I saw the most amusing historical movie during a film marathon last night and I just couldn’t abstain from writing about it today as it depicts a period marked by one incredible invention all women, especially the lonely depressed ladies with cats, should prize enormously: after the sewing machine, the fan, the toaster, and the teakettle, roll the red carpet for the electric vibrator, a domestic tool no house must lack precisely in our kind of society!

We modern humans tend to have this awfully prejudiced impression that old Victorians lived in utter prudishness, chastity and by the abstinent canons religion shallowly imposed, genuine saints from the Bible who repressed any vice in favor of atonement. No, really. With this type of intuition you’d lose the lottery for the happy people of the 19th century were, be prepared, the epitome of elegant depravity, pleasure centers concealed by crinoline dresses and in full-length trousers better than presently as they could effortlessly keep the appearances unharmed within these superficial perimeters.

So the Victorians gambled, cultivated vanity and fornicated galore in their perfectly and seldom not that perfectly screened intimacy, men freer than women who sought to emancipate nonetheless, gaining same privileges their sex rivals boasted to have at their fancy Club meetings (while the docile wives tended the household affairs). No wonder half the female population of London was diagnosed with hysteria, a wrongly interpreted mind disease majorly provoked by sexual frustration at widows and young ardent spouses of puritans or homosexuals who had to be treated in private “cabinets” with vaginal massage… by hand.

It’s this most amusing scene in the film recommended above which depicts gorgeously how such a curing session proceeded, where and what was the doctor’s position. You can imagine it was terribly wearing for the fellow, not to mention a tad distressing and gross in the case of Methuselah patients spreading…

Thank Gos someone was witty enough to invent the electrified version and create a very useful vibrator the women could take home thus spearing one’s time and hand-ache. Mr. Mortimer Granville and his wealthy scientific friend Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe fathered the first object of this kind in the 1880’s with a huge success the movie celebrates nicely under Tanya Wexler’s direction.

The suffragettes, especially, were tremendously happy with this innovation for how would have they resisted rejecting intercourse if the vibrator wasn’t there to support their cause?

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I’m not always mean and judgmental with high positioned women as I utterly admire their inclusive  success few would support, but on the rare occasions when I collect a bunch of heavy reasons to backup my maliciousness I become the acid nightmare of all antipathic ugly ducklings belonging to the highest echelons who surely thank God for having been born hundreds of years apart from pretty-little Patricia’s sharp teeth. And just so you know, I do admit my unjust comments and unfounded spite yet they’re completely veiled by my growing venom. After all, c’est la vie! You can’t have everybody look upon you with awe and worship whatever petty thing you perform.

So, the lady I virulently criticize this week, one of the rare animosities I bear against an otherwise compassionate title holder appreciated by objective historians is the plain Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, boring wife of Tsar Alexander II who didn’t even attempted to conceal his numerous extra-conjugal affairs on obvious basis.

Can you blame him?!

I bet the diary of Maria Alexandrovna (8 August 1824 – 8 June 1880) would’ve reassembled the following lines:

1838- What a luck stumbled over me this particular year! God knows how, I succeeded to charm the Tsarevich Alexander Nikolayevich during his European tour and, though my position doesn’t compare with most of the good parties proposed to my beloved fiancee by his authoritarian mother, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (who, between brackets, doesn’t appear to sympathize me), I still managed to trick him into marrying me, my young age of 14 rising tenderness in most men that become oblivious of my flaws.

Alas, the court is repugnant and finds me austere and extremely dull, tasteless, stiff, a Nordic Duchess too simple for the opulent world Russia encompasses, and I miss terribly my Darmstadt home where I could be shy and none would’ve misinterpret it! State duties weary my feeble complexion and the agitation around affects it further, keeping me away from any festivity or ball my dear husband attends, which threatens to alienate us despite my continuous care to provide him heirs. I cough and am mostly feverish! To make it worse, I start to believe I’m getting uglier by day, tired and weakened of these unfriendly factors, if you consider the dreadful portrait commissioned from Ivan Makarov…

1849-I think I’ll ask darling Christina Robertson to paint me and thus commemorate the death of my older daughter, Lina, an angel raised to Heaven. She’ll understand that a woman must be embellished through art, not depicted faithfully and in concordance with reality.

1850- Christina Robertson did the greatest of jobs and her work enthralls me so I plan to pay her twice the amount of money given last year to make me look on canvas exactly as I’m inside my head, delicate, sensuous, a real vixen beauty to eclipse mu husband’s many mistresses!

And because the new representation of my stunning self restored my confidence, I will command Makarov to imitate Robertson’s benevolence, illustrating me in the plenitude of my pulchritude most of the court contests but I’m very aware of.

How royal, rich and elegant I give the impression of being here! A century from now, when those who knew me will no longer testify my fairness, people would actually think I was the character artistically described in this picture!

But no! Photography appeared and it can’t forge a little altered vision of me!

This is a moment of grief! The stroke of a brush soaked in oil no longer enhances my features’ symmetry like in the miniatures I’m so proud of, revealing my true face to a public most repellent. Oh, the gorgeous days when one could resolve this problem with some golden rubles!

1857- Two years ago my father-in-law passed away, obliging us to undertake the role of Tsar and Tsarina of the Russian Empire, a status I would  most obviously reject if I had a chance to chose and correct the mistake of my girlhood, espousing Alexander, that is. The demands are higher and make me ill, supplemented by the horrible death of my favorite son, Nicholas, an erroneous punishment from the Providence I don’t remember wronging with anything in my whole christian life!

So it’s high time to order a portrait celebrating the grace I’m about to lose in this situation.

