Antonio, is like watching a master class in acting. One could say that the role was one that she was born to play. Throughout the film, Garbo affects masculine attire just as the real Queen Christina preferred. She shared many traits with the Queen besides their nationality. Garbo was tall, with a deep voice, and a somewhat masculine demeanor. She never married, but was known to enjoy relationships with both men and women. Like Christina, Garbo was fiercely independent, and no qualms about finally giving up acting to live a private life.
Gilbert comes off less well. While Garbo’s acting is effortlessly natural, Gilbert’s is a little too theatrical. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the film is a remarkable accomplishment if only for Garbo’s performance and for introducing audiences to the strange and interesting life of Queen Christina.
Interesting fact: the young Laurence Olivier auditioned to play Antonio in Queen Christina but Garbo insisted that her former lover John Gilbert be cast to play the role. Olivier would later make his Hollywood debut playing Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
John Gilbert (1899-1936)
Gilbert was one of the biggest stars of the silent screen in the 1920’s. His greatest successes started in 1924, when he moved to MGM, particularly when he was paired with Greta Garbo. Their chemistry was electric from their first film together, Flesh and the Devil. They soon started a very public affair that was rocky from the beginning. While Gilbert wanted to marry Garbo, she was reluctant. While she may have never actually said, ‘I vant to be alone,’ Garbo was notorious for her inability to commit. Gilbert finally wore her down and a wedding date was set for September 8, 1926, the only problem was that Garbo never showed up. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, allegedly made a crude remark about Garbo, calling her a fat Swede, and Gilbert decked him. According to many this was the end of Gilbert’s career as an actor. When sound came along, Mayer allegedly fiddled with the recording so that Gilbert’s voice sounded high-pitched. The truth is that Gilbert was never again given the quality roles that he had gotten early in his career. The worst being a film called Glorious Night where he kept kissing his leading lady over and over again while murmuring ‘I love you.’ The scene was later parodied in Singin’ in the Rain. By the time he appeared with Garbo in Queen Christina, he was sliding down the slippery slope into full blown alcoholism, which eventually killed him at the age of 36.
The historical Queen Christina when she was born, it was thought at first that she was a boy. It was probably wishful thinking on the part of her father King Gustavus Adolphus because when her body was examined several years ago, it was quite clear that physically she was a woman. To this day, historians are undecided about whether or not Christina was bisexual or a lesbian. Whatever the truth from the beginning her father raised her as a boy. “As a young girl,” she later wrote, “I had an aversion to everything that women do and say.” In her portraits, she certainly looks more masculine than feminine. She loved talking and swearing like a man, she rode astride instead of sidesaddle and she was a total misogynist. Her favorite hobbies were sports, riding and hunting bears. By the time she was 15, she could read and speak five languages, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Latin, which proved useful when she later converted to Catholicism. Her father decreed that she would have an education fit for a prince.
It was after her abdication that the more interesting part of Christina's life took place. She took of her skirts and put on a pair of pants, and headed for Rome. From then on, she rarely wore female dress, and she cut her hair short, and frequently wore a sword. In 1654, Christina was accepted into the Catholic Church. It was a huge kudos for the church which was still dealing with the aftershocks of the Protestant Reformation.
Although Christina was no longer a Queen, she still had the tastes of a Queen. In Rome, she moved into a magnificent palace, the Palazzo Farnese, which was partly designed by Michelangelo. She began to scandalize Roman society by removing the strategically placed fig leaves off statues and the draperies off paintings. She also shocked them by her behavior. She frequented the theater and bawdy entertainments. Allegedly she also had a string of lovers, one of whom was her Master of the Horse. She was frequently pushy rude and ambitious. After a few years, she began to regret her decision to abdicate.
