Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
This weekend we're going to do something a little different with our Heroine! This week marks the anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, in 1813. It's been giving enormous pleasure for 197 years now (and looks no older than 20!) . To mark the occasion, and give thanks for this marvelous book, a few favorite quotes:
"What are men to rocks and mountains?"
"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit"
"'He likes to have his own way very well,'...but so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor"
"I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can"
"To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love"
"I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least"
"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it"
What is your favorite Austen quote?
And be sure join us over the Riskies today, as we launch my new book Countess of Scandal (complete with giveaways!)
Friday, January 29, 2010
When You Are Old
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
Thursday, January 28, 2010
What I love this week--ice skating! The Winter Olympics are coming up in a couple of weeks, and the US Championships just finished, so I'm looking forward to plenty of sparkly costumes, strange music, and amazing athleticism. Yay! (I especially love ice dancing--they're far more likely to have costumes and routines that are just absolutely freakin' crazy than the others--though the men are no slouches in that department, either...)
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
She was born at Bodvel Hall in Wales to wealthy parents of an old Welsh family (said to be descended from Katheryn of Berain). But her father went bankrupt in ill-fated investments, and in October 1763 she married a bit beneath her, to rich brewer Henry Thrale. They lived at the fine house of Streatham Park and had 12 children (the eldest, Hester, married "up" and became a viscountess). Despite the fact that the marriage was not a particularly happy one, it gave her the freedom and money to enter London society and associate with the artistic, intellectual circles she loved. She became friends with Johnson and Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, Fanny Burney (who she traveled with to Bath), Bishop Thomas Percy, and many other literary figures. Her home was a magnet to people like this.
Her husband died in April 1781, and she went on to marry in 1784 (rather scandalously!) the Italian music teacher Gabriel Mario Piozzi, which caused a rift with her dear friend Johnson (only mended shortly before he died) and earned the disapproval of Burney (who ironically later went on to marry the impoverished French Catholic emigre Alexander D'Arblay! Pot=Kettle). With her second husband Hester went to live at Brynbella, a specially-built country house in Wales.
After her friend Johnson died, she published her Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and a volume of her letters. Along with her diaries (the total collection called "Thraliana" by scholars of the period!), she gave a more complete view of Johnson than Boswell's famous Life. She died in Bristol on May 2, 1821 and was buried in the churchyard of Corpus Christi Church near her beloved Brynbella. A plaque in the church reads "Dr. Johnson's Mrs. Thrale. Witty, Vivacious, and Charming, in an age of Genius She held ever a foremost Place."
A few interesting sources on her life (besides the info that can be found in various Johnson bios):
A chapter on her in The Lives of the Muses, Francine Prose
Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Johnson's "Dear Mistress", Ian McIntyre
And a great novel, Beryl Bainbridge's According to Queeney
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
When I was younger, I was very into ballet! Classes every week, attending performances whenever I could, all of that. I still love the art form very dearly. One of my favorite heroines of those days was Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova--and now she our Heroine of the Weekend here at the blog, on the anniversary of her death (January 23, 1931).
Pavlova was born prematurely on February 12, 1881 in Ligovo, a suburb of St. Petersburg, to a poor laundress named Lyubov Pavlova (the identity of her father is now known; Anna later claimed he died when she was 2, while the St Petersburg Gazette said in 1913 that her father was a banker named Poliakov, and her mother's second husband Matvey Pavlov adopted her when she was 3). Her passion for ballet was born early when her mother took her as a special treat to see The Sleeping Beauty at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater. When she was 8 she was taken to audition for the famous Imperial Ballet School; she was first rejected due to her "sickly" physique (skinny, with long, thin limbs--now the standard for ballerinas), but was accepted at the age of 10. She made her debut as a cupid in A Fairy Tale, which Petipa staged for the students of the school.