I’m considering popular Franz Xaver Winterhalter, who did the most splendid works, for this job… Queen Victoria and Queen Eugenie are impressively delineated as great personalities by his talented hand hence why wouldn’t I? If I pay him well he may even fix the damaged provoked by photography through a flattering enough representation in my special white tulle gown, pearls galore braided in my silky hair and around my swan neck …

Gorgeous, isn’t it? A souvenir I leave for my ancestors to admire decades from now!

Unfortunately, Firs Sergeyevich Zhuravlev and Heyn had to come and reestablish cruel truth:

 

Bella Swan, I presume that I’ve found your ancestor.

 

And before you can accuse me of being heartless mocking a poor woman marked by so many hard experiences I’ll inform you that I have no respect for her futile behavior as she had proven to be just an unimportant aristocrat unable to do something significant with her life apart from providing an heir. She swallowed all the rudeness of her husband and tolerated his amorous adventures not obedient but emotionally inert, tedious, pitiful, far from being  praiseworthy. In fact, I better like her love rival, Catherine Dolgorukov, the one who was to be Alexander’s morganatic wife due to Maria Alexandrovna’s death.

At least she wasn’t grotesque with her lizard eyes wide apart and her blunt mouth frozen in an exceedingly horizontal grimace…

Due to my intermittent research of Belle Epoque material to make me apprehend further the mentality Parisians had in those glamorous prewar days and charmingly apply it to confer my novel some welcomed authenticity, I recently made a pragmatic habit from reading the happily online-available old French newspapers like Le Figaro and Le Gaulois, courtesy to Gallica . Not because I’m tired of consulting the Times and the Sun, with which I’m proud to announce that I’m completely up to date, but the calculated browsing through such original and reliable materials genuinely provides good information on gossipy subjects both useful in my work and juicy enough to relish even a century after they were printed, not to say it improves my lame knowledge of French grammar in the most pleasant of ways.

This being said limiting to one acceptable introductory paragraph whose utility my English teacher would seriously doubt though we’ll refrain it, imagine what I’ve found in a 5 May, 1897 Le Figaro edition I just stumbled across while really checking some hot Dreyfus Affair opinions right from the horse’s mouth and no, nothing regarding assassins, expensive jewelry or the kind of things I regularly post here, on the contrary, quite a Christian happening (to a certain extent…).

It all started one fine evening the benevolent Paris elite ladies dedicated to pious philanthropy work at the annual Bazar de la Charité which was decorated to reassemble a medieval nonetheless picturesque street with vivid theme ornaments and chic boutiques borrowed from Théâtre du Palais de l’Industie to aesthetically attract  the rich and generous all events implying charity need. A rudimentary cinema was installed and, for the sake of accuracy, most of the fake colorful buildings and even the ground, covered with dark pine planks, were made of a material so loved by fire: wood, which surprisingly nobody seemed to consider inappropriate or life-threatening despite numerous previous conflagrations, denoting a completely French spirit: let us not be practical but delectable because what’s the chance for a tragedy to occur? You’ll see, dear organizers, you’ll see…

Things went on nicely, half the high society eleemosynary couples gathering on the 60 meters of historical setting eager to considerately help humanity with disputably large sums of money before the eyes of all good reporters and tattlers taken as witnesses to their altruism. Aristocrats and wannabe grand dames of bourgeois background mingled with all sorts of common people, pretending more holly than the Pope in the splendor of their charity.  It was the busiest afternoon  since the bazaar had been opened last Saturday on the popular rue Jean-Goujon, a domain offered gratis by  gracious Mr. Michel Heine and modest satin Worth gowns lead by top hats, if you understand the allusion, blended beautifully…

When suddenly things gone wrong.

Whether it was an issue from the cinema installation or an oil lamp which set fire to a curtain nearby, at 4:20 p.m. sharp the whole ensemble was ablaze, flames covering the planks and obstructed the frenzied mob to safely escape the place though Duchess Sophie Charlotte d’Alençon, perhaps the most impressive woman present, struggled to establish an approximate order, refusing to exit until the frail children and alarmed ladies were securely out. Le Figaro declared that two hundred persons hastily passed the exit door, dezoriented,  startled, leaving as many behind in a horrific context, men burning alive, shouting, contending to reach the gate with overwhelming desperation in the 8 minutes  the destruction lasted.

Many Baronesses, Countesses and highly esteemed women terribly died then but the one I’m most fond of, Duchess Sophie, was by far the most important and regretted, her story being extremely misfortunate as she could’ve survived effortlessly if she hadn’t been so religiously zealous, sacrificing herself to let some ordinary girls escape, pretty damn magnanimous of her. It’s ironical Ferdinand d’Orléans, her husband,  who was also attending the  fair yet stood in the opposite part of the bazaar when the inevitable happened, tried to find Sophie, rushed to where he last saw her and, only a few steps apart, being informed by an idle citizen that she was out, got away. Barely there did he realize his utter stupidity, a mistake deplored for the rest of his days.

Sophie had been trapped between several wood boards, enveloping a scared kid with her steady arms and, serene as if having a tea, calm, dignified, she faced the cruelest of deaths, slowly, excruciating, definite… In the end, her earthly remnants were degraded to such extent that only her dentist could definitely identify Sophie by analyzing the skeleton’s teeth, important limbs of her body, one hand and a leg, missing. She had perished like a veritable martyr, faith relatively fitted for her spiritual aspirations and very similar to her ex-fiancee and sister’s, all whom were bounded by a gypsy’s prevision that Sophie would die by fire, King Ludwig II by water (the mad Swan King was supposed to marry her, yes)  and Sissi by steel (the Duchess was also Empress Elizabeth’s younger sibling). The eccentric trio had a story of its own, an absolutely tragic one, that is.

