I only celebrate the birth of artists who, through the utterly sublime value of their work, make me think of  them as being still alive at the other end of the reader-writer wire, continuing infinitely to transmit a message, an idea, an aesthetic truth beyond a tomb’s earthly limit. Really. And dear boy Oscar Wilde’s just the persona to illustrate my idea of immortal writer.

His “Picture of Dorian Gray”, a flabbergasting compilation of epigrams brilliantly woven with the actual plot, was the object of my first genuine literary infatuation after finishing Homer’s heavy Iliad and has continued inciting my imagination ever since. Needless to confess I can’t eschew reading it least once a year and am actually unable to expel it from my frequent-comparison-terms list (together with David’s Michelangelo and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando).  Its amaranthine aspects keep exerting a seemingly imperishable fascination which I always invariably bite. The wit, the beauty, the whole philosophy of dandyism and vanity in a decadent age: my pronounced affinity for them all has rendered my senses, well, sensible to Oscar’s only novel although I’m perfectly aware plenty other books surpass it in their overall value. Alas (or perhaps not), I am a voluntary victim of Dorian Gray’s witchery.

But enough about the creation: I say happy birthday to the marvelous wordsmith Wilde perfectly embodied and especially to the shrewd observer, the keen intellectual, the lobster-walker, the astute social animal and incorrigible fop coexisting within his fleshly borders. So incredible a man as he deserves the most bona fide greeting on these anniversary days despite being, physically, a mere pile of bones devoid of the possibility of hearing them. However, I wouldn’t refrain from wishing the man a formally expressed “happy birthday” before his tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery (an occasion I’ve simply missed the last time I’ve been to Paris). There’s something very captivating in paying your compliments to a beloved author before their grave and I’m planning on capturing a drop of the respective feeling with the post you’re currently reading.

To commemorate Wilde I’m dedicating today to watching all the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ movies ever made and contriving a top of related subjects I could write about here. Nothing grand or equally off-the-wall to his deeds, unfortunately, but rather a good, valid excuse to do what I’ve been yearning to for a while now. What can I say: nice justification, a dead man’s 158th birthday… 🙂

Ah, and furthermore exploiting the occasion, I’d like heading what’s (if any) your relationship with the defunct yet still lively Oscar; associations, opinions, life stories, practically all you’re kind enough to share.

A mocking Love Recipe

November 4, 2012

For today, just some brief comments on the art of deceitful courtship in the late Georgian England, all through sarcastic verses.

I’ve been trying to avoid the subject since I started to write on this blog regarding various interesting and undoubtedly eccentric historical characters but it clearly seems that my resolution wasn’t meant to be accomplished: I just have to tell you about my utter obsession with the fair Empress Elisabeth Amelie Eugenie of Austria you most likely know under her familiar nickname also used as the title of the Romy Schneider adapted biographic movie and for the popular cartoon, Sissi.

sisi

As a child I was tremendously mesmerized by the richness of the ancient Greek Pantheon whose artful reflection could be admired in the two major literary works of pre-christian times, Homer’s  “Iliad” and “Odyssey” which were, coincidentally, as I was to find later on,  Sissi’s favorite reads (we also shared the same infatuation with the legendary Achilles). No wonder I instantly fell in love with her character once I happened to catch some further information related to the Bavarian beauteous royalty depicted galore in the epoch novels I had barely begun to relish. We’ve so much in common despite being a century apart, from stylistic tastes to the hair color (chestnut with golden tints)  and the day we were born in (Sunday…) that I couldn’t refrain avidly searching for more juicy anecdotes, stories, journals, poems and news papers columns to complete the figure I grew to contemplate daily, wondering how she did certain things the rigid court etiquette imposed at the same time  managing to accumulate enough strenght for protecting her libertine and bohemian spirit from the obligations required as the consort of Austria’s Emperor, Franz Joseph. Her gowns were pure refinement and her habits awoke uncountable rumors amongst the high society smug chaps hence it was near to impossible my not being enchanted by Sissi. The more I found, the eager I became to stumble across new dimensions of her personality and learn fresh facts connected with her bizarre propensities the whole of Vienna and even Europe gossiped about. Enigmatic, a bit tragic, non-conformist: what is not to love?

