Marie-Antoinette's favorite sister, who was like a second mother to her, but from whom she was separated when Carolina went to Naples to get married. Throughout her life, Antoinette sought friends who would take Carolina's place. I have blogged about Maria Carolina before; her granddaughter was the notorious Caroline of Naples. Share
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Marie-Antoinette's favorite sister, who was like a second mother to her, but from whom she was separated when Carolina went to Naples to get married. Throughout her life, Antoinette sought friends who would take Carolina's place. I have blogged about Maria Carolina before; her granddaughter was the notorious Caroline of Naples. Share
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
It survived the Revolution, and had a gaudy resurgence (as seen above) during the reign of Napoleon, who patronized the opulent porcelain, just like the kings and queens whom he had replaced. Here is an essay on the history of Sèvres. Lauren has an interesting post as well.
Before their untimely deaths, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette patronized the national porcelain, as was their duty. They had simple taste compared to the revolutionaries who took over the government, the palaces, and the porcelain factories. Here are pictures of reproductions of pieces ordered by the king and queen. The laiterie at Rambouillet, with the "breast cup" and other vessels, was supposed to celebrate all that was wholesome and natural, from breast-feeding (which most noblewomen shunned) to the manual labor that went into running a dairy.
The aristocracy had traditionally looked down upon manual labor and peasant life. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette wanted to show that it was good and beautiful and life-giving. The royal dairy was a sort of monument to the way that staples such as cheese and milk were produced.
The Ember days, then, stand out as the only days in the supernatural seasons of the Church that commemorate the natural seasons of the earth. This is appropriate, for since the liturgical year annually renews our initiation into the mystery of redemption, it should have some special mention of the very thing which grace perfects.Share
Saturday, September 27, 2008
He is a saint who reminds us of what it is to be a Catholic. Orthodoxy and true belief cannot get one very far if not accompanied by love, kindness, patience, humility, and effective intervention on behalf of the poor. St. Vincent de Paul renounced his early clerical ambition in order to become a servant of the indigent. His manner was characterized by courtesy and wisdom, tempered by shrewd insight, which made his counsel sought by bishops and kings. St. Vincent was a friend of both St. Francis de Sales and King Louis XIII. The humble priest intervened in matters of great import for Church and state, as is told here:
The great political and religious conflict known as the Thirty Years War was now raging. Vincent, on hearing of the wretchedness of the people of Lorraine, collected alms for them in Paris. He sent missionaries to other countries affected by the war. Recalling his own sorrows as a slave in Tunisia, he raised enough money to ransom some twelve hundred Christian slaves in Africa. He had influence with the powerful Cardinals Richelieu and De Retz, directors of French foreign policy; and was sent for by King Louis XIII, to minister to him as he lay dying. The king's widow, Anne of Austria, now Queen Regent, had him made a member of the Council of Conscience of the five-year-old prince, the future Louis XIV. Vincent continued to be in favor at court, and during the civil war of the Fronde, tried to persuade the Queen Regent to give up her unpopular minister, Cardinal Mazarin, to help pacify and unify the people.It was St. Vincent who later appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, encouraging her to join his order. It was on his feast in 1830, formerly kept on July 19, that St. Catherine had the first of the amazing apparitions at the Rue de Bac, which were to have such immense significance to France and to the world.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Maria Christina was one of Marie-Antoinette's older sisters. (She had ten sisters and five brothers.) They called Maria Christina "Mimi" and she was their mother's favorite daughter. By the way, all of Marie-Antoinette's sisters were named for the Blessed Virgin. To tell them apart they were called by their second names, or by nicknames. No one was called "Maria" or "Marie." Marie-Antoinette was never called "Marie" by her family but "Antoine." Her husband and his family called her "Antoinette," since all the women in the French royal family were also "Marie." Share
It is impossible to continue to argue, for example, that Franklin Roosevelt was merely naïve about the true nature of Stalinism during the Yalta Conference of February 1945, whereas Churchill was much more nuanced and doubtful. In fact Burgis records Churchill telling the first War Cabinet after his return from the Crimea that, 'Stalin I’m sure means well to the world and Poland. Stalin has offered the Polish people a free and more broadly based government to bring about an election; I cannot conceive any government has the right to be treated like that. Stalin about Poland said, 'Russia has committed many sins about Poland – pacts and partitions – it is not the intention of the Soviet Government to do such things but to make amends.’ Stalin had a very good feeling with the two Western democracies and wants to work quite easily with us. My hopes lie in a single man, he will not embark on bad adventures. Re: Greece – Stalin was jocular.’ Words that would have embarrassed Churchill deeply by the time of the Berlin airlift three years later were to stay hidden for six decades.Share
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
After finishing Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, I have come to the conclusion that the flaming youth of the 1770's and 80's were just about as wild a bunch that could be. It seems that the generation of aristocrats who came of age in the decade and a half immediately before the French Revolution liked to live life at the edge. Fashions were extreme, homes were elaborate, and fortunes were gambled blithely away. Traditional morals and religious practice were given a public nod while being privately cast aside. The "sweetness of living," as Talleyrand nostalgically referred to the ancien régime, was to be replaced by the wars and successive revolutions of the next two centuries.
The decadent old world, which would soon be turned upside down, was in England presided over with glamor and opulence by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In France, Marie-Antoinette was perceived as being the queen of the fashionable whirl, but she was never so popular in society and genuinely influential in politics as was her friend Georgiana in England. Also, Marie-Antoinette's domestic life became calmer after the birth of her first child at age twenty-two. With Louis XVI to steady her, she eventually gave up gambling, and became the strong and courageous queen who was able to face the upheavals of the Revolution. Furthermore, Louis did not indulge in chronic infidelity as did the Duke of Devonshire. Georgiana, on the other hand, went from one personal fiasco to another, hardly ever letting up until she was in her forties, and even then died with enormous debts.
The book gives a detailed account of the vast political influence wielded by ladies of high society in the days when women could not vote. The assortment of characters depicted by Reynolds and Gainsborough were finally given personality for me in Foreman's well-written biography. My trouble was with Georgiana herself. I could not grasp why she was so psychologically needy, what with the drinking and all night parties and spending and inordinate attachments to her friends. She had come from a loving family, although they were not perfect, but at least they cared and actively intervened in her troubles. Her husband did not love her, clearly, but many women were in loveless marriages. Unlike Marie-Antoinette, Georgiana could not seem to get her gambling under control. I do not understand why such a charming, intelligent and popular woman would be so insecure. Part of this is because I am so used to reading and writing about people who had extreme traumas and upheavals, such as Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their immediate family. Most of poor Georgiana's troubles were of her own making and completely avoidable. While she is a fascinating character, adored by the common folk for her ability to mingle, she is a bit puzzling.