Basically, Ludwig, fascinated with Sissi’s character (they had a long-term allegedly platonic relationship across the years and he called her “dove” while she nicknamed him “eagle”), knowing he’d never be satisfied having another woman as his companion, engaged the virginal Sophie (Sopherl for family) mostly because she reassembled her older sister, fair-haired, blue-eyed, gracious and an enthusiastic admirer of Wagner’s compositions, wasted considerable sums of money on wedding preparations but had to dissolve the betrothal when the unconscious Sophie risked a love affair with photographer Edgar Hanfstængel . The dangerous liaison all keen mothers fear would’ve went really smooth if the smug Edgar had helped bragging about his substantial score which he didn’t, obviously, resulting in her humiliation. Later in Saxony she met Ferdinand and the tale continued.

At the time of Sophie’s death, one of the three, Ludwig, was already buried for a decade, indeed drowned, like the gypsy figure foretold, in a controversial situation it’s better to elaborate in other post, so it’s easy to imagine how Sissi felt when she heard her sister, a continuous source of consolation subsequent to the distressing Mayerling incident,  followed in the predicted circumstances.  “We all die of violent deaths.” she muttered, scarcely opening her mouth as she didn’t want people to gaze upon her yellowish teeth , when receiving the news and, in truth, she was assassinated at Geneva the next year.

Returning to Duchess Sophie, a kind, ethereal being nonetheless lacking human vices (let us not forget she was sent to an asylum  after attempting to elope with her lover/ gynecologist Dr. Glaser to Switzerland), she was sumptuously inhumed at the Royal Chapel of Saint Dreux at the end of a stupendous requiem mass. Up to now, she’s very popular in France, a symbol of kindness and dedication.

Finally, the Fire at Bazar de la Charité  was both a personal and public “catastrophe” as Le Figaro titles it, claiming many brilliant lives and creating a funny paradox between its destination and the known outcome.

Ah, the decadence of Belle Epoque…

the Empress’s Hand

March 18, 2012

I didn’t actually plan to make a post today as I’m so caught up with writing for my endless second novel, school and the other conventional ordeals which don’t seem to diminish any time soon but when I finally took a tiny beak and began my researching adventure (because one doesn’t simply relax without concomitantly doing something useful) I just couldn’t refrain sharing the peculiar thing I found  regarding Empress Elisabeth of Austria (you guessed right, the beauteous European monarch engraved in our collective  memory as the long-haired Sisi played by Romy Schneider).

That fantastic woman, a conglomerate of charming eccentricities half the cultivated Belle Epoque society gossiped about, publicly or not and disputably flattering, offered her favorite offspring, Archduchess Marie Valerie , amongst other symbolic gifts less worthy of our attention, a bronze cast depicting her own personal left hand.

Why, you may rightly ask . But why not, after all?

Queen Victoria herself did a similar thing to immortalize the arm of her beloved little son, Edward VII, once,  thus it’s not quite surprising giving the era when these intriguing female characters commissioned such unusual objects.

I’m not yet certain of what these  body parts replicas meant in the  subtle code of those days , whether they were veritable mementos or merely fashionable alternatives of being sculpted,  still it was clearly recorded the fact that Marie Valerie, perhaps oblivious to the importance of her mother’s present, gave the hand in question to Princess Louise d’Orléans, her ugly-duckling cousin.

It is my subjective assumption the daughter , literally haunted by Sisi, whom she reassembled in numerous ways, from looks and linguistic talents to misfortune galore, attempted to distance herself from her mother’s memory and estrange all the works wearing the great Empress’s print  despite being the only child she was allowed to rise and spoil. It was a bit ungrateful of Marie Valerie, but let us be indulgent with a girl curst by destiny to repeat the amorous tragedies of her notorious parent whose bizarre personality eclipsed hers totally, exemplifying Brancusi’s quote: “at the shadow of great  oaks nothing superior can grow”.  You see, she was practically tyrannized.

Coming back to the bronze hand, yes, she gave it away only to appear at auction a few years ago, sold to a private owner, which seems to be the end of the story, momentarily. ..

It was in 1885 the whole Fabergé business, which represents today the epitome of opulence and long extinct splendor vanished after the Romanov’s death, genuinely took off  with the first Imperial order, an enameled “Hen Egg” containing a matt golden yolk that concealed a now lost replica of the Russian Crown hiding a ruby pendant (sort of matryoshka principle), commissioned by the doting Tsar Alexander III to be sent as Easter gift for his beloved wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. The idea that was to settle a whole family tradition came from a similar jewel owned by the Empress’s aunt, Princess Wilhelmine, a craftily designed piece which captured Maria Feodorovna’s attention during her elated childhood in Denmark, but historians can’t decide whether it belonged to Peter Karl Fabergé, the ingenious lapidary, or to the loving Tsar. Surely it would be much more romantic to give all the credits to her devoted husband who presumably knew her well enough to come up with a present since then adopted as custom, yet it’s only sentimental supposition. At any rate, the Empress liked her surprise egg so much it became a symbol of her fine tastes for almost 32 years, until the Russian Revolution destroyed all remnants of royalty, period during which 50 such works of art were produced for the Romanovs.

Empress Maria Feodorovna

Though after Tsar Nicholas II’s ascension to the throne the now famous Fabergé eggs were not exclusively offered to Maria Feodorovna but also to her daughter-in-law, the passionate Tsarina Alexandra, I find the ones dedicated to Minnie  (yes, this Mikey Mouse-ish sounding name was the manner her intimates fondly called the Empress) a tad more ornamental and brighter statements of creativity. After all, 30 of the 50 (42 presently found) were rendered honorifically to her.

From Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna:

1885 – the “Hen Egg”

the hen egg

1886 – the “Hen Egg with Sapphire Pendant” (unfortunately one of those whose trace was lost)

1887 – “Third Imperial Egg” (alas, missing, like the following two)

third imperial

1888 – “Cherub with Chariot”

1889 – “Necessaire/Pearl Egg”

1890 – “Danish Palaces Egg”

Presented to the Tsarina on April 1, this acquisition cost 4,260 silver rubles.