Since Sweden was out of the question, Christina began to look around for another kingdom to rule. Her first choice was the Kingdom of Naples with military help from Italy and France. Seizing Naples would also help her out financially. Although she was paid an allowance by Sweden, the money was not enough to fund her lavish lifestyle. She was often forced to pawn her valuables, or to live off loans and gifts from admirers. Her plans fell through when Monaldeschi apparently revealed her plans to the Pope. Christina got her revenge when he was murdered by members of her entourage while they were in France.
Unfortunately people were appalled by his murder; she was ostracized by the French. The Pope told her that she was not welcome back in Rome. Christina went anyway and was ostracized by Rome society as well. But Christina was not done yet. Her next play was for the Polish crown in 1668. The Polish monarchy was elected, not hereditary, and Christina thought her chances were good since her family had provided several monarchs for Poland already. But Poland was not ready for a Queen, particularly one that was not married and probably could not provide heirs at the age of 42. She also had a pretty murky reputation by this time thanks to the murder of Monaldeschi.
Bereft of a kingdom to rule, Christina turned to intellectual pursuits. She became interested in astronomy which was guaranteed to piss off the Catholic hierarchy (think of what they did to Galileo!). She also dabbled in archeology and employed her own theater troupe, which was known for their bawdy plays. Later in life, she became interested in a form of Christian mysticism called Quietism which had been banned by the Church. After a short illness, Christina died in Rome in 1689 where she was buried in the Basilica of St. Peter’s.
Queen Christina lived her life unapologetically, with verve, indulging her adventurous nature in a way that she could never have done with the weight of the Swedish crown on her shoulder. While others might feel that she should have put her duty to the crown before her personal needs, Christina was not the kind of person to do what others told her to do. She was not without her flaws, she was arrogant and pushy, and kept her imperious manner even without a throne, but she was also a generous patron to the arts and sciences.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It might seem strange to include a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and saint of the Orthodox Church in a site about scandalous women, but from the moment Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Ella) stepped into the glittering world of the Romanov Court at the age of nineteen, her life was constantly dogged by gossip and scandal.
Despite the disapproval of her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and having rejected the proposals of several suitors - including her cousin, Willy, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II -'the most beautiful princess in Europe' chose to marry Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, younger brother of Tsar Alexander III. Immediately, she became the focus of gossip and, within six months of her marriage, German newspapers reported she was about to be divorced. Her husband, it was said, was a homosexual, a pervert and a masochist, who treated her cruelly. She, it was said, took refuge in the arms of Serge's younger brother, Pavel. The truth was very different and yet, to this day, the gossip continues and the fact that the couple remained childless, has led to all kinds of speculation about the intimate details of their marriage, which probably remained unconsummated.
In my novel Most Beautiful Princess, I have endeavoured to portray a fuller picture of the true nature of their relationship.Ella loved her husband deeply. Serge was a highly-strung and sensitive man, terrified of expressing his feelings for fear of appearing weak. He loved art, was fluent in several languages, was deeply devoted to his Orthodox faith, had studied theology to the extent that he had impressed the Pope, and had a refinement that was uncommon in the Russian Court. At the time that Ella accepted his proposal, he was distraught about the death of his father, Tsar Alexander II, who was murdered by a terrorist's bomb and died in agony.
To Serge, since the Tsar was God's representative on earth, the murder of his father was not only a personal tragedy, it was a sacrilege. Consequently, Serge became one of the most reactionary members of the Imperial Family, determined to stamp out any hint of revolutionary activity and his actions - particularly when he was appointed Governor General of Moscow - led to his being widely disliked, even hated, by the people.The greater their antipathy towards him, the more they loved and respected his wife and when, in 1891, she converted to Orthodoxy, her popularity reached even greater heights.
To her father, however, turning from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, was seen as a betrayal of all she had been brought up to believe, and the totally unfounded rumours that Serge had compelled to make the decision, spread through all the courts in Europe. If her conversion had scandalised the family, an even greater 'scandal' was to ensue. In 1905, Serge was blown to pieces by a terrorist's bomb. Ella, hastening to the scene, literally picked up his mangled remains in her own hands and, three days later, visited his assassin in prison in order to forgive him and ask what had led to such an act of violence.From then on, after twenty years as a passive wife, Ella's life took on a whole new direction.