For one thing, it was so odd for Georgiana to tolerate Bess Foster's presence in the Duke of Devonshire's bed for all those years. Georgiana was such a bottomless pit of emotional need that she insisted on keeping Bess as her friend no matter what. As for Bess, she wanted everything Georgiana had; she wanted to be Georgiana. In the end, she had her way, and became the Duchess of Devonshire, but she was never loved the way Georgiana was loved. Georgiana's daughter Harriet described Bess thus: "...More perverted than deceitful...I really believe she hardly knows herself the difference between right and wrong now." (p. 308) Foreman says that Bess' version of events in her diary "was more fantasy than truth." (p.177) This is why I take it as a grain of salt when anything Bess wrote in regard to Count Fersen and Marie-Antoinette is given as evidence that they had an affair.
I also wish to point out that, contrary to what is said on page 129, Marie-Antoinette did not weep in front of her attendants when Count Fersen left Versailles in 1778. The Swedish ambassador recorded that her eyes "filled with tears," which is different from having a good cry. Marie-Antoinette was pregnant at the time with her first child. She may have been a bit emotional as are many women in that condition. It could also be that the beau Fersen did indeed impress her with his charm and masculine beauty. She was not made of wood. But what must be remembered is that the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy, who constantly spied on Marie-Antoinette, reporting everything to her mother, did not think the incident with Fersen was worth mentioning. He was more upset about the influence of Madame de Polignac on the young queen. The Spanish ambassador Count Aranda, who paid servants to inspect the royal sheets so that he knew when the king and queen had relations, also did not think anything of the Queen's friendship with Fersen.
The person I find to be most sympathetic in the biography about Georgiana is her long-suffering mother, Lady Spencer. I do not blame Lady Spencer one bit for having the governess as her spy. After all, she had to keep track of the various illegitimate children who were being smuggled into the Cavendish nursery, after being born and fostered out with utmost secrecy. Between Bess Foster and Georgiana's sister Harriet, I lost track of which child belonged to whom. And then Georgiana herself, fleeing to France to give birth to little Eliza. At least the children were not abandoned or destroyed; each was given care and love. For Lady Spencer to try to supervise the situation, and attempt to have Bess thrown out, was basic prudence. She was the only responsible adult in the clan and how her daughters carried on must have broken her heart.
I wish I could have understood why Georgiana plunged into the affair with Charles Grey, Eliza's father. Her life was already a mess, what with the heavy drinking and gambling; her involvement with Earl Grey served to further complicate matters. The affair seemed to come not so much from a great love but from sheer recklessness on the part of someone who had totally lost control of her life. However, the book does not capture any sense of passion. Perhaps that is because so many of Georgiana's letters were censored or destroyed by her Victorian descendants, quite an editorial feat in itself.
To Georgiana's credit, she often displayed genuine remorse for her disordered ways and tried to amend her life. Her failing health eventually forced her into a simpler, calmer existence. Her oldest daughter wrote that she was the best of mothers. The Duchess was devoted to her family, no question about it, while struggling with so many addictive behaviors, so many demons. Tormented she was, without a doubt. I only wish I understood why.
Here is a review of the new film. Share
When relationships are strained — whether between family or friends, co-workers or neighbors — the temptation can be to bolster our own sense of “rightness” by getting those on the sidelines to take our side against our opponent’s. The thing is, this approach doesn’t resolve the issue; it merely widens the breach. Only when we are willing to “own” with humility our own part in the conflict, however small, can the healing begin.Share
Sunday, September 21, 2008
However, I recently came across some fascinating information on a genealogy website where there are posted excerpts from the private family papers of Henry M. Hyams, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in the 1860's. Mr Hyams claimed to be the nephew of Catherine Hyde or "Kitty Hyams," as she was also called. The Hyams were of Jewish-Polish descent and had originally fled to Ireland as a refuge. Catherine had been sent to the convent in Paris for her education. As the Hyams memorandum says:
Catherine, my father's sister, also born in Ireland, who received a finished education, as a linguist and musician at the Convent of Irelandaises in Paris. She was known as the beautiful little Kitty Hyams, afterwards as the pretty little Kittie "Hyde," having been adopted by Lord Hyde, and sent to this country to be educated and converted to Catholicism. In the after years she was attached to the unhappy household and fortunes of the unfortunate Princess De Lamballe and Marie Antoinette. She was the Maid of Honor to the Princess and she performed many secret missions for the royal house. She was especially the favorite of Marie Antoinette and was the confidante during all of her troubles. She has written the memories of the Princess Lamballe and also the secret memories and last moments of Marie Antoinette. She also wrote a work entitled, "Venice under the yoke of France and Austria." At the age of 86 years [this would be in about 1842, two years before her death] she visited the United States to visit her brother, Samuel M. Hyams, of New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the father of Lt. Gov. Henry M. Hyams and Samuel M. Hyams of this state. Her style of writing was forcible, and attracted the attention of all the European Governments of that time, caused her to be an exile and driven into Italy, where later on she died. Although residing in foreign lands nearly all of her life, she was exceedingly English in her views and politics; hating Napoleon above all things on earth; in all her writings she fully shows this hatred. She is known as the Marchioness de Solari."This kind of historical mystery can be really intriguing to explore. So did Catherine truly base her book on actual writings of the princess? Or is it more of a novel based on stories that she heard as a young girl in Paris? And how did she acquire the Italian title? Who was her husband? If anyone has some insights, let me know. (Via Marie-Antoinette Online) Share
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Here is the continuation of my mother's story of her family in the years of World War II, beginning with the sea voyage from the Philippines to the USA. They settled in Birmingham, Alabama where my grandfather's family had lived for generations. (The photo above shows my mother and her brother David, wearing the knickers he so disliked.)
My memories of the sea voyage to the US are that of a storm at sea where the ship was said to have come within 6 degrees of capsizing. I remember a long dark night with the ship rocking, people screaming and tumbling all over the place, suitcases and other articles sliding back and forth, and everyone getting severely sea sick. We were all confined below for safety, and my mother held me close to her in her bunk so I would not tumble around and end up with broken bones or worse yet, a concussion. During this voyage a US Destroyer could be seen in the distant horizon protecting us from Japanese submarines because we were still at war with Japan. Our ship the USS Eberle, as I recall it was a Coast Guard ship, had to take a zig zag course in order to elude the Japanese submarines that could possibly be stalking us.
It was spring of 1945 and the Atomic bomb was yet to be dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year. (On my brother's birthday, August 7th.) I recall landing briefly at Honolulu and watching a US Navy Band play 'Anchors Aweigh' and parade on the pier far below us. We then landed in San Pedro California, and were put up in a hotel by the Red Cross before boarding a train to Alabama.
A news reporter somehow got word of our presence in the hotel because he came and took photos of me holding an apple and an orange. I had never before seen fruit such as that. It made quite an appealing human interest war story. The train trip across the country seemed endless. I remember traveling across Texas, and asking my mother repeatedly if we were still in Texas.