Alas, a single post would never incorporate  half of her deliciously vivid life, lyric works and, overall, persona so I’ll confine to discussing miscellaneous customs the Empress of Loneliness was renowned for throughout Europe and even parts of the other continents which couldn’t have been spared of her vitriolic existence.


Today I thought of apportioning you urban myths (surprisingly often true) relating Sissi’s flabbergasting pulchritude which alas defined the great woman in the eyes of most of her contemporaries and share some of her beauty obsessions which made the main topic of countless fashion magazines that were actual gospels for the wannabe socialite ladies in the 19th century.

One could correctly state that Sissi’s characteristic trait, concealing a high intellect and amazing linguistic capacities (she was fluent in 8 modern languages plus ancient Greek and the traditional Latin), was  her unnatural appearance, the only thing with which she could fearlessly confront the world, concomitantly preserving her sensible ego and draw the benevolent attention of large masses of adorers. Her striking silhouette and the incredible long hair framing her vixen face were, in fact, the first factors to contribute to Franz Joseph’s shallow infatuation with a girl (she had barely turned 16 the summer they properly met) whom  his mother, controlling Archduchess Sophie, thoroughly disapproved as she had had elected Sissi’s elder sister, Duchess Helene, to become her obedient daughter-in-law, the future Empress of Austria, a position requiring virtues the shrewd Archduchess pretended not to find in the childish Sissi. And perhaps she was right in the end, Sissi proving to be most incompatible with her newly acquired title, but this opens a whole other topic I don’t aim to debate here.

So Sissi was an animated piece of jewel possessing a profuse appeal: no wonder the mob worshiped her from day one, especially the Hungarians identifying their need of emancipation with her rebel attitude.

Enhancing her native handsomeness, she dissimulated a most sensitive core, faster gaining the endorsement of those who condemned the girl for not being subdued by the protocol (except the Archduchess- she was the average eternally displeased mother-in-law).

Tall (she had 172 cm, more than her husband despite being pictured smaller in the official portraits not to emasculate him), slender to superlative, her tight leather corsets diminishing a wasp waist Sissi managed to keep until death, moment when she was sixty,  the Empress’s hallmark was categorically the Rapunzel-like brass hair inherited from the majority of the female ancestors in the Wittelsbach family. She could complain of it giving her headaches but it totally worth it, I think.

It took a whole day to wash it appropriately in the wanted essence of cognac and egg once every two weeks, being forced to cancel any formal obligation, and the routine care of her abundant mane lasted least 3 hours, quite a prone to bizarre ceremonial.

Than again, organizing her beauty ritual was the sole thing she could control in her otherwise oppressed early life, under the Archduchess’s directives,  and continued as a rule during her later years. The rigorousness with which she practiced it only reflected a subliminal will to put some order in her chaotic existence and thus Sissi, often restless to the point of hyperactivity, very impatient, gathered the determination to sit passive at her “table which was moved to the middle of the room and covered with a white cloth”, “shrouded in a laced peignoir” to let the hairdresser Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik  create her famous ornate hairstyles. She recognized: “I’m the slave of my hair.”


And because exclusively magic could satisfy her aesthetic exigencies, Fanny had to resort to tricks: knowing the Empress scolded her for each and every hair that fell out throughout the combing, braiding and pinning Sissi’s rich tresses, she stuck it to an adhesive band hidden in her apron, bypassing the rage of her mistress when she was supposed to present it in a special bowl at the counting. Well, that’s an obsession and it isn’t as if Sissi could spare herself from fallen hair by numbering it!

Contrary to the popular myths, she even tasked Feifaluk with tweezing gray hairs away  but in her last months Sissi was reported to still have plentiful locks, “though streaked with silver threads”, a not so insignificant achievement.

Franz Joseph had the following paintings of his wife hanging in his private chambers at Hofburg Palace and it’s obvious he never ceased to be fascinated with the enigmatic Sissi despite being conventionally separated. They show her dramatic curls at their finest.

Yet this wasn’t the single thing she tended.

Devotee of natural looks, the refined Sissi disapproved cosmetics Parisians were mad to use galore, preferring instead tonics and nightly facial masks made of silk (presumably against wrinkles), raw veal to moisturize the skin or crushed strawberries. The favorite creme, ” Céleste”, was compounded from white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil and rosewater but she didn’t prized it as much as the previous treatments. Pretty wacko, right?