Her student years were not easy, as the rigorous technique of the Russian method did not come easily to her. The standard for ballerinas of the day was a small, strong, muscled, compact body, while Anna had very arched feet, thin ankles and wrists, and long legs. Other students called her "The broom." But she was hugely determined to succeed, taking extra classes and working long, hard hours every day. She found champions in the famed teachers Gerdt, Legat, and Ekaterina Vazem. The work paid off in her final year at the school, where she took on solo roles, and on graduation in 1899 at age 18 she entered the Imperial Ballet company as a coryphee (a rank ahead of the corps). She debuted with the company in a variation in The False Dryads, which gained glowing notices from the hard-to-please critics.
The public (and St. Petersburg was very picky when it came to their ballet!) was not sure about her style at first. The Russian style was rigorous when it came to technique, and Anna often ignored the academic rules, with poor turnout, bent knees, and incorrectly placed port de bras and turns. Her weak ankles caused her troubles, especially when she tried to emulate the athletic prima ballerinas of the day. Her style was more an old-school romantic one. Her teacher Pavel Gerdt told her "You must realize that your daintiness and fargility are your greatest assets! You should always do the kind of dancing which brings out your rare qualities instead of trying to win parise by mere acrobatic tricks." Once she did this, critic Nicolai Bezobrazov declared praise for her "natural ballon, lingering arabesques, and frail femininty," and the public were won over.
Pavlova continued to work on improving her technique, ordering specially designed pointe shoes reinforced with hard wood on the soles and the curve of the box. This is much closer to the design of modern shoes, which make pointe work less painful and much easier on curved arches.
She rose through the ranks quickly, with lead roles in Petipa ballets such as Paquita, Giselle, and Le Roi Candaule. After a great triumph in Giselle in 1906 she became a prima ballerina, followed everywhere by her legions of fans, called Pavlovatzi. When the prima ballerina assoluta (aka head girl) of the Imperial Ballet, Mathilde Kschessinska (a former mistress of Tsar Nicholas II) became pregnant, she personally coached Pavlova to take over her role of Nikiya in La Bayadere. She had an ulterior motive; she was sure Pavlova would fail in the role and her place would remain preminent in St. Petersburg. This backfired when audiences adored Pavlova, and considered that her frail, delicate look suited the ballet perfectly.
Eventually Pavlova left Russia and went on tour around the world, in search of new audiences and new challenges. She worked with Diaghilev in the early years of the Ballet Russes, but they parted ways as his company became more avant-garde (she turned down the part in Thje Firebird because she did not care for Stravinsky's modern score). She prefered a more traditional style, and by the mid-1900s had formed her own company and took it on tour around the world. Her signature dance was The Dying Swan, choreographed for her by Fokine in 1905 and set to music by Saint-Saens. She made her home in thse years in England, at a home called Ivy House in the Golders Green section of London (now the London Jewish Cultural Center), where she lived with students, company members, and Victor Dandre, her manager, companion, and maybe husband (she never said for sure).
In 1931, while touring in The Hague, Pavlova was told she had dangeroue pleurisy and required an immediate operation, but she was also told she could never dance again if she had this surgery. She replied, "If I cannot dance, I would rather be dead." She died three weeks later, at the age of almost 50. She was cremated and after a memorial service at the Russian Orthodox Church in London her ashes were placed in a niche at Golders Green Crematorium, her urn adorned with a pair of her ballet shoes.
A few good sources:
Pavlova, Portrait of a Dancer, introduction by Margot Fonteyn (this is out-of-print, but it's a gorgeous book with many lovely illustrations)
Anna Pavlova, Keith Money
Anna Pavlova in Art and Life, Victor Dandre
Friday, January 22, 2010
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more."
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more."
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" -
Merely this, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more."
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never - nevermore'."
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting -
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Chloe Sevigny: Yeah, this is a big pile of lavender crazy, but hey, it is Chloe Sevigny! I'd be disappointed if she showed up in a black strapless cocktail dress. So it's a Win. But only on her.