The ten panels added as the surprise element depict, form left to right along the screen,the imperial yacht Polar Star, Bernstorff Palace (Copenhagen), The emperor’s villa in Fredensborg park, near Fredensborg Castle, Amalienborg Palace, (Copenhagen) the quintessence of baroque style, Kronborg Castle (Helsingør), the Cottage Palace (Peterhof),  Gatchina Palace near St. Petersburg and the imperial yacht Tsarevna, all of major importance to the Empress.

Danish Palaces Egg

1891 – “Memory of Azov Egg”

One of the few eggs that never left the Russian territory, “Memory of Azov” commemorates the inopportune Oriental voyage made by Tsarevitch Nicholas and Grand Duke George at their parents’ insistence,  aboard the Pamiat Azova to the Far East in 1890.  The result of the journey was disastrous, George’s tuberculosis exacerbating contrary to the court doctor’s assumptions and the egg was quite a painful remembrance of the uninspired trip which also contained a failed assassination attempt of Nicholas, called the “Ōtsu incident”, that occurred while the brothers were in Japan.

memory of azov egg

1892 – “Diamond Trellis Egg”

With a cherub basis symbolically representing the Empress’s three sons, Nicholas, George and Michael, this egg was the first of the six Fabergé  products to contain an automaton. A mechanic elephant, reminiscing about the heraldic one on the Royal Danish Family coat of arms, currently missing, was to celebrate Maria Feodorovna’s homeland.

the diamond trellis egg

1893 – “Caucasus Egg” (firs egg known to be dated)

Of a pure ruby red, this is, with the Rosebud Egg (1895), the only one of a blood reassembling color as the reference became taboo within the Romanov family with Tsarevich Alexei’s birth and his definite signs of hemophilia.

caucasus egg

1894 –  “Renaissance Egg”

renaissance egg

From Nicholas II to Maria Feodorovna:

1895 – “Blue Serpent Clock Egg” (commissioned in honor of 25 years of marriage between the two lovely-dovey husbands, it was sadly given subsequent to Alexander III’s death by his newly made Tsar heir, Nicholas II)

blue serpent clock egg

1896 – ” 12 Monogram Egg/ Alexander III Portraits Egg

12 monogram egg

1897 – “Mauve Egg”

mauve egg

1898 – “Pelican Egg”

pelican egg

1899 – “Pansy Egg”

Having one of the most creative surprises ever to be conceived by Fabergé, a collapsible, heart-shaped gold easel surmounted by a diamond-set star of Bethlehem which reveals a series of Romanov portraits if a button is pressed so the tiny medallions could open. Certainly one of the few I genuinely gaze with awe as its sophisticated decorations blend brilliantly with the warm heritage related message.

pansy egg

1900 – “Cockerel Egg

cockerel egg

1901 – “Gatchina Palace Egg”

I really can’t put my finger on what makes this one by far my preferred Fabergé but I suppose it has to do with the golden miniature replica of Gatchina Palace, Alexander III’s most frequented residence outside Saint Petersburg, thus Maria Feodorovna’s too,  so exceedingly detailed by Mikhail Perkhin’s hand that a connoisseur would immediately discern  a statue of Paul I (1754-1801), canons, a flag waving in the wind and some faithfully realistic landscape units, needless to add the number of windows is equal to the original’s, making it even more impressive. The enamel surface is also tremendously well done and I can’t refrain contemplating the fine, delicate pattern divided into 12 panels by glossy rows of pearls, the refined strokes painted to equipoise the chromatic effect.

  It’s all very feminine, an ageless elegance and purity of style within the lines, and perhaps this contributes much to my liking the “Gatchina Egg”; in fact, I can almost feel connected to it as if the Fabergé  mastermind conceived the model considering my aesthetic compatibility with different gems, ceramics and precious metals!

If I strictly just value the other eggs, that’s the one I’d definitely yearn to purchase and exhibit in my private vitrine!

gatchina palace egg

1902 – “Empire Nephrite Egg”

empire nephrite egg

1903 – “Royal Danish Egg”

royal danish egg

1906 – “Swan Egg”

swan egg

1907 – “Love Trophies Egg”

love trophy egg

1908 – “Peacock Egg”

peacock egg

1909 – “Alexander III Commemorative Egg”

Alexander III Commemorative Egg

1910 – “Alexander III Equestrian Egg”

Alexander III equestrian egg

1911 – “Bay Tree Egg”

bay tree egg

1912 – “Napoleonic Egg”

napoleonitic egg

1913 – “Winter Egg”

I think here one can obviously detect the Art Nouveau influence on the form, design and position of the egg, made entirely of crystal and lacking the baroque symmetry in favor of simplified sumptuousness that recalls Lalique’s craft.

winter egg

1914 – “Catherine the Great Egg”

catherine the great egg

1915 – “Red Cross Portraits Egg”

Outrageously distasteful, ugly even, if you ask me! Now, I’m aware it had a political meaning, inglobing the royal  women’s solidarity with the wounded soldiers of the merely started World War I but nothing seems to excuse its bucolic  air, not the red cross, nor the small portraits of civilly looking grand ladies! Expensive as it may be, I’d never like receiving such an Easter present from my son, not when it reminds of a hospital full of bleeding men spreading the most dreadful putrefaction smell!

red cross egg

1916 – “Order of Saint George Egg”

order of st. george egg

1917 – “Birch Egg” (due to the Soviet’s coup d’état and Nicholas II’s domicile imprisonment, it never reached its rightful owner)

birch egg

Most of these archetypes of fine aristocratic taste had been displayed in Maria Feodorovna’s specially arranged vitrine similar to that in which the crème de la crème Fabergé “artifacts” were opened to the public during the 1902 Von Devis exhibition.

vitrine

But what I love most about them is the luxurious world they’re exponents of, the graceful stories incorporated in their recorded history, remnants of a life plagued by the wars and the following Stalinist regime gathered in pieces of jewelry closely related to the Romanovs.