Wait till I tell you how she refused to part her lips while speaking because she found her teeth too yellow and deteriorated to be exposed!

Furthermore, for maintaining the hourglass figure she slept with cloths soaked in either violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips,  taking both a shower every morning and an olive oil bath in the evening , luxuries only the affluent people could permit. Unfortunately, these harsh cures caused several major health issues decades later, aggravating her arthritis and nervous anorexia which forced Sissi to search milder climates, a perfect pretext to stay well away from Vienna and implicitly her husband. In the benefit of her beauty, she traveled with 40 tons of baggage and 90 servants, not at all a negligible quantity. As a matter of fact, haunted by the prospect of getting old and ugly, she would have done a lot more.

After age 32, Sissi vehemently rejected to pose for portraits, believing  her fetching image had begun to fade and the world should remember her young, vivid. Ironically, she remained gorgeous yet another 20 to 30 years, information attained from eyewitnesses and the few photographs taken without her approval while she was strolling down crowded boulevards, her face screened by parasols or leather fans.

That’s what she said with her own sensuous mouth: “When I’ll grow old I shall retire definitively from public life for nothing is more horrible than watching how you gradually  transform into an utter mummy, ending up crawling like a worm- absolutely dreadful! One day I’ll cover my face with a veil and nobody, not even my closest friends, will be able to gaze upon me.”

She kept her promise.

The photo above depicts her exactly as she wished: her hair is dressed elaborately to reassemble a coronet to “get rid of the other one” (the Imperial crown), her attire is simple but majestic and the look in her piercing, melancholic eyes just seizes the audience.

Her efforts to preserve this ephemeral pulchritude paid off eventually and I can’t help to stare at Sissi in silent marvel.

Don’t you?

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?

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…

the Mysterious Model

February 8, 2012

I first saw this oil on canvas painting hanging on the walls of the Victoria&Albert museum, under the scrutinizing views of thousands of cultured and less cultured visitors, in a time when I was specially susceptible to visual messages (which I still am in a milder way), and it struck me as being not particularly beautiful or entrancing (be serious! she sort of reassembles a frog!) but the fundamental Victorian belle, with the features and facial proportions wildly appreciated in the age. Through her appearance I could literally catch a glimpse of one of England’s most flourishing epoch’s ideal in a single moment. Her wet, wide eyes like licked stones, as Virginia Woolf would’ve said, her tiny, red mouth and dark hair call to mind the very haughty Queen of her time.

The portrait above depicts this lady, the object of my expressed admiration: finished in 1840 by quite obscure Charles Robert Leslie (1794– 1859) under the  alleged title “Griselda”, who was the prototype of patient, obedient woman in folklore and inspiration for Boccaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer (kind of like Julianna Marguiles as Alicia, in “the Good Wife”, only better).

Charles Robert Leslie

I became so intrigued with the model’s impeccably Victorian looks that I just had to find out more about her mysterious character; experience taught me most people represented in art have delicious life-stories to relish with a cup of Starbucks and some French macarons. Thus I hastily did my research, studied the records, read the required books, googled a couple of individuals and, voila, I barely succeeded to find a thing or two. It sincerely shocked me the little amount of information about this distinct figure in Leslie’s work. The sitter’s identity, in which I channeled all my interest, was merely presumed as being a certain Sophia Riley Gillman thanks to the notifications provided by one of her granddaughters, Mrs Ianthe Gillman.

This Sophia, whose father, Alexander Riley, lived in “Euston Square, London and the Burwood and Raby Estates, near Sidney, New South Wales”, married James Gillman Jr. (born 1808) on a sunny February day, 1837, in the Chapel of the British Embassy at Paris, the reason why they were abroad remaining unclear.

Sophia Riley as "Sophia Western"

The bride, as Leslie’s later paintings attest, was indisputably charming, of mixed Irish and Spanish descent (so she should’ve been fiery, intellectually emancipated…), with a raven mane Ianthe reported as one of her distinctive traits.  A good match and a lovely wife at that. Insipid James, turned Reverend at a point, was never heard to have been complaining about her, probably because he spent more time renovating churches and pleasing the Duke of Wellington than checking on his presumptively devoted spouse.  However, they seemed happy, having 7 plump children (James, the eldest, Alexander, Arthur, Charles, Lucy Eleanor, Amelia and Sophia).