Dispensing with her priceless jewels,furs, palaces and wealth, she built a hospital, orphanage and convent in a slum district of Moscow, and becoming the Abbess of her Order, she personally tended the most abject patients. The idea of an 'active' religious order was entirely new in Russia, and, while the Bishops debated as to whether or not the idea was too Protestant, the aristocracy were aghast. That a member of the Imperial Family - sister of the Tsarina Alexandra - should stoop so low as to tend poor patients was demeaning and unthinkable. Ella, they said, must be suffering from some kind of nervous breakdown, brought on by the shock of Serge's murder. Undaunted, Ella continued her work - often going out unguarded at night to gather the child prostitutes and abandoned babies from the back streets. The Muscovites revered her as a saint but even that saintly reputation did not protect her from further vicious rumours, when war broke out against her native Germany.
Now, no longer 'the saint of Moscow', she was accused of being a 'Hessian witch' and 'German spy', spat at and even stoned in the street.Antipathy towards the entire Imperial Family was reaching a climax in 1916 and, to Ella, one of the chief reasons for this was the persistent (and again, totally unfounded) rumours about the nature of the relationship between her sister, the Tsarina, and the moujik, Rasputin. When Rasputin was murdered it was widely believed that Ella had played a part in his death - a fact that led to the utter breakdown of relations between Ella and her sister (whose marriage to Tsar Nicholas, Ella had almost single-handedly engineered).
By now, revolutionary fervour was sweeping the country, and several times, members of her extended family sent message to Ella, offering her a means of escape before it was too late. Having vowed to spend her life in the service of her convent, however, she refused to leave, thereby sealing her own fate. The night after the murder of the Tsar and his family, Ella was hurled into a disused mine in Siberia and left to starve to death. It truly is ironic to me that a woman who devoted her whole life to the service of others, should have constantly been at the centre of so many scandals. Perhaps it is because she was 'the most beautiful princess in Europe' that jealousy inspired so many of her detractors to create the gossip and lies.
My novel Most Beautiful Princess is based on my earlier biography of the Grand Duchess - which was shortlisted for the 2003 U.K. Biographers' Club Award. I decided to rewrite the book as a novel in order to make this remarkable life more accessible, and to allow more freedom in expressing the motivations, thoughts, emotions and spirituality of this truly remarkable and 'scandalous' granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
The novel is available via Amazon:
Monday, December 15, 2008
Elizabeth, called Ella, was the sister of Tsarina Alexandra and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Like her sister, Elizabeth was also murdered by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. But before her death, her marriage to Grand Duke Serge, was subject to the most vicious rumors, and she was suspected of having an affair.
Christina Croft was born in Warwickshire in 1961, the youngest of three children, and was brought up to appreciate literature from an early age. Her childhood memories of holidays are of visiting historic buildings and the homes of famous authors, playwrights and poets.
Following an academic education at Notre Dame Grammar School in Leeds, she studied English and Divinity in Liverpool, gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Post Graduate Certificate of Education. In term time she carried out voluntary work in a soup kitchen for the homeless, and during the summer vacations she worked voluntarily as a guide in Lourdes, living in the Pyrenean Camp des Jeunes, and leading group tours for people from all over the world.
After gaining teaching experience, she acted as a private tutor to a family in France before returning to England, where she worked as a nursing auxiliary. She has taught English, History, R.E. and French in schools and colleges, to children from the ages of four to eighteen. After obtaining a Diploma in Health Education and qualifying as a Registered Nurse, she worked in hospitals and the community. Her many faceted experiences, and knowledge of both French and Italian, have been invaluable in her understanding of human nature, and to her writing.
Christina has written from as far back as she can remember, her earliest success coming at the age of twelve when a poem was accepted for publication. Since then she has published two books of poetry as well as writing for the poetry magazines Aereopagus, Helicon and Cherrybite. Working as a poet-in-the-community, she worked with children of different backgrounds, assisting them to express themselves through literature, and participated in the creation of an anthology of their work.