When we arrived in Alabama we ended up at my grandparents’ farm in Hollins, Alabama. Both my grandparents were still alive at that time and my father's sister, Lena Vernon and her husband, Frank, and son Raymond, lived in the house next door. We liked Raymond and had good times with him. My Aunt Lena, who was the only girl among all sons, was the one in charge, as my grandmother's health was failing and she was paralyzed in a wheel chair. I remember my grandparents, Allison Missouri (Watson), and Elisha David Strong, as being rather mild mannered people who were quite affectionate. My grandmother had given birth to eleven children, nine of whom had survived. Of the two who died, one was a boy named John Heflin who died when just a baby, and Floy Ruth, who, I believe, lived to be about the age of nine. (Southerners like two first names). The story goes that she ate green apples causing severe gastro-intestinal distress which brought on her death. One of their sons was a flier whose plane crashed during the war while flying over the Himalayas. I recall being quite fond of all of my uncles and their wives, as well as my cousins. My father was the youngest in the family, and I was the youngest of all the cousins.
It should be noted here that my grandfather was born in 1856 and lived to be a hundred years old. He loved the fact that he had lived to see cars travel 'a mile a minute', as well as witness the age of the jet plane. My fondest memory of my grandfather was when he would take me with him when he would walk to the train depot to pick up the mail. Hollins was such a 'backwater' that the train only stopped if someone was disembarking, otherwise the mail bag was thrown from the train onto a sort of hook attached to a tall pole. The depot manager would go out and get the bag then sort the mail. People had to go to the train depot and pick up their mail.
While at my grandparents farm I remember lots of wonderful good southern food, my favorite being thick fresh milk straight from the family cow, and hot buttered biscuits (home churned butter). There was a mule named Ida, and the cow had a name as well but I no longer remember what it was. There were lots of chickens that clucked around the chicken yard and one rooster who made their lives miserable. At night they roosted in muscadine vines in the chicken yard. It was a special treat to get to feed the chickens. There was a smoke house, but that was where my brother and Raymond got washed by my aunt in a big wash tub. I got to be washed in the kitchen sink. There was no indoor plumbing and we had to use the dreaded outhouse built over a small creek. During the night we used chamber pots that were kept under the bed. My Aunt was a meticulous housekeeper and very industrious. She and my mother were not fond of each other, but my mother loved my grandmother and I think it was mutual.
During this time my mother and father would make trips to Birmingham to find a house for us and a job for my father. He finally obtained a position with the Internal Revenue Service in Birmingham. Before we moved we had a huge family reunion and everyone brought clothes, and household goods to help us get started in our new life. My brother did not like hand me down clothes, especially knickers. He said that no one wore knickers anymore. (To this day he is particular about what he wears.) The whole family being there was, of course, an occasion to serve lots of good southern cooking at a huge table. There would be several kinds of meat such as ham, roast beef and chicken, 'Irish' potatoes, and sweet potatoes, lots of fresh vegetables from the garden, glasses of milk, sweet ice tea and hot buttered biscuits. The milk was thick with bubbles on top and I would go around and pop the bubbles in everyone's glass until my mother stopped me saying that was unsanitary. For dessert, there were several kinds of freshly baked fruit pies as well as home made cakes. All the leftovers went to the pigs. Southerners did not eat heated over food. Everything was made fresh for each meal.
After we moved to Birmingham my brother, father and I would still visit the farm, but my mother would avoid going. That is another story. As for me, I loved it there, but I now understand that my mother did not want to spend her weekends in another woman's house who was hostile to her.
There were many pleasant experiences at my grandparent's farm and in the neighborhood where I grew up in Birmingham. In spite of the perils and trauma of the War, I remember having a happy childhood and feeling loved, protected and nurtured by my family. My mother, as you may have noted, is the heroine of this story, and my sister was indispensable. I have lived my entire life being in awe of them and their courage and resourcefulness during some of the most daunting years of our modern era.
Should someone (family, friend or acquaintance) open a door for us, we should gratefully say "Thank you" instead of sailing through the entrance with nary an acknowledgement of the favor granted us. If someone wishes to speak with us and we truly do not have time, we should sincerely express our regrets with a sympathetic tone. Even further, we might ask the individual what time would be best for us to catch up with them? The little niceties go a long way, but how revealing of the interior life of those who lack them.Share
Friday, September 19, 2008
My last memory of the war years was when the Americans invaded and we had to go into hiding for three weeks. We hid in the crawl space of a three story house along with many, many other people crammed into the space. My mother had been told about that this house, and that it was relatively safe during the bombing because three stories would deflect the worst effects of a bomb. It had already been shelled at an earlier time because I remember seeing a long crack in the roof.Share
As I mentioned, the space was crammed with families, mostly women and children, and many injured people. My mother always carried first aid supplies with her and would nurse as many of the injured people as she could. I specifically recall a man on whom she had applied a tourniquet which we took turns holding in order to stop the loss of blood. I believe she saved his life. The only antibiotic available in those days was sulfonamide. My mother always had some with her. She was quite resourceful in obtaining first aid supplies.
In getting to this house we had to escape our neighborhood in the early morning hours while it was still dark. This turned out to be a dangerous procedure because the Japanese had planted explosive mines in the muddy road in order to blow up the American tanks that were to come through. My sister had watched through the night as the soldiers were planting the mines and memorized where all of them were. After the soldiers left we crept from our house and had to cling to the side of the house in order not to slip in the mud and be blown up. It was to this house that my brother and sister would return to get food and my sister would cook food and bring it back to the place where we were in hiding.
By then the Japanese were not so 'benevolent' and had established a curfew. Anyone seen out past the curfew would be machined gunned. If the person was a young woman she would be taken to go into sexual service for the Japanese soldiers. Little boys my brother’s age would be taken to pull the Japanese caissons because by then oil for motorized vehicles was almost unobtainable. In my brother's notes he tells of the time he was snatched off the street and hidden during one of the Japanese soldiers’ sweeps of the city. Many children became separated from their family, and I recall seeing children wandering around alone and crying.
My mother had given me and my brother strict instructions as to how to avoid being separated from her. I was to hang onto her hand no matter what, and my brother was to stay by my sister. My mother had prepared a bag which we were instructed to take when we had to move from place to place. It contained some food, clothing and first aid supplies.
After about three weeks of hiding under the house the final ordeal ended when we experienced an unnatural silence and assumed the fighting had ended. We did not know, however, whether it was the Japanese or the American army that had prevailed. Finally we heard tanks rumbling past and someone called out, "Is anybody there?" It was an American soldier. My mother said it was a welcome relief to see those blue eyes. The soldiers handed out chocolates, cigarettes, and Chiclets chewing gum. We were taken to Santo Tomas where my father had been imprisoned, but it was now an internment camp. Santo Tomas had previously been a University, but the Japanese found the setting a good one to use for prisoners of war.