James Gillman

Sophia died in 1862 and her husband followed, ten years later. That’s pretty much all I could discover, really unsatisfactory compared to what I’m used to when it comes to portraits of gripping women… The material I’ve obtained this time disappointed me.  No mention of the way she met Leslie from either parts, no specification in his otherwise detailed autobiography! How did he feel about her and why did he paint Sophia repeatedly if no commissions from James Gillman generated the many celebrations of her gentleness on canvas? It’s compelling… and also gives way to our rich human imagination.

Dulcinea

Was she his well concealed mistress? The responsible wife I’ve read about?!

Was she his tenth muse without acknowledging it, a person he’s seen only several short times but whose remarkable features persisted in his mind so well he could paint her over and over again without refreshing any memory? His friends sustain Leslie was so keen he could’ve do somebody’s portrait after approximately two hours of gazing the sitter, which denoted a huge observatory talent. And with Sophie’s looks, epitome of the Victorian Aphrodite, it mustn’t have been hard.

I bend for the second supposition (don’t you?) as he doesn’t appear like the dream lover but more like her own husband: elder, of mediocre status, possibly stout and certainly not flattering. And the puzzle pieces would blend better through that prism. On Sophie’s side I really don’t spot one reason why she’d open her legs, and less probably her heart, for such an ordinary artist.

Sophie

Leslie, on the other hand… he kept using her figure to model many of his painted ladies for decades, almost up to the day he died, 5 May 1859, composition after composition. Some works he even titled with her first name, pretending to belong to the fictional darling of  Tom Jones, hero of a popular novel in the age, Sophie Western. Coincidence? A melancholic gesture?

She’s a hell of a mysterious model!

the toilette/necklace

As most of us, desolate singles, keep complaining there’s no person out there fitted for us , no suited pair to cast away our solitude or lust, thus having to endure massive hopelessness and subsequent depression, I thought I could write an amusing post about two gentle giants (yes, you read well: giants) who’ve found love against the odds.

In the time when future Queen Victoria was still a young Douchess over-protected by her mother, Kentucky registers record the birth of Martin Van Buren Bates (1837-1919), an average infant from a normal-sized family, who suddenly, with no motive whatsoever, developed into one 7 feet 9 inches (2.36 m) tall man due to an accelerated growth spurt which evidently astounded his parents and the small community where they lived. Mayday! mayday!a Gulliver landed in Lilliput!

Parallelly, in a Canadian nest of Scottish immigrants, Anna Haining Swan (1846-1888) first saw the light of day on a mild August noon, peculiarly big for a new-born child with ordinary ancestors (18 punds!).  Throughout her childhood, she proportionally grew up to 8 feet, a stature nobody could have foreseen from a seventeen year old girl whose brilliant intelligence, musical inclinations and acting talent were supposed to award Anna the label of good-match. But she was literally out of every man’s reach, popularly considered more of a circus exhibit than an emotive girl with her sensibilities and issues.

Anna Haining Bates

People were tolerant with Anna’s odd presence and sustained her amiably when she played Lady McBeth or gave a piano concerto, even rescuing her from a fire at Barnum’s museum despite her injuring, from a haste injected by fear,  some men sent to help. After all, she was a tourist attraction in her own right, an iconic figure increasing the flux of  snoopy excursionists who traipsed the streets just so they could describe a meeting with the “Giantess”  and implicitly make profit to the local shops. No wonder Anna was reputedly never bullied, on the contrary, treated kindly, encouragingly.

Remotely happy, she was least contended to have been approved, no, embraced by a society which, if habitually merciless with wierdies whom they reckoned to find exclusively at fairs, in the Victorian Era was the tidiest climate she could have found.

Well, of course she did her share of touring and entertaining curious audiences, at one point succeeding to be invited for private presentations at court, for pretty good money (a five figure number…), while her  preordained Prince Charming, Martin, quitted being a schoolteacher and joined the Confederate Army where he facilely climbed at the rank of captain thanks to his height.

Martin Bates

Faith scheduled their encounter in Halifax: Anna was exceptionally attending a circus spectacle as a mere onlooker when the promoter spotted (such a strenuous job as her head popped up from the crowd…) and instantly hired her to supplement their main “exhibit”.