Allegory of the Senses

March 10, 2012

A rare collaboration between two prodigious artists, Jean Bruegel the Eldest and Peter Paul Rubens, “the Allegory of the Senses” was a collection of five paintings representing Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing and Touch in a manner few succeeded to depict, somehow reassembling the famous La Dame à la licorne French  tapestries. The works were commissioned by the Spanish regents of Holland, the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella.

Sight, 1619

sight

Smell, 1618

smell

Touch, 1617

touch

Taste, 1618

taste

Hearing, 1617-1918

hearing

Less Brains than Beauty

March 5, 2012

madame grande

Catherine Noele Verlée (or Worlée) practically assembled all the standard qualities which made a women of her age (we’re speaking about the late 1700’s and Napoleon’s Empire) if not maîtresse-en-titre  for the plump, slightly obtuse King Louis XVI (yes, Marie Antoinette’s cuckold) least a celebrated courtesan rivaling the reputations of Madame de Pompadour and Madame de Montespan through her genuine beauty so fitted in the canons by which women were considered good-catches. As you can independently judge in the portrait positioned above, Catherine had the allure galore, a sylph grace and quite an experience with sensual games, counting the vixen expression on her apparently saintly face, features that impel one to the higher echelons. Alas, she lacked the sole characteristic unanimously met in successful mistresses: a sharp mind ambitiously set on ascension. In fact, her contemporaries say, Catherine was your average goose, anecdotes underlining her stupidity circling around Parisian society with great speed; Louise Vigée Le Brun, the very painter who did the work previously seen, registered a rather awkward moment when Catherine, then wife of respectable M. Talleyrand, giving a dinner for reputed traveler Vivant Denon, was asked by her husband to take a certain book from his library and read extracts from their guest’s adventures in Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Surely the pathetic goof could do nothing but grab the wrong volume, embarrassingly reciting a “lengthy portion of the adventures of Robinson Crusoe” and, to top it properly, state such aberration like: “Ah! monsieur, with what pleasure I have just read about your trip! How interesting it is, especially when you meet poor Friday!”… epic fail. God knows how pitiful Talleyrand reacted or if the story was even true… We’re all familiar with the incorrect words put in Marie Antoinette’s mouth (“let them eat cake”, seriously?!) so we can’t fully believe Catherine was dumb enough to identify Denon with Robinson Crusoe or, as often attributed to our silly girl, declare “je suis d’Inde” (I am from India), a phrase easily construed as “je suis dinde” (I am a turkey). She might’ve been uneducated and thick, yet it’s nearly impossible for a statesman like Talleyrand to marry a complete imbecile, thus, most likely, all the negative rumors aimed to diminish his esteem than chronicle the funny mistakes of a vain beauty (nasty French gossipers!).

Either way, Catherine never reached her maximum potential, fame.

Born November 21, 1761, at Karikal Indies Danes in a small French enclave which was about seven miles from the Danish colony of Tranquebar. Daughter of Pierre Werlée, captain of the port not far from Pondicherry and Chandernagore Chevalier de Saint-Louis (his mother, Laurence Allamay, was originally from the Dutch Flanders, and belonged to the gentry) Catherine was obliged to brush a bit the dates in her birth certificate, requested at the time of marriage with Talleyrand under the Consulate, rejuvenating with two years and Christianizing  “Nancy” (her original name)  in “Noëlle”, while the “Verlée” became “Worlée”.  She was smart enough to do that, credit it, please.

At fourteen, “Kate” as she was fondly called, is noted in the local high society garden parties, particularly in M. Chevalier’s, the Governor of Chandernagore. Deemed to be the “most beautiful woman of Calcutta”, tall, blond, like a nymph, our girl was stately and had infinite grace to compensate her naivete,  inspiring the painter John Zoffani to pack her in a blue-green sari and make a portrait which dates back to 1780, probably being completed on the eve of her departure for Europe. She quite seemed the equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind”, the young shrewd maid flaunting her generously endowed body under the wrinkled noses of rich bourgeois. Ghyretti House, the residence of M. Chevalier, was apparently her favorite scene because there she met  her first hubby in the person of M. Georges-Francois Grand, belonging to a family of Vaudois Lausanne, born in Surrey by a mother of Norman origin ( to make him a profile). He had arrived in India in 1776 as an employee of the East India Company (which turned him in an acceptable match), had little time enough to be at ease, leading a life in luxury and idleness  with his friend Sir Waren Hastings, governor of Calcutta (friend with good positions, see where she aimed?). The young man asked the hand of Kate, which was granted without problems, after his appointment as Secretary of the Committee of salts (note: not a minute before). The couple married in Hoogly House July 10, 1777 and settled in a large villa near Halipore, with many servants and a garden paradise, a second Hanging Gardens of Babylon for the picky belle.

kate

And courtesy to M. Grand’s English habits of spending his private time in Clubs without worrying about Kate’s home-alone state, she had enough spare time to do what women love most after jewels: cheat, the oldest hobby in the world.

She had her overly potent lover, Sir Phillip Francis, director of the Government of Bengal, enter her rooms through a rope ladder, quite Renaissance style, and ride our beauty till dawn, when Grand (who ironically wasn’t at all that “grand”), very drunk, sleepy and amazingly gullible, came home to rest in the conjugal bed generously kept warm by their little games, suspecting nothing, like the sympathetic, naive guy he was. The arrangement went unexpectedly well for some good months but, alas, one of those accidental happenings depicted in the best Greek comedies unraveled the whole business with a tam-tam specific to Hollywood soap operas, irremediably compromising Catherine’s reputation of faithful broad.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 8, 1778, while he dined at the tavern “Le Gallais,” a nosy fellow burst in to caution that Sir Francis had been seen climbing a rope ladder to his wife’s chamber and was allegedly still there doing…things.