We were 'interned' here while the Allied forces sorted everyone out with the help of the International Red Cross and arranged for all to be returned to their respective countries. Manila was a cosmopolitan city and its inhabitants were people from all over the world. So it was quite a task and one that took months or organizing in order to achieve this. My father was quite relieved to be reunited with us. He had not been able to get word of our whereabouts and knew we were trapped in the worst part of Manila where the most vicious fighting was taking place. His worst fear was that he would never see us again. He and his fellow prisoners knew that they were only going to be able to survive another month if the liberation had not taken place. Many of their fellow prisoners had already died of starvation or been bayoneted by the Japanese guards because of some infraction. My father wrote a book titled "A Ringside Seat To War", about his experiences as a prisoner at Santo Tomas.
Upon leaving we could see that the beautiful city of Manila was flattened beyond recognition. This city, known as 'The Pearl of the Orient' situated on the stunning, blue, Manila Bay, would never be the same again. Our lives as well were changed forever. Because there were no longer any harbors or docks, in order to board the ship that was to take us back to the U .S. we had to get into LST's, which were vehicles that operated on land and in the water. We climbed into these with just the clothes on our backs and a small bag of belongings, grateful to be alive, and grateful to the Allied forces who had liberated us at great cost in lives and resources.
(To be continued....)
Thursday, September 18, 2008
My mother recently jotted down some of her recollections about life in the Philippines during World War II. Born in Baguio in 1939, she was a toddler when the Japanese occupation began, and so cannot always relate exact dates and times. Her father, Herman Strong, was from Alabama and so as an American citizen was interred in a Japanese concentration camp. My grandmother, Magdalena Vidal Crosby Strong, kept the family together throughout the war and the many hardships. Above is a photo of my mother, Alice, as an infant in her father's arms. The small boy is my Uncle David and the young girl is my Aunt Floy, standing next to my grandmother. Here are the notes from my mom:
When WW II broke out we were living in a beautiful, what would these days be called a subdivision, of 6 houses each one walled in for privacy and safety from robbers. House robberies were common in Manila, thus most houses had iron grills on the windows and these had the added safety of walls. I remember the street we lived on was Colorado Street. I believe my father was doing well as an accountant because my recollections are that it was fine house.
My mother had two servants who would cook and house clean, and my brother had a 'house boy' whose sole job was to take care of him. His name was Felix. When my father was taken off to Santo Tomas prison camp, Felix would ride his bicycle many miles across the city of Manila taking food my mother had prepared in order to keep my father from starvation. He remained part of our household during most of the war, as did the 2 servants. One was especially close to us, her name was Nena, and I cannot be certain if the spelling of her name is correct. The family photo of all of us standing in a doorway with my father holding me was taken at that location.
When the war broke out everyone in the neighborhood pitched in and built a community air raid shelter where we would all go during an air attack. The house had a beautiful garden with Banana Trees and other lush tropical plants. There were trees with wild orchids hanging from them. I believe it was told to me that orchids are a parasitic plant, the same as mistletoe, and would grow from the bark of trees. My mother loved flowers and had hanging baskets of orchids that had been cut from the bark and placed bark and all in hanging baskets.
It was at this location that my mother had a 'school' for her children and any neighborhood children who wanted to attend. In this way she helped the young people maintain their educational level and earned an income at the same time. She also tutored children of wealthy families in their home. I recall a car being sent for her and I would get to go along as well. I was in awe of the furnishings and size of the rooms of the large mansions we would go to for my mother's tutoring sessions. After the war started and gasoline was no longer available to private citizens, the car would appear being drawn by horses.
The school even had a theater arts program in which the students would perform in plays. I specifically recall the Christmas re-enactment of Dickens's Christmas Carol. I believe my sister, Floy, was Marley's ghost, and my brother, David, played the boy who fetches the Christmas Goose. A real goose was used, and a large bow had been tied around its neck. The scenes in my mind of the fun during rehearsals and the final performance of this play are still vivid to me.
I do not remember how frequently the Japanese soldiers would make their rounds, but my mother had prepared the students by teaching them Japanese songs which they would sing in case of such visits. She had been warned not to teach anything related to the USA, but US History and Geography were part of the curriculum along with the history and geography of South East Asia, and Japan. My mother was quite proud of the fact that after the war every one of these students was able to enter school at their grade level, and the parents were quite pleased about this as well.
Another way my mother earned income after my father was taken to prison camp was by renting the upstairs of the house to a Spanish family consisting of a mother and two sons. The sons were in their late teens or early twenties. Their names were Jorge and Miguel. I remember they were quite handsome and flirtatious. Jorge was my favorite and would take me on outings to the Zoo and other places. Nowadays with the fear of pedophiles this would be unheard of, but Jorge was like a big brother to me.
It was at this time that the whole city of Manila was flooded by the Japanese. I remember wading around in about two feet of water while everyone carried furniture upstairs. I do not know what caused the flood, but my mother said it was because the Japanese did not know how to manage the city water works having come from a rather primitive culture which did not consist of such advances. My son, Pat, who is well versed on WWII History, said the Japanese flooded the city in anticipation of the U.S. invasion.
As the war progressed we had to abandon the area and moved to a smaller house in a safer part of town, however the house consisted of two stories. In this house the air raid shelter was built under the stairway. I believe we spent most of the remainder of the war at this location. While at this location we were robbed by a person who climbed up the side of the house and entered one of the windows (no bars) and stole a bag full of electric light bulbs, which were a valuable commodity. The next day I remember seeing his muddy footprints up the side of the house. The Filipinos were quite adept at climbing. After that my mother slept with a 'bolo', which was a large machete type knife, under her pillow. We slept under mosquito nets and my brother was always getting tangled up in them during the night. It was quite comical, although he did not think so.
It was also at this house that we had a vegetable garden on top of the other air raid shelter built off the back of the house. A wall separated our house from the back yard of the other houses. We had a live chicken at the time that would peck bugs in the garden my mother planted on top of the air raid shelter. I do not know where my mother got the chicken, but she was very resourceful, and also made friends with the local Filipinos who were always helpful. The chicken was being fattened for my father, and we were greatly saddened when my mother cooked it and Felix took it to my father at the POW camp. Not only were we sad to see the chicken go, but we were sad to miss out on a tasty morsel. My mother also hid guerrilla fighters from whom we would receive vital information about future events of the war. If the Japanese soldiers came to search the house, the guerrilla could climb the wall and escape into the neighboring yard.
When the Japanese soldiers went from house to house confiscating cars, radios and other valuables, one of the neighbors slaughtered his horse rather than aid the Japanese with the use of the horse. Food of any kind was scarce at this time so he shared the horse meat with everyone in the neighborhood. My sister refused to eat any of it, but I was hungry enough that I ate it. Getting protein from Mung Beans and Sprouts did not quite satisfy my hunger.