Little did she know her alleged partner, non other than our Martin (coincidence?), would prove to be her eternal soul mate (not that she had many giants to choose from)… It didn’t take much for love to intervene.  Partly because of their difficult dimensions which diminished the possibility of bumping into a more becoming spouse, partly as a result of Cupid’s arrows, on 17 June 1871, while in London, Reverent Rupert Cochrane united their destinies, and Anna, who had had lost all  hope of ever being somebody’s lawfully wedded wife, became Mrs Bates.

Ocular witness (meaning half the London’s population) confirm Queen Victoria’s presence, who, apart from providing the gown, sent  generous diamond-studded gold watches  of $1,000.00  as gifts, a jeweler projecting them especially to correspond with the unique measures of the couple. Royal favorites indeed.

Martin&Anna

Throughout the 1860’s, Anna and husband Martin crisscrossed Europe with their company, giving adorable representations which drew the endearment of people no matter the country, language or religion. Their broad, sincere smiles and cultivated demeanor were genuine magnets for the flock everywhere.

Returned to America, the Bates continued to oscillate with the circus between the 37 states that time, and, proceeded by their newly acquired fame, made a huge furor. Business was greater than ever and the manager ought to have congratulated himself for employing Anna, back in Halifax. A true success.

the Bates

The couple had 2 children, both unfortunately dead before passing  infancy, one stillborn and one, who presently holds the record for the largest newborn ( 23.12 punds, 30 inches), survived only 11 hours.`”It was on the 19th day of May, 1872, that our first child was born only to die at birth. Doctors Cross and Buckland were the physicians in charge. It was a girl weighing eighteen pounds and being twenty-seven inches tall. This loss affected us both, and by the advice of the doctors I took my wife upon the continent. There we traveled for pleasure, only giving receptions when requested to do so by Royal Command.” says Martin, in his autobiography, about the incident.

Anna Bates

“We journeyed west. While in Ohio, I purchased a farm in Seville, Medina County.”  he pursues. “I built a house upon it designed especially for our comfort. The ceilings have a height of fourteen feet, the doors are eight and one half feet in height. The furniture was all built to order and to see our guests make use of it recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift’s traveler in the land of Brobdignag. I had determined to become a farmer.”

Despite the tragic adventures of having descendants, the colossi lived quite lovely together and, more importantly, they were still in demand, to better or worse.

“My rest was not to last long, for yielding to the soliciations of managers, I consented to again travel. The seasons of 1878, 1879 and 1880 found us leading attractions of the W.W. Cole circus.”

Soon afterwords, though, the two decided they had had enough of both money and celebrity, thus retreating in the coziness of their enormous home for a double family life, far away from the spotlight which had earned their existence the past 20 years. Anna insisted they attend religious services on Sundays at the local Baptist Church she’d joined in 1877, where a pew had to be modified so they could sit adequately. She also taught Sunday School there.

Perhaps that was the happiest period of their relationship, sharing a romantic intimacy and relishing the country life with its simple pleasures.

Sadly, like all good things, it didn’t last much: Anna died one day before her forty-second anniversary, in 1888, succumbed to heart failure.

anna

Martin erected a titanic funeral monument to honor his wife, with a 15 foot Greek Goddess inspired by her dominating upon the tomb, but Anna’s corpse wasn’t placed there at once because of a problem with her coffin, which delayed the burial.

the Bates grave

Despite conjoining with a normal woman, Lavonne, in 1897, and having a peaceful, monotonous marriage, Martin’s true love remained Anna.

bates and wife

Nephritis killed him in 1919 and he was inhumed near her and their children in Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville, Ohio, where they’re supposed to remain together for eternity.

In the end, tell me, what was the chance for two giants, of opposite sexes, to coexist in the same Era and fortuitously meet? Anna was presumed doomed to endure abstinence, yet found a man with which to indulge in the most delightful attachment. Isn’t it like a message from the Providence: there’s-someone-for-everyone type?

You judge.

 

Few days ago, watching a remarkably accurate Oscar Wilde biographical film (inventively entitled “Wilde”, if you wondered) , I developed yet another spontaneous and futile crush on a man who’s been well dead for the past 67 years. And to those of you who’ll imply that my heart throbs just because this character’s played by popularly considered hot Jude Law, hide your heads in the sand like the ostrich does for you are embarrassingly wrong.