She has co-written two musicals - Branwell, based on the life of Branwell Bronte; and Tsaritsa based on the life of Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia - and written the lyrics for songs which have been recorded and performed on local radio and by choirs at concerts in churches, village halls and schools. She has also written and performed in comic reviews. In 2003, Christina's biography of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna of Russia, was short listed for the Biographers’ Club Award.
Her new novel, The Counting House, - described by various English editors as ‘a wonderful evocation of childhood’ ; ‘eminently suitable for publication,’ and ‘wonderfully adaptable for film or television’ - brings together varied experiences as seen through a child’s eye view of the world.
Christina's innate ability to take us into the kingdom of childhood, as well as into the kingdoms of those who have ruled, is uncanny. Her books are lived in, rather than read and put aside, feasts for the soul, engaging the heart and imagination. If the work of Charles Dickens was merged with that of Barbara Pym, it might approach the sheer quality, and immediacy found in Christina's work.
She currently lives in Yorkshire, where she is working on a fifth novel and pursuing historical research with a view to writing further non-fiction works based around the lives of the European royal families in the 19th century.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Christina's post on Grand Duchess Ella.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Mitfords were raised in what would be called genteel poverty. Their father David, Lord Redesdale, was one of those men, who have big ideas but no real follow through. He enjoyed being outdoors, so he bought a claim in Swastika, Canada hoping to make his fortune panning for gold. Unfortunately, while he found a few random flakes, he never made a fortune, although he tried for the next twenty years. Their mother Sydney, was the daughter of Thomas Bowles, founder of the British version of Vanity Fair and publisher of The Lady (a magazine that still exists today). While their father spent his time in the House of Lords after he succeeded to his title, Sydney was the one who was the practical one. She learned how to raise seven children on a budget, raising chickens and growing vegetables to feed her growing brood. She also worked part-time at The Lady. All six girls were educated at home, which was still the fashion in aristocratic families. The only son, Tom, of course was sent off to prep school at Eton, which made his sisters envious.
Diana Mitford was the first Mitford sister to scandalize her family. Considered the beauty with her lustruous blonde hair and blue Mitford eyes, she married Bryan Guinness, of the Guiness Brewing family, at the age of 18. They had two sons, Jonathan and Desmond, but Diana was soon restless and searching for meaning in her life. If it had been the seventies, she probably would have opted for a career, instead, she found what she was looking for in Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Mosley had been a rising star of the Conservative party, one of the youngest ever members of Parliament when he took his seat at the age of 21, before he crossed the floor to join the Labour Party. He was impatient and egotistical, when things were not moving fast enough for him, he broke with the Labour Party, founding the New Party and eventually the British Union of Fasicists.
Too bad he was also married to Cimmie, the daughter of George Curzon, former Viceroy of India, and the rich American heiress Mary Leiter. He was also an inveterate womanizer who had already had an affair with his wife's elder sister. Despite this, Diana fell head over heels in love with him and was determined to be with him, even though he had already told her that he would never leave his wife and three children. Diana could not be persuaded that she was making a mistake, that divorce would ruin her socially. At the age of 22, she left her husband and moved into a flat where she could be available to Mosley when he could get away from his family. The relationship caused a schism in the family, David Mitford always refused to meet his daughter's lover.
Unity Valkyrie Mitford (1914-1949) did her sister one better. She was the only child that was actually conceived in Swastika, Canada which surely was a sign of things to come. A sullen, moody teenager, she became obssessed with facism, joining Mosley's BUF. But her biggest obssession was with Adolf Hitler. While most teenagers had pictures of film stars on their walls, Unity had posters of Hitler. Unity convinced her parents to send her to Germany where she could learn the language, but really her plan was to meet Adolf Hitler. As soon as she was settled in Munich, she put her plan into action. Hitler was a creature of habit, so Unity was able to find out exactly which cafes he frequented and plant herself nonchalantly at a table while she waited for him to arrive. After several weeks, she was finally rewarded when Hitler showed up one day. He was immediately intrigued by Unity's Aryan good looks. While not as beautiful as her sisters, she was still tall, blonde and sturdy just like the Valkyrie she was named after.