January Jones: Very heavy and funereal. And I don't like that satin collar much. Disappointing after that great silvery Versace from the Emmys!
Heidi Klum. Feather duster.
Sandra Bullock. I LOVE that color, and it's fab on her. But the fabric looks weird and cheap, and reminds me of this purple Saran Wrap my manicurist uses. I would have loved it in duchesse satin. (why does she always look so unhappy, though?)
Carrie Ann Inaba. When I was in pre-school, we would do this thing where we would paint on a piece of paper, color over it with heavy black crayon, then scratch it off to make an image. That's what this reminds me of.
Tina Fey. So cute in concept! But this reminds me of something, too--the porch sunshade my parents had when I was a kid.
Drew Barrymore--I mostly love this one, too, except for the sparkly sponge-y bits. The one on the shoulder is okay. The one on the hip, too much.
This is another one I mostly love, especially the style, except for the Halloween tulle overlay.
I am also down on Jennifer Aniston (sloppy) and Christina Hendricks, who really needed straps on that bodice and a brighter color. And Julia Roberts, who showed up in a black jersey wrap dress I might wear to work (but never to a fancy awards ceremony, where everyone else is going all-out). Which looks did you less than love??
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Amy Adams: Cutest pregnant retro lady there!
Nicole Kidman: (very old-Hollywood. And can I say how awesome the red hair is?)
Zoe Saldana: (there are some actresses who can pull off stuff that would make ordinary mortals, or even other actresses, look ridiculous. Saldana is one of them. She looks fabulous)
Diane Kruger: (another one who can pull off very out-there, avant-garde-ish looks! The skirt here is a little fusty, and I have no idea what that white bit is at the waist, but I love the color)
Marion Cotillard: (I think I might have liked it more if the skirt was actually a whole skirt, without the odd lingerie-ish bit, but again I love the color and the structure of the bodice)
Emily Blunt: (soooo gorgeous! Maybe my fave of the night. And how cute is she with her fiance, aka that guy from The Office?)
Carey Mulligan: (she looks great, even though I have the terrible urge to tug that bodice up, or buy her a good bra! Love the blue and black combo. I was rooting for her to win for An Education, which alas did not happen)
Ginnifer Goodwin (gorgeous color, love the short skirt)
Lea Michele, from Glee
(I also liked Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet, though could find no good full-length pics yet)
Who were your favorites? And tune in tomorrow when I look at gowns I either did not like or feel torn over...
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Today (January 17) is the last day at the V&A to see their lavish Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts (which I've heard is stupendous). They have lots of great-sounding things coming up, as well. Grace Kelly: Fashion Icon opening April 17, Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill on March 6, and Serge Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russe on September 25, as well as a big exhibit on the Aesthetic Movement in 2011.
Sigh. I often wish I had a private plane on-demand, to take me to these fabulous museums around the world!
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Alva was born in Mobile, Alabama to Murray Forbes Smith and his wife Phoebe, a moderately wealthy couple of impeccable lineage (Phoebe's father, Robert Desha, was a former US Representative and a general in the War of 1812). The youngest of 4 children, her two older sisters died before she was born, and her brother died in 1857, leaving her an only child. Her parents summered in Newport, Rhode Island and took lots of European vacations, eventually settling in New York City after their son's death. Alva and her mother moved to Paris when her father had to go to Liverpool for his business (who would stay in Liverpool when they could go to Paris??), where Alva attended private boarding school and absorbed the culture of Europe.
After the Civil War, the family returned to New York where Phoebe died in 1869. At a party for one of William Henry Vanderbilt's daughters, Alva's best friend Consuelo Iznaga introduced her to a Vanderbilt grandson, William Kissan Vanderbilt, and they were married soon after on April 20, 1875 at Calvary Church. Her father, whose business had suffered reverses along with his health, died soon after.