Jude Law as Bosie

Superficially judging by appearance or sex-appeal, I find the actor (no offense to his fans) less attractive than the historic original. Eyes deeper, hair fairer (though his photos are mostly monochrome…), more enigmatic, fascinating and playful, not to say incredibly talented, the old he’s-better-due-to-my-infatuation story. An ivory Dorian Gray brought to life from the pages of his lover’s novel (I did some accidental alliteration here…), whom Wilde himself described “quite like a narcissus – so white and gold… he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa and I worship him.”

Bosie

But let’s not be shallow and reduce the poor boy at his mere looks (certainly not inconsequential themselves). He has a name and a dynamism increasingly adding to the mottles of his charisma which he anyway had galore by my humble opinion: say hello to poet/author/ translator/ spoiled Brit aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas, suggestively nicknamed Bosie.

Born at Ham Hill House, in picturesque Worcestershire, as the third son of  John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, and wife Sybil (née Montgomery), on a fine 22 October, 1870, Alfred experienced a rather unconventional childhood in the gloomy atmosphere of the Douglas house which seemed to have had a real propensity for dubious deaths, suicides, manias and unfortunate career decisions nicely illustrated by the profiles of his uncle James, Archibald or Francis.

Despite being Sybil’s favorite offspring, the one she fondly called Bosie (note, meaningful and also fitted derivation of Boysie), he never had a proper relationship with his rigid father whose interests in boxing and sports were polar opposites to Alfred’s bohemian personality. This would lead to many inconveniences later in their lives, much regretted by both parties.

Bosie

Bosie received a traditional education at Winchester College between 1884 and 1888, continued by the typical Oxford Magdalen College he attended for another 4 years period and left before obtaining a degree, which was obviously an extra causeto his increasing conflicts with the Marquess. On top of that, it was in this time young Bosie, escaping the rigorous parental supervision, unleashed his predilections for same-sex partners, engaging in promiscuous adventures with the luring creatures of vice, or the homosexuals as we presently label them. Subsequent poems will make allusions at the all boys schools and their underground happenings of less innocent nature. Bet the old John Douglas was fuming at that too and, frankly, I don’t even know why they kept sending their heirs to those ‘corruption” nests.

Bosie

Odd common sense to let your son mingle with dodgy rental boys yet scold  him for the stable love of Oscar Wilde, which occurred in 1891, while the latter was happily married and father of two, don’t you think? I mean, would you lend your kid money to pay male prostitutes for evidently doing things you condemn yet call him “miserable”, “crazy” or “demented” if he dares to involve in romantic love?! I understand he lost his future successor, Lord Francis, who had had a dangerous liaison with Prime Minister Lord Rosebery, and planned a brighter destiny for Alfred, still,  bipolar much?

No wonder Bosie (whose nickname means “a cricket ball bowled as if to break one way, actually breaking in the opposite side”)  was distinctly temperamental- the family trait!

And that’s an actual plus on my list of why I like him so much: his flaws were perfectly explainable through the psychological pressure constantly put on him by Lord John, rising juicy contrasts between Bosie’s lewd image and genuine sensibility, passionate adoration and cruelty, gentleness and outbursts which stressed his forced duality. Don’t you believe it’s both sweet and sexy to watch his interiorised frustration projected in such variable sins?

Bosie and Oscar

Yes, he was definitely a jerk; yes, he perverted morally sane Oscar Wilde with uncountable orgies in the shabby male brothels of London, sexual promiscuity which was to enhance their love, he claimed; yes, he wasted large sums on noxious gambling and fought everyone who rightly dared criticizing it; yes, he was the ultimate ass (with a presumably pretty ass) when, after falling ill with influenza and being nursed back to health by faithful Oscar, refused to return the favor, making a scene and moving to another Hotel instead (on Wilde’s 40th birthday, he sent him the bill…) . He took advantage of Oscar, who wrote that “I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me. You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty!”. He even cheated, as these letters, sent to Maurice Schwabe, in 1893, confess:

letter of bosie

“I went to the Savoy Hotel with Oscar for two nights; and I was sentimental enough to go down to the old room 123 next to the restaurant where we used to sleep together.My darling pretty boy, I do love you so much & miss you every minute… I really love you far more than any other boy in the world, & shall always be your loving boy-wife, or your ‘little bitch’ if you prefer it.” (notice the bawdy teasing tone? in translation gives “I’m fully dedicated to you but, sorry, I screw another!” Freud would have had a sheer delight in analyzing the mental complexes revealed by these words…)

“Goodbye now my dear darling beautiful Maurice; I send you all my love and millions of kisses all over your beautiful body. I am your loving boy-wife, Bosie.” (again the “boy-wife” supplement- what a shrew!)