The perfect set for a funny scene containing a Tom&Jerry chase blended with fine quality adulterous affairs.

M. Grand angrily arose from the table, took him as witness, and went straight home just to find three men, firmly tied to a chair, the servants explaining they were mounting guards at the time when M. Philip Francis tried to get out of Catherine’s place and attempted to detain him by force to prove his crime. Madame Grand, however, frightened, opened the window and hysterically shouted “For God’s sake, help, they want to assassinate him!” Coincidentally, a friend of Philip, Mr. George Shee, was in the vicinity of the villa and, assisted by two guests at the manor near by,lords Archdekin and Shore, came to lend support to his desperate pal. Sir Philip was able to evaporate while the three men came to the rescue were tied to chairs in his place.

An agitated night full of false hopes as Philip didn’t actually prevailed but was summoned to trial by the fuming cuckold. Despite accusing M. Grand to have mounted a trap to his political injury, in fact bluffing,  justice has been truly made and he was sentenced to pay a not-so-insignificant fine of 50,000 rupees, the fair price for being negligent in such dangerous liaisons.

Naturally, the two husbands never saw each other, though she wasn’t legally divorced until 1798.

Kate lived for several months on her parent’s domain at Chandernagore but the life there became so monotonous and dull she jumped at the first opportunity to move with Philip, though, amusingly, he continued stating they were sharing nothing but platonic love which fooled his credulous wife to a certain extent (she always pleaded his innocence…) but was obviously mocked by society. This pleasant intimacy lasted no more than a year, to November 1780, Catherine deciding India was no longer a sufficient playground and embarking for Europe together with a Mackintosh.No strings attached.

After living for some weeks in London, during the Season, of course she couldn’t refrain visiting the fashionable Paris with Caroline, the young Indian woman who served her, an obligatory accessory for the chic woman of 18th century, and, mesmerized by the vivid city with its numerous promising distractions, she settled there, evidently sustained by a pretty alimony her darling husband never ceased to provide.

She rented a smart house in Rue Sentier from an idle M. de Presle and shorty became the convenient crush of many rich neighbors like soon to be Minister of the Legislative, M. Valdec de Lessart, a stockbroker’s attorney with a suggestive name, Rilliet- Plantamour and Louis Monneron, banker and deputy. They contributed to her expensive tastes and records show she relished every bit of the French experience, buying tons of silk ribbons, fox furs, shoes, ostrich feathers and sparkly jewels, owning a carriage lead by white horses to make constant trips to Versailles, renting an Opera box where people could admire her brand new gowns and even giving a ball the papers discussed about for weeks. The satin and silver symphony of a dress was, needless to say, bought by her enthusiastic wooer, M. Lessart.

Not long before, Marie Antoinette’s favorite painter, Mme. Le Brun, who lived at the Hotel de Lubert when in town, not far from her Rue Sentier residence, had done her fabulous portrait and, most likely, the party was arranged majorly to publicly display it, after which she sent it to the biennial exhibition of painting and sculpture in 1783, where it enjoyed great appreciation.

Meanwhile, Kate was leading a comfortable life, in 1782, Valdec de Lessart securing, for his beloved, an annual pension of 800 pounds, which she supplied the capital, amounting to 8,800 pounds. Those funds were undoubtedly intended to give her the chance to wait for the first proceeds of dividends as a shareholder of the East India Company, obtained after separation by mutual agreement with her husband in 1778. Madame Grand had many suitors that were buzzing around like the Count of Chabrillan, son of Madame des Verdeilhan Forniels, and Nicolas de Lessart, only son of Mme de Valdec Lessart who seemed unfaithful to his official mistress, Mme de Flaghac, born O ‘ Morphy, formerly known at the Parc aux Cerfs by the nickname of Morphise Mlle.

Tired by the small house on Rue Sentier, Mme Grand moved on Rue d’Artois n. 13, in a rented building with a garden at 4,200 pounds a year, which suggests that its revenues had increased considerably and her beautiful eyes kept deceivingly charming the unfortunate suitors, which kind of gained her a courtesan’s reputation. Born in an anglophone family, to correct her grammatical mistakes and prevent being laughed at (which she couldn’t stop, in the end), Catherine hired a master teacher. And to complete her cultivated facade, she spread Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau volumes across her rooms, surely without reading them.

Revolution almost didn’t touch her as she was very flexible and instantly adopted the tricolor cockade but the massacre she attended to, a poor Swiss slaughtered by the heated mob exiting from Tuilleries before her dazzled stare, scared Kate enough to run to Dover where she seduced a young naval cadet, Nathaniel Belcher, to recuperate her things from Paris.

She remained in London a while, yet the English traditionalist society didn’t welcome her and, after the fall of Robespierre , she returned to the French capital, now peaceful, although her name still figured on the list of emigres, at the arm of her Genoese lover, M. Spinola. The two were arrested, he was deported, and Mme Grand remained under close police scrutiny. At a point indicted of espionage, Madame de Stael’s protege, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (1754-1838), an old acquaintance from the Versailles court, freshly made Minister of Foreign Affairs,came to her assistance and wrote to a member of the Directoire, Barras: “She is Indian, very beautiful, very lazy, the most frivolous woman I have ever known. I ask for your interest on her behalf.”

talleyrand

Naturally, having him fight for her cause with all diplomatic means, the Government dropped Kate’s charges and she was able to stay in Talleyrand’s bed at the official Minister of Foreign Affairs house, which, if we judge by the indignant complains the concubinary couple received from their guests, was a very uninspired idea. The jealous wives of more Ambassadors felt offended a woman of Catherine’s “morals” should live in such a formal place, making a public figure like Talleyrand lapse in her sins, and reported them at the First Consul.