In my brother David's notes of the war he mentions the Japanese Officer, Peco, who befriended us and would visit and bring canned goods and sugar. From my recollection we met Peco when he and another officer were in a truck that had broken down in front of our house. I recall the weather was rainy and the road was muddy. They either came to the door or my mother invited them in for coffee. Even though she had white sugar, which she had obtained on the 'Black Market', she served them brown sugar because she did not want to arouse suspicion by having white sugar. It was after this that he appeared one day with canned milk and white sugar. As my brother mentions in his notes, we knew it was confiscated canned milk. He visited several more times after that and had long conversations with my mother. We grew quite fond of him and loved his visits. He told us that when he was twelve he was taken away from his family and trained for war along with many many other young men, indicating that Japan was preparing for conquest years and years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
My mother said Peco told her he was a Christian, and was opposed to the war but had no option but to fight. He showed her photos of his wife and baby. The last we saw of Peco was when he came and told us of the impending US invasion. He said that he was being transferred and did not know whether he would survive the coming battle. In his broken English he told my mother, "Americano coming, Boom Boom!" My mother already knew this based on information from her guerrilla friends.
One needs to know that after the Japanese invasion and destruction of the American military facilities in Manila, life went on as usual and the Japanese wanted to be known as beneficent conquerors. It should be mentioned that the Japanese were not at war with the Filipinos, but the USA. In spite of this there was limited food and other resources, and many people had fled Manila into the outlying areas. We, of course, remained in order to aide my father in prison camp. The monetary system was in shambles and the Japanese printed Philippine bills that were worthless. When my mother would go to try and buy food, she carried a bag full of this currency in order to purchase even a small item. During this time she sold or bartered most of our valuables in order to get food. In spite of this we were malnourished, but fared better than most because of my mother's, and I might add, my sister Floy's, ingenuity. After the war my mother weighed eighty-five pounds, and even though she was not a tall woman, at eighty-five pounds she was quite underweight. I would see her take food off her plate and give it to my brother, who was constantly hungry. He did not want to take her food but she would insist that she had had enough to eat.
The Washington Post reviews a new book about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
Gordon-Reed bravely attempts to untangle a particularly fraught question: Could genuine love exist between master and slave? With its acknowledgment that slavery's unequal balance of power "grossly distorted" the play of human emotions, her conclusion is necessarily subtle and may not satisfy those who require monochromatic answers. Had Hemings been merely a plaything, Gordon-Reed points out, Jefferson could have simply let her stay in France, where slavery had been abolished and a well-trained servant like her would have had little difficulty finding work. Instead, he wanted Hemings to return with him to Virginia so intensely that he was willing to bargain with her, by promising her personal privileges as well as eventual freedom for their offspring. Hemings, for her part, was "a smart, if overconfident, attractive teenage girl who understood very well how men saw her and was greatly impressed with her newly discovered power to move an infatuated middle-aged man."
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
In September 1999 my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting the Abbey of St. Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny. Reader Eric Hester recently made a retreat there and describes it better than I ever could. Thank you, Eric!
A Benedictine Jewel in BurgundyShare
By Eric Hester
Those who visit the Tea at Trianon website appreciate things of beauty but know that true beauty is found, as Keats suggested, in truth and holiness. I, therefore, recommend to everyone the Benedictine Abbey of St Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny in Burgundy, France.
The abbey was founded only in 1972 originally in Switzerland but is a traditional Benedictine abbey in beautiful buildings in a setting that is equally beautiful, on a hilltop overlooking a breath-taking valley. The abbey can be best and most simply defined as a community of monks, some fifty of them, living according to the Rule of Saint Benedict in obedience to the Catholic hierarchy in the archdiocese of Dijon. The monks lead a full life as the Benedictines have done for centuries, singing the praise of God in the canonical hours and leading a life of simple but beautiful austerity. The running of retreats for laymen is an integral part of the abbey’s charism, a way the monks see of sharing the richness of the contemplative life.
The retreats themselves, perhaps unusually, are based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius kept essentially the same and modified only in that the retreats last for five days rather than the four weeks that St Ignatius originally devised. Therefore, two monks alternately give conferences after which the retreatants meditate. One is encouraged to make a good confession and, indeed, a general confession of one’s life. But “encouragement” is a key word: everything is done by gentle encouragement; there is no harshness about the retreat. A certain amount of self-denial is encouraged, but this is all done most carefully and it is up to the individual to respond. The retreat creates a climate where one wants to do more for God and to be less selfish. The week is planned so that nothing is rushed.
Of course, there is Holy Mass every day and also the Holy Rosary, since the monastery has great devotion to Our Blessed Lady and its patron, St Joseph. The Abbey's liturgy is celebrated in Latin, with the exception of readings at Mass. The Solemn Mass in choir is sung each day with Gregorian Chant, usually according to the “ordinary form of the Roman rite” (Roman Missal of 1970), “ad orientem,” facing the Lord. Occasionally, it is celebrated using the “extraordinary form” (1962 Missal). Most of the private Masses — concelebration takes place only on Holy Thursday — are celebrated using the 1962 Missal. All is done with the greatest dignity to show the worship of God. Among the many blessings that the abbey brings to the Church is to be a model of how the new Mass can be properly celebrated and also how both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Latin rite can blend in harmony.
One could consider the retreats to be like a spiritual health farm. Total silence among the retreatants is easily maintained and is, in fact, liberating. The monks are always gentle and at ease but do not insult the retreatants by expecting little of them.
Most of the retreats are French-speaking and are held at the abbey itself, but they are also held in different parts of France and Belgium. In the last three years demands from abroad have led the monks to concentrate on bringing the English-language retreats to other countries. The calendar for 2009 lists retreats in Ireland (Ards Friary, Co Donegal) from 6th to 11th July, in England (Cold Ash Retreat Centre near Newbury, Berkshire) from 26th 31st July, and in Australia (Capuchin Retreat Centre in Plumpton, NSW) from 3rd to 8th and 14th to 19th December. A modest donation is asked for but no one will be prevented from participating in a retreat for lack of finance.
As at such abbeys as Solesmes, individual reception in the guest house, with participation in the daily liturgy, (and the possibility of spiritual guidance) can be arranged at times when the abbey is not hosting the retreats. The retreats and stays in the guest house are for men only but ladies may visit parts of the abbey, attend the Masses and canonical singing in the beautiful chapel, and even ask one of the monks for spiritual guidance.
The little town of Flavigny sur Ozerain is worth visiting for its own sake as a beautiful and interesting fortified hill town, reminiscent of Italy. The film Chocolat, not worth seeing for itself, was filmed here and the scenery and background is the best thing about it.
One way to be in touch with the abbey is to take the monthly spiritual newsletter available in several languages which usually writes about a modern saint. The easiest way to find out more is to visit the abbey’s website.
Alternatively, one can write to Abbey of Saint Joseph de Clairval, 21150 Flavigny Sur Ozerain, France, from where one can receive the abbey’s newsletter.