So YES, he was heartless sometimes and lead to Wilde’s downfall. You have all reasons to detest him! Isn’t it riveting?!

bosie and oscar

Bosie incorporated the colors which inspire writers with their torrid power and those who soothe them with their flimsiness: contrastive, capricious, delectable, of an ephemeral handsomeness that disarmed true aesthetes, like Oscar, who felt his “only hope of again doing beautiful work in art is being with” him. Begin to see why Bosie caught my attention?

In 18945, Wilde, harassed by the insistent Marquess and badly influenced by the avid Alfred, sued Lord John for an offensive card which accused him of sodomy (or buggery, in old-fashioned Victorian slang) . The following trials had a disastrous conclusion, sentencing Oscar with 2 years of incarceration.

the card

Again, you can blame Bosie for manipulating his lover into doing what he wanted, but considering the despicable things his father wrote (that he divorced Sybil not to “run the risk of bringing more creatures into the world like yourself”; “I cried over you the bitterest tears a man ever shed” at Alfred’s birth). Indeed, he was no angel, yet had he deserved such degrading words? An object of stimulation, like him? No wonder Bosie had replied with an “I detest you” line and persuaded Oscar to apply the charges which ruined both their lives.

Bosie and Oscar

Coming back to the main story, Wilde got 2 years of prison, plague to his existence. Bosie met him once more, for a brief period in Naples (1897), but definitively broke up as they had no support (financially…).

At Oscar’s funeral, in 1900, he fiercely disputed the role of the chief mourner with the writer’s former love, jealous Robert Ross. Keep this in mind.

On March, 1902, our Bosie married rich poet Olive Eleanor Constance, of 28, and their only son, Raymond Wilfred Sholto Douglas ( 1902-1964), obeying the family tradition, was diagnosed a schizo, rotting between the white walls of Saint Andrew’s mental hospital. Poor guy!

At this point, we don’t have records to attest why, Bosie concluded that he scorns Wilde, thus beginning to lead an ironically homophobic campaign of discrediting his persona. He refused,no, denied the association of their names in whatever situation and erased himself from any biography dedicated to the infamous writer. This from the man who insisted to be the chief mourner…

However, Providence successfully found its way to make them even and, in 1923, Alfred won his own ticket to prison by doing bad chinwag about Winston Churchill being-part-of-a-Jewish-conspiracy crap. Practically, the ordeal shook his sleeping conscience and Bosie remembered… he was the one who wanted to be the chief mourner! Oh, the dichotomy, the dichotomy!

bosie and his brother

He turned 180 degrees, converted to Roman Catholicism, as Wilde did, fortified his “most unlikely friendship” with Bernard Shaw and slowly subsided into oblivion, as his beauty began to perish.

At 78, he died of congestive heart failure, leaving a heritage of many poems, non-fictions and even a memoir which revolved around Oscar.

auobiography of lord alfred douglas

Lover of men, lover of women, lover of art, is it a marvel that “those red-roseleaf lips of” his “should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing”?

I’m madly bewitched by Bosie’s counterpoints; I fantasize about his thoughts, the tone of his voice according to the circumstances, the softness of his ivory skin, his source of cleverness and ingenuity.

While I was watching the movie (download it, really- it worth the two hours it’ll consume from your free time) , I leaped of excitement whenever Jude Law/Bosie screamed or shouted, as girls nowadays do whenever Edward Cullen gaily sparkles.  I even managed to fit in a “well, nobody’s perfect” line at his melodramatic “oh, Oscar, I was the bad influence on you!” jail scene…

Jail scene

Anyway, what do you think now you’ve heard the full version of Bosie’s life? Is he as dislikable as he sounded in the beginning?

You answer.

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