Over a period of time, Unity and the Fuhrer became better acquainted to the chagrin of his followers, who couldn't understand what Hitler saw in Unity. Unlike others in Hitler's inner circle, who walked on tenterhooks worrying about pissing him off, Unity had no qualms about teasing him. She treated him like any other English friend, which Hitler found absolutely delightful. One could say that he was, if not an ardent anglophile, at least a student of English history and it amused him to have this daughter of the English aristocracy sitting at his feet, worshipping him. Unity was not only an ardent facist but an ardent Nazi. Mary Lovell recounts a story in her biography of the sisters of Unity touring an apartment that used to belong to a Jewish family and being extremely cold-hearted about their fate.
Through Unity, Diana and her lover Mosley also became acquainted with Hitler as well as other members of her family including her parents and her brother Tom. They all thought that Hitler was delightful and charming. Mosley hoped that Hitler would provide financial support for the BUF which was rapidly draining funds. However, Mosley and Hitler never really got along. Two alpha males with huge egos in a room doesn't make for comfortable parties. After the death of Mosley's wife Cimmie, Mosley and Diana were eventually married with Hitler as one of the guests. Diana was pregnant at the time with her first child by Mosley, Alexander, which necessitated the wedding. Diana was hoping to interest Hitler in investing in a radio station that would broadcast in the UK, which could give the BUF an income seperate from Mosley's fortune. Diana made many trips back and forth from England to Germany in the years leading up to the war, where she spent many hours with her sister Unity being entertained by Hitler. They attended many important events of the Third Reich including the 1936 Olympic Games as his guests. He would serve them elaborate high teas where Diana and Unity would be forced to each huge amounts of sweets to please him.
Meanwhile back in England, while her family was hobnobbing with Hitler, Jessica (1917-1997) who was always called by her nickname of Decca, was chafing under the constraints of her life. She'd begged her mother for a chance to go to school, hoping to attend university in the future but Sydney Mitford would have none of it. While Unity and Diana were intrigued by fascism, Jessica was drawn more towards communism. As a child, she'd had a pet sheep named Miranda that went everywhere with her, even Church. She was particularly close to her younger sister Debo, who was only three years younger and to Unity. However, when Unity fell in with Hitler and fascism, it caused a rift between the sisters. All of the Mitford sisters had come out as debutantes, but Jessica in particular hated the upper class society ritual. She'd been saving money since childhood in a running away fund at the local bank just waiting for the day that she could use it.
She had her chance when she turned 19. At a weekend house party, she met her second cousin Esmond Romilly. It was love at first sight. Although only 18, Esmond was already famous. He'd been expelled from Wellington College after refusing to join the Officer Training Corps. His antics had caught the attention of the press because he was Winston Churchill's nephew by marriage. He and his brother had already published an autobiography called Out of Bounds. He lived in London where he ran a communist bookshop and helped other boys who had run away from public schools. He'd already been to Spain where he'd fought with the International Brigade against Franco until he caught dysentary and was invalided out. In one weekend, they'd decided to elope together to Spain. Jessica lied to her parents that she was going away with friends, going so far as to send chatty letters detailing her trip. But the truth soon came out. Since Jessica was still under age she was made a ward of the court, however, Esmond and Jessica had already been living as man and wife with all the privileges involved and Jessica soon found herself pregnant. A hasty wedding was arranged.