Albert, by the grace of God, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to his beloved sons, Brocard and the other religious hermits who live under his obedience, near the fountain of Elias, on Mt. Carmel, health in the Lord, and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.Thus opens the primitive Rule of St. Albert, one of the four great Rules of the Roman Church. Written for the early Carmelites, it is the shortest of all the Rules, because minimal attention is placed on material things and the affairs of the world. The heavenly strivings of the Hermit Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel are thereby emphasized. St Albert's exhortations on solitude, silence, poverty, obedience, fasting, and manual labor are all well-supported by his thorough knowledge of Sacred Scripture. Although the Rule was written for the hermits, its charism can be lived by any who seek to live a life of contemplation, even amid the cares of this world. The heart of the Rule is that the Carmelite should be "meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord, and watching in prayer." Is not our striving for interior recollection an attempt to mirror this precept?
St. Albert of Vercelli, an Italian by birth, was sent to Palestine by Pope Innocent III because his wisdom and diplomacy were needed in that turbulent region. As the Latin Patriarch, St. Albert gained the respect of the eastern Christians and even of the Moslems. As an Augustinian Canon of the Holy Cross, St. Albert knew the religious life first hand. Between 1206 and 1210 he composed the Rule for the Carmelite hermits. On September 14, 1214, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, St. Albert was stabbed to death by a disgruntled, immoral cleric whom he had deposed. St. Albert's feast is September 17. Share
Woolf was definitely able to theorize about the importance of lower-class women's lives. In "A Room of One's Own" -- her plea for women's freedom to create their own destinies -- she posed the rhetorical question: "Is the life of the charwoman who has brought up eight children of less value to the world than the barrister who has made a hundred thousand pounds?" She even tried to imagine herself into such a life, writing a short sketch that centered on a female lavatory attendant. But she found it harder to empathize with the frustrations, moods and melancholy of the actual cook or charwoman right in front of her.Share
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
"Holy Mother, pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour, crucified."
~ Stabat Mater
How well do the words of the Stabat Mater reflect the words of Simeon to Our Lady: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce." (Luke 2:35) According to many saints, the Blessed Virgin suffered throughout her life, knowing that her Son was to undergo a cruel death. Her sufferings reached their climax at the foot of the Cross. As Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote: "O Queen of Virgins, you are also the Queen of Martyrs; but it was written within your heart that the sword transpierced you, for with you everything took place within your soul."
Few are called to physical martyrdom, but all Christians are called to compassionate the Saviour at the foot of the Cross. Like the heart of Mary, the heart of the Holy Mother St. Teresa was also mystically pierced. We can apply to her, in a much lesser degree, of course, the Responsory from the Vespers of Our Lady of Sorrows: "Happy is she who without dying has won the martyr's crown." (Roman Breviary)
(Art courtesy of Vultus Christi) Share
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Over the weekend I went to see The Women, courtesy of Dove, who sent me some tickets and a rather sturdy tote bag. As an admirer of the 1939 masterpiece, based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce, I wondered how in the world a remake could even be realized. The sparkling dialog of the original film, written by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, made it a classic while rendering it frozen in time. As western civilization has turned upside down, the standards and mores depicted in the 1930’s have become obsolete for most contemporary audiences. Nevertheless, the old film, which starred Norma Shearer as the hapless Mary Haines, still has an emotional impact, since such things as unfaithful husbands, divorce, and gossipy friends have never quite gone away.
As I feared, the new film, while exploring many of the same issues with humor and poignancy, lacks the punch of the original. Neither does it offer the exultation at the end. I was disappointed but not surprised that the wit of the classic version had been greatly watered down. The clever repartee was replaced by words like “sh-*t,” in addition to the frequent mention of intimate bodily functions. I assume this was to make the story relevant to contemporary women. But it also left it lame.
There are major plot and character changes as well, the most dominant being the attitude of Sylvia Fowler, played with great hilarity in the 1939 version by Rosalind Russell. In the current film, Sylvia, called “Sylvie,” is transformed from being the gossipy trouble maker into the faithful, sisterly friend of Mary Haines (Meg Ryan.) Annette Bening’s Sylvie betrays Mary to a gossip columnist but immediately repents. Mary cuts her off and the dissolution of the friendship is shown as being as devastating to Mary as the loss of her marriage. Female friendship is important but I would not rate it over holy matrimony.
As in 1939, Mary’s husband has strayed into the arms of "Crystal" the perfume-seller. Eva Mendes’ Crystal is sultry but oddly colorless in comparison with Joan Crawford’s Crystal of the former flick. Most of Crystal's best lines have been eliminated, which is probably for the best, since I am not sure that Eva could have purred them out with the right dose of flippancy. In 2008, the friends are more supportive, less catty. But why insist on giving Mary a lesbian friend? (And a very insecure lesbian at that.) Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Alex” is based loosely on the character of the old maid journalist in the 1939 film. They could have had a smart, sassy African American character without having her drool over other women. And I would prefer to have been spared the lurid scenes of the gay bar, as well as the morbid pot-smoking, as Mary self-destructs with Bette Midler's "Countess." The Countess hardly appears at all in contrast to the key part she plays in the old film. What a waste. Meanwhile, Mary's young daughter Molly self-destructs, too, as she reacts to neglect and her parents' separation. Sylvie reaches out to the teenager, and her attempt at mothering the confused child is one of the strongest aspects of the film.
Indeed, the best points about the 2008 Women are when women are shown being mothers. Debra Messing’s hippie-artist mom giving birth to her sixth child shows us at the end what being a woman is all about, giving life with a great deal of personal inconvenience. Sylvie says to Mary that a career is nothing to having raised a child. However, such sentiments are contradicted by Mary’s mother, played by Candace Bergen, telling her that she, the mother, has never done anything with her life simply because she did not have a career. And Mary is shown finding herself only by starting her own business. Having a creative outlet is important for everyone, but is Mary going to neglect her husband and child more or less now that she has exchanged charity luncheons for running a boutique? Whatever the moral compass of this film was supposed to be, it oscillates wildly. Fallen humanity does not bother me; inconsistency does.
But when all is said and done, even a bad film can be entertaining. I saw The Women with a friend and it was fun to talk about it afterwards at the pub in Bellefonte. We enjoyed seeing the clothes, shoes, homes and parties of those with plenty of disposable income and extensive charge accounts. It almost inspired me to go in search of the nearest Saks Fifth Avenue (just to look, of course.) However, for dazzling performances and a searing scrutiny of the politics of divorce, I would recommend the 1939 version. Share
Madame de Tourzel was a devout lady chosen by Marie-Antoinette to be governess of her children after Madame de Polignac had to flee from the Revolution in July of 1789. There are many people who wonder why the queen and her children did not also try to escape at that time. It is because Marie-Antoinette would not desert her husband. "I will die at his feet!" she exclaimed. (see Rocheterie's Histoire de Marie-Antoinette, vol ii) Louis XVI, of course, would not abandon his people. Early in the crisis the king and queen made the decision that they would not be parted from their children, but would keep them close at hand, not knowing what was going to transpire next in the tidal wave of events. So Marie-Antoinette chose as governess as trustworthy and reliable a person as she could find. "I entrusted my children to friendship," she remarked. "I entrust them now to virtue."