But Kate, however silly and indolent, had her tricks to play: she practically stormed at Josephine, who was pretty fond of her, and made one of those scenes which either leave one senseless or incite him to react in your favor. For the irresistible Kate it was nothing to convince the reasonable Josephine plead her case as Talleyrand had become her only supporter and the sole key to her success.

Josephine

Luckily, the benevolent Empress did even more, obtaining the crying Mme. Grand an audience with Bonaparte, where she was forced to accept legalizing their relationship or beak up, an ultimatum Talleyrand didn’t think twice, hasting to chain himself with the restrains of marriage by taking a woman who was not only reckless but also badly reputed and almost forty. Everything was in his disatvantage, yet he agreed.

A divorce was obtained, and Grand (remember him?) received a handsome stipend and was packed off on a permanent mission to the Cape of Good Hope.

The couple was then free to join their destinies and didn’t hesitate:on September 9, 1802, the nuptials were celebrated in the presence of the First Consul and Mme Bonaparte with Count Pierre Louis Roederer (1754-1835) as witness. She thus gained the title of Grand Princess Mme de Talleyrand, and, when in 1806 Napoleon appointed her husband Prince of Benevento, Kate moved to Valençay, the castle her sweet hubby purchased to celebrate.

By forcing the aristocratic Talleyrand, a former Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, to marry a divorced woman, a previously suspected spy, and a courtesan, Bonaparte thought he was insuring the loyalty of his opportunistic Minister. And, indeed, with this marriage, Talleyrand lost all his political ambitions, in addition annihilating the last remnants of affection he had shared with his ex-mistress. It was far from being a win-win situation.

Kate could not reach Mme Récamier’s status and was, complementary, growing exceedingly stout, threatening to age disgracefully to Talleyrand’s displeasure, who began searching satisfaction in the arms of younger companions.He sought to distance her from ceremonials and bureaucratic issues to avoid gossips but she loved luxury and openly dwelt in it so the whole Paris talked of her follies.

Nevertheless, when the Empire fell, in part because of Talleyrand’s scheming, she was still performing her duties as wife of the Minister and this state of affairs lasted until her husband went off to the Congress of Vienna with his beautiful niece in tow. It was the ultimate sign her charms had faded so, humiliated,  outraged, she left Paris for London, then went to Brussels before settling again to the north of Paris, at Pont-de-Sains. With the passage of time, she became devoutly religious and a fanatic royalist just to trouble her stressed husband more. Talleyrand obliged her to hide her convictions in London for a brief perieod, needless to add on his expense, but she couldn’t refrain returning to the city she most preferred.

kate

He must’ve breathed a sigh of relief when, on December 10, 1834, at her Rue de Lille residence, Kate, aged 73, finally died.

Of course, she had to incite a concluding incident that occurred at her bedside. Paris papers didn’t give it importance yet the story was published by the English newspapers which say the Princess de Talleyrand, during her terrible agony, had given the archbishop of Paris for a sealed box for the Countess Esclignac.He attempted to deliver the mandate but then came an officer of the Prince who claimed it. A violent quarrel arose on the spot and justice had to intervene.

Juicy. What was in that case if the incident recounted is true? Could it be papers the Prince de Talleyrand wanted to destroy, perchance documents relating to Elisa-Alix-Sara, said Charlotte, who was born in London October 4, 1799, of unknown parents, supposed to be Talleyrand’s daughter with Kate, born before its time? We may never know. The instance decided the Countess of Esclignac was to receive 200,000 francs in exchange for the mysterious box and, since then, it completely vanished.

Catherine was buried on December 12, 1834 at the Montparnasse Cemetery, her funeral conducted in the presence of Pierre-Mathieu and Charles Goussot Demon (Talleyrand’s agent), friends of the dead, quite poorly.

She had been living quite resplendently, brazen,lavishly, ingenuous and abundantly, satisfied with what she got but we can only wonder: would’ve she done more if she hadn’t had less brains than beauty?

Contemporary voices called her “la Belle et la Bête réunies en une seule personne”…

The Randy Doctor

March 1, 2012

pozzi

Belle Epoque was the epicenter of both incurable vanity which Paris had literally strolling down its boulevards and unprecedented scientific revolution felt even beyond the borders of the Old Continent, a time when the bourgeois reinforced the avarice supposedly extinguished after 1789 and Greek values borrowed from the ancients augmented people’s desire of  carnal delights. These dominating images, explicitly depicted in Balzac’s “La Comédie humaine “, Zola’s spicy novels, Lautrec’s posters and Proust’s lengthy memoir,  formed the natural habitat of uncountable human specimens defined by most varied traits and lusty doctor Samuel Pozzi (1846–1918) was one illustrious stereotype who combined the two major preoccupations of the time as womanizer & gynecologist (get what I mean?).

Sarah Bernhardt called him Dr. “God”, others Dr. “Love” (quite obvious why…) and some, for the brief period when Pozzi was young and technically insignificant with the student status, yet  still very alluring to his charm’s victims, “the Siren”.

There are several blogs on him where you can find elaborated biographies, like The Life and Work of Samuel Pozzi (brilliant guide, by the way), so I won’t begin to summarize his story in great detail but concern on anecdotes, facts and comments I myself relished while reading about our doctor, juicy informalities.