Three children were born to the marriage, Consuelo in 1877, William Kissam II in 1878, and Harold in 1884. Consuelo proved to be an exotic beauty, and Alva (extremely socially ambitious) manuevered her into marrying the Duke of Marlborough when she was only 18 years old (ironic, considering her later fight for women's rights). The marriage was annulled in 1926, when Alva testified that she forced her daughter into the union, and Consuelo went on to marry French pilot Jacques Belsan. William Kissam II became president of the New York Central Railroad Company after his father, as did Harold later on.
Soon after Alva's marriage, she hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to build an immense French chateau-style house at 660 Fifth Avenue, and later on a retreat called Idlehour on Long Island, which was added to for years. In 1891 he was hired to design the fantabulous Marble House in Newport, Alva's "summer cottage" meant to outdo her in-laws' places. This wasn't the only volley in her campaign to make the Vanderbilts as socially prominent as they were rich. Snubbed by Caroline Astor of "The 400" fame, Alva planned a masquerade ball in her Fifth Avenue chateau that would cost $3 million. After Mrs. Astor's daughter pitched a fit about not being invited, she was forced to call and thus give her approval to the upstart Vanderbilts. When she couldn't procure a box at the Academy of Music, she founded the Metropolitan Opera Association at the Metropolitan Opera House. Marble House was built next door to Mrs. Astor's comparatively puny Beechwood.
In 1895, Alva shocked society again, this time with the unheard-of--a divorce. She received several of the properties as well as a rumored $10 million (the grounds were her husband's adulteries, but some speculated he hired a woman to pretend to have an affair with him so Alva would divorce him...). In 1896 she married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, 5 years her junior and an old family friend (he even sometimes went on vacations with the Vanderbilts aboard their yacht the Alva). This gave her all-new architectural opportunities with renovations to their 60-room Newport mansion Belcourt and another Long Island estate, Brookholt. Oliver died in 1908, and Alva found a new passion--women's rights.
Recruited into the suffrage movement by her friend Anna Shaw (president of the National Women's Suffrage Association), Alva donated immense sums to the cause both in the US and England, founded the Political Equity League, and wrote articles for newspapers. She gave support to the strikers in New York's shirtwaist makers walk-out in 1909-10, paid the bail of picketers who were arrested, and planned a huge rally at the Hippodrome as well as paying for NAWSA's offices in New York. At Marble House in the summer of 1914 she held a "Conference of Great Women," where her daughter Consuelo (active in the cause in England) gave the speech, and she served on the executive committee of Alice Paul's Congressional Union for Women Suffrage from 1914-1916. She was later elected president of the National Woman's Party, which she held until her death (and helped them organize the first picketing at the White House).
From the 1920s on, she lived in France to be near her daughter Consuelo, with whom she had mended old wounds and formed a strong relationship, and resided in the Chateau d'Augerville La Riviere which she restored. But she didn't slow down--she formed with Paul the International Advisory Council of the National Woman's Party. She suffered a stroke in 1932 and died in Paris on January 26, 1933. Her funeral at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York had all-female pallbearers and large contingents of suffragists. She was buried next to Belmont at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age
Clarice Stasz, The Vanderbilt Women: Dynasty of Wealth, Glamour, and Tragedy
Friday, January 15, 2010
For today's Poetry Friday--Rimbaud's beautiful Ophelia, translated by Oliver Bernard.
On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils...
- In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.
For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.
The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.
The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings;
- A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.
O pale Ophelia! beautiful as snow!
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river!
- It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.
It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights;
It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child's heart, too human and too soft;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees!
Heaven! Love! Freedom! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl!
You melted to him as snow does to a fire;
Your great visions strangled your words
- And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye!
- And the poet says that by starlight
You come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
What I love this week--birthdays! And mine is tomorrow. (Well, let's say I partially love birthdays. I don't love the "getting older" part. I do love the cake and presents part. Maybe I should ask for botox instead of books this year???)
How do you celebrate birthdays?