The queen wrote detailed and explicit directions about the care of her two surviving children for Madame de Tourzel, whose youngest daughter Pauline was a teenager. Pauline became a close friend of young Madame Royale. Both mother and daughter were close to the rambunctious Louis-Charles and were devoted to the saintly Madame Elisabeth.
Madame de Tourzel was with the royal family on the October night in 1789 when Versailles was stormed. It is she who reported in her Memoirs how the queen's bed was slashed by the mob. The governess and her daughter accompanied the royal family to Paris and shared their house arrest at the Tuileries. She recorded how one of the first actions of the queen at the Tuileries was to build a staircase joining her room with the king's, so that the family could get to each other when the mob attacked again, which it did in June and in August of 1792. Madame de Tourzel was with the royal family when they tried to escape in 1791 and shared the long ordeal of the re-capture. When Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and their family were imprisoned in the Temple, Madame de Tourzel and Pauline were not permitted to join them but were placed in one of the prisons in Paris. Somehow, they escaped the September Massacres, in which the queen's friend Madame de Lamballe was torn to pieces.
Madame de Tourzel lived to see the Restoration in 1814 and in 1830 Charles X made her a Duchess. She and Pauline were united with Madame Royale, whom Pauline served as lady-in-waiting. Share
Hope will always remain stronger than all else! The Church, built upon the rock of Christ, possesses the promises of eternal life, not because her members are holier than others, but because Christ made this promise to Peter: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). In this unfailing hope in God's eternal presence to the souls of each of us, in this joy of knowing that Christ is with us until the end of time, in this power that the Holy Spirit gives to all those who let themselves be filled with him, I entrust you, dear Christians of Paris and France, to the powerful and merciful action of the God of love who died for us upon the Cross and rose victorious on Easter morning. To all people of good will who are listening to me, I say once more, with Saint Paul: Shun the worship of idols, do not tire of doing good!And now, at Lourdes, the Holy Father speaks once more of hope.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Oftentimes when meeting someone, the connection you establish is too new for your acquaintance to feel comfortable calling. Perhaps before pursuing more contact, they’d like first to check out your Facebook page or blog or send you an email. And how many times in a conversation does someone tell you about their website or their blog, and you swear to check it out, but then can’t remember its name when you get home? A calling card is the answer to all of these situations. A calling card can tell a new acquaintance more about you and help them better remember you. It provides a chance to enhance the first impression you make and gives your new acquaintances the ability to pursue a relationship with you in the way they feel most comfortable.Share
Friday, September 12, 2008
On September 12, the fifth day within the octave of the Nativity of the Virgin, in 1683, the army of the Turkish Sultan, 300,000 strong, was miraculously defeated at the gates of Vienna after an attempt to sweep across Europe. The King of Poland, Jan Sobieski, had come to the aid of the Habsburg Emperor Leopold, and they attributed the victory to the fact that they had put the name of Mary on their banners, thus invoking the aid of the Mother of God. The triumph, won against overwhelming odds, saved Europe from becoming a Moslem colony, and September 12 became the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary.
"Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, as terrible as an army set in array?" Canticle of Canticles 6:9
"And the virgin's name was Mary...." St. Luke 1:27
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Black the traditional colour for the actual Requiem, purple for the months-mind, first anniversary etc.white as was traditional for a child, and if appropriate to mark the end of formal mourning.
Nowadays mourning seems to have dissappeared, the funeral happens and life returns to normal and the dead are rarely spoken of again. The bereaved are expected to pull themselves together and get on with life.
As a priest it is pretty obvious this can have pretty serious effects on people's psychological health, if there is no public outlet for grieving it tends to have a greater internal effect, it gets bottled up. I can't help but think a bit of black crepe might save a great deal on counselling fees.
Traditionally the Church gave a lead. Some places on the continent the catafalque was rarely taken down and black rather than green was the default colour of vestments.
I have been told that the current vesting options for funerals: black, purple and white were introduced to mark the gradation of different stages of mouning.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
ShareEthelfleda was the eldest child of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and the man who with his armies successfully prevented Danish invaders from conquering England sea to sea. A wise as well as redoubtable military leader, he knew that the Kingdom of Mercia in central England would be stronger as an ally than as a subject nation. He therefore married his daughter, Ethelfleda, to Ethelred of Mercia , cementing a partnership to stay strong against the Danes.She was well prepared for her role at Ethelred's side. She was, like other high born Saxon girls, educated not only in academic subjects but as a warrior, learning archery and swordplay. She was mindful of the Saxon people's neighbors, the Celts of Wales, and throughout her life strove for and won the trust and loyalty of many of the Welsh leaders. On her wedding journey to Mercia Ethelfleda's party was attacked by Danes who sought to kill her and break the alliance between Mercia and Wessex. Though half her force was killed in the first attack, Ethelfleda herself led the defense against the second, using a trench as a fortress and defeating the Danes.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Although the gender lines in this modern age have become increasingly blurred, there is one male/female disparity that even the most ardent feminist cannot deny: men are physically stronger than women. As such, they have from the inception of the human race been called upon to be the community’s warriors, knights, and soldiers. Fending off would-be attackers and predators, these men took seriously the charge to protect and keep safe the women and children.
Of course these days, the danger of marauding enemies or ferocious beasts has all but waned. Sure, a man must be ready to protect his home should a villain invade it or protect his lady in a street fight. But the days of men universally being both citizen and solider have passed. Yet a man’s role in protecting the women in his life has not ceased. While men are no longer called to be warriors against physical attack, we now have the duty to protect our women from emotional harm, to keep safe the hearts and esteem of the ladies in our lives.
Monday, September 8, 2008
"One is my love, my perfect one...she is the only one of her mother, the chosen of her that bore her."
~Canticle of Canticles 6: 8
The month of September, the month of Our Lady of Sorrows, brings us the sacred day when the daughter of St. Joachim and St. Anne, conceived "full of grace," was born into this earth of sin and sorrow. Her birth was the dawn of salvation for all humanity, longing for the coming of the Redeemer. Few persons were aware that in the Child Mary, free from all stain of original sin, God had begun His work of the new creation.