Main model for Proust’s clumsy/ socially ambitious/ bourgeois  Mr. Cottard, Pozzi was mediocre in his mentality and political views, scarcely aspirant for dandyism, averagely sharp, moderately cultivated and a horrible joker, as the great writer observed, so thanks God he had plenty of charisma to compensate! Oh, and he practiced gynecology, a branch of medicine which somehow forms a propensity for doing women genitalia in the man, especially the dishy one. But he surprisingly managed not to overly indulge into adultery and only select pedigreed pussies (count that of soprano  Georgette Leblanc, actress Rejane, Georges Bizet’s widow, Sarah Bernhardt, and Emma Sedelmeyer Fischof ) to quench his appetite because, professionally, he was impeccable.

You might come to think half the Paris female population prayed to encounter problems at its reproductive organs just to innocently spread her legs for Dr. Love!

Pozzi had an unsatisfying marriage with heiress of a railroad magnate,Therese Loth-Cazalis, who insisted in bringing her nagging hag of a mother to their marital home, thus awarding him the alluring position of poor frustrated husband women queued to console.

Beneath the serious-guy-dignified-academician facade was cunningly hidden a fountain of lechery and one demanding libido, so often met in remarkable persona (preferably check da Vinci before the Marquis de Sade), relieved by the many flirts French society generously granted.

J.J. Sargent masterly captured and expressed this special trait in Pozzi with the above portrait bursting with eroticism (the vivid red robe) but still haughty and transmitting he’s trust-worthy, capable, qualified, the man you’d like to contact if you were sick or weary (can we add “both from clinical and carnal causes”?). The painting incorporated Pozzi’s essence good enough for a 21st century spectator to perceive least a tint of his personality and alleged posture thanks to Sargent’s compressive sense very precious in artists. Can you sincerely affirm you don’t feel that captivating thing about him here?

His illustrative nicknames aren’t bluffs or mocking samples, you know. Pozzi truly was the randy doctor in our title and a damned experienced surgeon rewarded by most European medical associations and very credited for his innovating work. His affairs almost seem part of Boccaccio’s “Decameron“, misty and succulent, true, yet they’re nonetheless authentic and meticulously reported by historical resources at that.

Even his end appears like borrowed from an epoch novel: on a traditionally considered unlucky day of 13, June,  1918, Pozzi, then minding his own business in the consulting room of the clinic, was shot four times in the stomach by a demented Machu-person whose leg he had had to amputate 2 years before, provoking the man unwanted impotence the doctor couldn’t anyway remedy. While the criminal committed suicide, Pozzi died on the operating table during an emergency laparotomy …

His palpitating heart that had tried such a large spectrum of feelings in the ardent game of love eventually ceased to pump blood in his body which turned gray and perished in its tomb at the Bergerac  Protestant Cemetery.

Life.

She was shortly named Jeanne Louise Armande Élisabeth Sophie Septimaniede Vignerot du Plessis (1740 – 1773), the interesting offspring of the age’s most notorious womanizer, duke de Richelieu, with an equivalently devoted wife, Élisabeth Sophie de Lorraine, and he was a Northern God, Gustav III,  King of Sweden, Grand Prince of Finland, heir to Norway bla bla.

She was born in Languedoc county and sent to the Benedictines for a conventional education, marrying the elderly Don Casimir Pignatelli, Count of d’Egmont (loutish, plump, clumsy, the best match ever) when barely turning 15, as the 18th century fashion dictated.

He had troubles with a sort-of Oedipus complex/ annoyingly shy consort, half-English Sophia Magdalena and the embarrassing  rumors about his vacillating sexuality all his woman intimates spread around from quite trivial reasons, which, summing up, wouldn’t have harmed his public image if it weren’t for the two sons, Crown Prince Adolf (1778–1837), and Prince Carl, Duke of Småland (1782 – 1783)  many proclaimed the King couldn’t have fathered due to his  “anatomical problems” that, in the court twisted language, meant homosexuality.

Gustav III

She, as most bored and sexually frustrated girls in her age (thanks to their hubby’s impotence), used the only appreciated thing her spouse possessed, money, obviously, to became a famous salonist, gathering notable voices like that of Enlightenment writer Voltaire or the Romantic Jean-Jaques Rousseau in the privacy of her Paris Hotel. Unable to cheat physically, Jeanne Sophie committed all the impieties of adultery through long colloquies with these brilliant men who, like her, condemned Louis XV’s weakness for the vulgar Madame du Barry. Not beautiful or gripping in the carnal way that incites poets to prize woman’s “virtue” but certainly charming and seasoned with a witty mind, she was pretty appreciated at Versailles, where the Swedish painter Alexander Roslin first laid eyes on her, the result being a crafty work of art, her 1763 portrait in an ivory gown mixing elements of the previous dressing style (the pearl netting) with the modern, Marie Antoinette-ish one, and a dog at her side, symbolizing marital fidelity (a trait inherited from her mother).

jeanne sophie

And Roslin wasn’t the only Swed in her varied entourage: it was through ambassador U. Scheffer, her dear friend,  Jeanne Sophie came to know Gustav III during his visit to Paris, in 1771, a meeting that connected the two so powerfully they continued corresponding long after he returned to Stockholm, exchanging political views and common ideologies, the platonic relationship she had always yearned to have if we judged by her fondly calling him “the hero of my heart”.

She encouraged Gustav to “repress the strife of the raging parties”, advocating a “monarchy restrained by laws”  and gladly welcomed his 1772  coup d’état as it skilfully avoided bloodshed.

Her great influence on him makes us wonder pensively whether our King, engaged in profound personal connections with courtiers Count Axel von Fersen (the guillotined queen’s alleged lizard) and Baron Gustav Armfelt, was genuinely attracted to masculine grace or romantically involved with the Countess. One can never be sure when it comes to palace rumors in th1 1700s.

My romantic propensities, though, tend to imagine a lovely affair between the two parties at a certain point, especially because, let’s face it, vice imbued that epoch and it was near to impossible for a sane high-class lady to remain chaste and exemplary among so colorful delights.

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