The Churchill Connection:Esmond Romilly wasn't the only one to be related to Churchill by marriage. The Mitford's were also related as well. Their father David Mitford was the first cousin of Clementine and Nellie Hozier who had married Winston Churchill and Bertram Romilly respectively. There was even a rumor that either Clementine or Nellie was David Mitford's half-sister since their mother seemed to have had quite a few lovers. When the Mitfords were growing up they would spent time with the Churchills at Chartwell. When Diana and Mosley were interned during World War II, Diana's parents appealed to Churchill to see about getting Diana released. Winston was not an advocate of B-18, which gave leave to put anyone the government felt was not loyal to the crown in prison. He managed to get them certain privileges, and finally to allow them to be kept in the same prison together before they were released after the war.
The marriage of the Mitford sisters parents also ended during the war. Although David Mitford had found Hitler to be just as delightful as his wife, once England declared war on Germany, he became virulently anti-Hitler, while Sydney refused to denounce him, or to believe that he was as evil as he was being painted in the media (a trait that she shared with her daughter Diana). Diana and Mosley had been interned during the war, Mosley seen as an enemy of the state. He had been advocating against the war, arguing for peace, which was against the patriotic fever sweeping the nation. Diana was seperated from all four of her children, including her youngest Max who was barely weaned. Both Diana and Mosley were initially held in seperate prisons, Diana in Holloway, until they were eventually allowed to be together.
Jessica and Esmond Romilly had moved to the states after the death of their first child Julia, who died after contracting the measles. At first they lived in New York, and then they moved to Miami where they opened a cocktail bar. Young and madly in love, they were feted by their new American acquaintances. When war was declared, Esmond joined the army in Canada. Unfortunately he died shortly after being sent overseas. Jessica gave birth to her second child, Constancia "Dinky" Romilly just before Esmond died. Distraught, she threw herself into her war work in Washington where she met her second husband, Robert Truehaft. They married and moved to California where they joined the American communist party.
Jessica found herself in the United States. She became involved in the civil rights movement, and during the communist witch hunts of the 1950's, she and Bob were called before the committee where they pleaded the 5th Amendment. Their passports were taken away for years as a result. Tragedy struck again, when their 11 year old son Nicolas was killed while riding his bike. Jessica wrote a best-selling autobiography called Hons and Rebels, which caused problems with her family who didn't recognize the unhappy girl that she depicted in her book. It was another blow to the family that hadn't recovered from the death of the only Mitford son Tom during the war or Unity's death. Sydney, their mother, was particulary disturbed by her Decca's portrayal of her. Jessica wrote several more well-regarded books including the American Way of Death, which looked at the funeral industry in the US. Despite her lack of formal education, Jessica found that she was much in demand as a guest lecturer at various colleges around the country.
Nancy, the eldest sister, had moved to Paris after the war to be with her lover, Gaston Palewski, one of Charles DeGaulle's right hand men, during the war. Although Palewski told Nancy that he was not madly in love with her, and continued to pursue other women, Nancy couldn't stay away from him. While she wrote well-regarded biographies of Madame de Pompadour and Frederick the Great, she lived for the few moments of time that he could spare for her. When he finally married a rich divorcee, she was devastated.
Diana and Oswald Mosley had also moved to Paris. Mosley had tried to revive his political career after the war, but he was not wanted. He was still considered one of the most hated men in Britain. Although he had softened and moderated his views, no one was interested. He and Diana raised their two sons, and wrote their autobiographies, Diana kept busy writing book reviews for various publications, and eventually wrote a well-received biography of her good friend The Duchess of Windsor. Diana and Decca never fully reconciled although they came together briefly to nurse Nancy during her final illness from Hodgkins.
Decca finally died of lung cancer in 1997, and Diana finally passed in 2003. She continued to admire Hitler and the tenets of Nazism throughout her life; "I'm sure he was to blame for the extermination of the Jews," she told British journalist Andrew Roberts, "he was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him." Only Debo, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire is still alive at the age of 88. The only sister to live a remotely conventional life, she tried to play peacemaker between the warring sisters.
Reading about the Mitford sisters is like reading a microcosm of the history of the 20th Century. Fabulous society parties, romantic and illicit love affairs, facism, communism, literary success, and war, all within one big aristocratic family. The Mitford sisters have left a legacy of fiction, Nancy's two books about her family are still in print and have been made into two television series in Britain. Diana's story was partly dramatized in Mosley, a television series about her husband. Even Unity is still popping up in the news with the rumors that she may have had Hitler's love child. A musical was even written about their lives. They still continue to fascinate the public even today.
The House of Mitford - Jonathan and Catherine Guinness
The World's Wickedest Women - Margaret Nichols
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The film opens with the arrival of Adèle Hugo, under an assumed name, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Adele is devastated by the accidental death of her elder sister Leopoldine Hugo who drowned with her husband at the age of 19. Adele's fiancee was also killed at the same time. Her father has been living in exile on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, after the rise of power of Napoleon III, who he opposed. Adele has been seized by an obsessive love for a British officer, Lieutenant Pinson. Pinson is not happy to see her and rejects her out of hand. Even when Adele shows him proof that her family approves of their marriage, he rejects her. Adele's parents try to force his hand by announcing in the papers that they are to be married but Pinson still won't marry her. Adele, now fairly unhinged, follows Pinson to Barbados and gradually degenerates as she realizes her love is unrequited. She descends into despair and madness. She dies in Paris in 1915, in her 85th year, in the asylum to which her father had committed her.
This film has haunted me ever since I first saw it when I was about ten years old. We had just gotten cable (HBO) and the story of Adele H. was playing. I watched it numerous times, telling myself that I was working on my French language skills. At the time, I was barely aware of who Victor Hugo was. The film follows the true story of Adele fairly closely. However, Adele was in her thirties when she made the decision to follow Pinson to Nova Scotia, not in her early twenties as Adjani is in the film. And she certainly was not as beautiful as Isabelle Adjani. Adele and her father were never very close. His favorite child was Leopoldine. In fact, Hugo wasn't even sure that Adele was his child. Her mother, Adele, had fallen for a minor poet named Saint-Breuve and Hugo always suspected that perhaps Adele was his.
Adele from childhood was apparently a sullen and moody child. Mental illness apparently ran in the Hugo family and doctors now believe that Adele suffered from schizophrenia. She had met Pinson when she was around 25 in Guernsey. Even then, Pinson had shown signs that he was feckless and untrustworthy, courting her only because she was daughter of the great Victor Hugo. Five years passed before Adele made her daring decision to leave Guernsey to follow him. In the meantime, she had turned down several suitors who had wanted to marry her. It was remarkable for anyone woman at that time to travel alone, so for Adele to flee without telling her parents where she was going took great courage.
Isabelle Adjani's performance is the wonder of the film. It's clear from the beginning that something is wrong as she tells different stories to different people about her relationship to Pinson. Her descent into madness is so wonderfully drawn, her scenes with Pinson where she tries to persuade him to love her, will break your heart. Adjani was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, the first of her three nominations, all for portraying real life women (her other nominations were for La Reine Margot and Camille Claudel). Although you never see Victor Hugo in the film, his presence hovers over it. Particularly the scene where she is given a copy of Les Miserables from a stationer. It's not just her love for Pinson that is driving her mad, it is also her father, trying to make her way out of his shadow.
Sadly Adele outlived her entire family, dying at the age of 85 in 1915 during the first World War.
I highly recommend this film, but don't watch it if you've just broken up with someone, or you're in lust with someone who doesn't know you exist.
Monday, December 1, 2008
December's giveaway is a lovely Anne Boleyn necklace from Tartx Jewelry line.
This beautiful, unique and collectible pendant features an image from a collage of Anne Boleyn holding The Tudor Rose with pieces of an antique anemone botanical and ornamental papers and bookplates. One of the symbolic meanings of the anemone flower is "forsaken". Printed with archival inks and materials the image is protected by a clear, durable and archival resin. Each pendant comes complete with a 16" sterling silver oval cable chain, organza bag and gift box.