Truly a better paradise than the first is given us at this hour. Eden, fear no more that man will endeavor to enter thee; thy Cherubim may leave the gates and return to heaven. What are thy beautiful fruits to us, since we cannot touch them without dying? Death is now for those who will not eat of the fruit so soon to appear amid the flowers of the virgin earth to which our God has led us." (Dom Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol XIV)The child whose birth we celebrate on the eighth of September would one day be crowned Queen of the Universe by the Most Blessed Trinity. The earthly life of our Queen was characterized by poverty, by manual labor, exile, suffering and humiliation. The greatest, most important woman who ever lived spent her days busy with the thousand mundane, dreary tasks of an ordinary housewife in a backwater town, member of a despised people, living in a conquered nation. Although she was of the Davidic line, her royal descent, and that of her spouse St. Joseph, was seemingly forgotten.
Nevertheless, by reason of her Immaculate Conception, in the least action of the Blessed Virgin Mary there was an unfathomable glory, a treasury of merit which all the collective merits of all the angels and saints could not begin to equal. How contrary to the ways of the world, that such sublimity was veiled from the eyes of men.
In the words of Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD:
Our Lady's origin is wrapped in silence, as was her whole life. Thus, her birth speaks to us of humility. The more we desire to grow in God's eyes, the more we should hide ourselves from the eyes of creatures. The more we wish to do great things for God, the more we should labor in silence and obscurity. (Divine Intimacy, 1964)"And the virgin's name was Mary." (Luke 1: 27) Let the holy name of Mary, along with that of her divine Son, be an antidote to the poison of vainglory, a light for the darkness of sin and the moral ambiguities which so obstruct the paths of those striving for Christian perfection. May the humility and littleness of the Child Mary be the mark of her children. "O Mary my Mother, teach me to live hidden with you in the shadow of God." (Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen's Divine Intimacy) Share
Sunday, September 7, 2008
The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner is a historical novel which gives a fresh perspective on the life of the enigmatic Queen Juana of Castile. Gortner skillfully weaves together the loose threads of fact and fiction into a rare and subtle tragedy. The story of the daughter of Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, known to history Juana la Loca, is usually told with the emphasis on the passion between Juana and her faithless husband, Philip of Flanders. While Gortner’s retelling captures Juana’s passionate nature as never before, he also gives a fuller picture of her unique calamity by going beyond her relationship with miscreant Philip to the larger scope of the situations enveloping her. Until reading this book I had not fully grasped the fierceness of the political intrigues, the familial tug-of-war, and the basic struggle of good versus evil which rent Juana’s heart, mind and soul. Gortner realistically but sensitively paints her gradual descent into agony as she fights to keep herself from unraveling.
The Last Queen combines riveting action with a compassionate portrait of a woman haunted by mental illness. While some fleeting love scenes may not be suitable for very young readers, the gist of the story far surpasses the realm of mere sensuality but takes on the vast range of political, cultural, and spiritual issues that were at stake. Renaissance Europe springs to life in this carefully researched novel, replete with colorful details about the various historical characters. Of course, Juana upstages everyone else. The more wild the incident, the more one can be certain that it truly happened.
Particularly vivid is the portrayal of Queen Isabel; her personality comes through so strongly in the book so that I almost feel that we have met face-to-face. Other than the fact that she was a queen and a matron, Isabel reminds me of the great St. Teresa of Avila, possessing similar determination and luminous faith. Juana’s father Ferdinand is a complex character. One cannot help but love him like Juana does, which makes his later actions all the more disturbing.
Outraged in every way, Juana’s ordeal encompasses the full gamut of suffering so as to have universal relevance. Hers was a dauntless courage. Her love of her people caused her not to flinch from any sacrifice. I marvel at her tenacity and greatness of heart, qualities shared with her mother Queen Isabel, and with her sister Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England. Juana, like Catherine, had a long battle with the powers of darkness incarnated in a turncoat spouse. Like Catherine, Juana’s greatest love became her greatest foe and betrayer. Each queen had to endure disgrace and isolation for refusing to compromise on essentials. It is difficult to say which sister had the most complete immolation. They take their place with other tragic Catholic queens of history, such as Mary Queen of Scots and, of course, Marie-Antoinette.
(*The Last Queen was sent to me as a gift from the author.) Share
EMV: Christopher, while reading the first few chapters of The Last Queen it became obvious to me that you had lived in Spain. There is a richness in the atmosphere that can only come from having visited the place being described. In writing a historical novel about an actual person, do you think that spending time in the country where that person lived can give a deeper insight into their character?
CWG: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I was raised in Spain and am half Spanish by birth, but I returned to the US in my early teens and so when I began writing The Last Queen, I realized I had to take trips to Spain and other places where Juana had lived in order to experience them as an adult. Of course, I’ve been to Spain many times and having lived there gives me a sensory perception that a limited trip cannot accomplish, but still, spending some time in the places where characters lived does help immensely to gain insight. We are all driven to some extent by our culture, and in the 16th century this trait would have been even more marked. It was not a globalized world; a French queen of the Renaissance would have a different cultural outlook than a Spanish one, and a historical novelist writing about them must understand this difference in order to create accurate psychological portraits.
EMV: I thought that you masterfully captured Juana's fiery and passionate Spanish temperament. Do you think that being a full-blooded Spaniard at the Flemish court added to the misunderstanding of Juana and her increasing sense of alienation?
CWG: Yes, of course. Juana was quintessentially Iberian and sent to a court that espoused French ideals. I think her passionate temperament and unsophisticated outspokenness was mistaken for weakness, which probably made her feel quite alienated. For example, the licentiousness at the Flemish court was not something she would have experienced in Spain. While by all accounts she and Philip enjoyed a robust sexual life in the first years of their marriage, Juana was apparently quite traditional in her outlook on adultery, while in Flanders for a husband to take a mistress was considered quite permissible. Juana's insistence on fidelity was interpreted as jealousy, when in truth I think she was simply not accepting of her husband's philandering. There is a difference between jealousy and pride; but the Flemish court would not have seen her actions that way. Likewise, Juana was politically naïve. She was just sixteen when she went to Flanders and she’d been sheltered in many ways from the harsh realities of court life. At a very young age, she found herself plunged into a cauldron of machinations that she was not equipped to handle at first. I don't think she had the ruthlessness necessary to participate in court intrigues of the time, and this too must have made her feel quite isolated.
EMV: Would you say that Philip ever truly loved Juana, even in the beginning, as much as he was capable of love, that is?
CWG: Yes, I think at first he did love her, as much as he was able. He was crippled emotionally by his upbringing. His education as a prince instilled him an unwavering belief that he must always be in the right, even if deep down there were times when he knew he was not. In some ways, the psychology of princes of this time is more difficult to excuse, because their primary goal was the attainment and preservation of power. Philip was not extraordinary; he merely acted as many princes were expected to act. Love, as we understand it, wasn’t an emotion he knew. I’m not sure he even knew what it was to give unselfishly.
EMV: I have the impression from The Last Queen and other things I have read about Juana that she may have had bi-polar disorder/ manic-depression although it was never been proven conclusively. I am wondering, in spite of having a possible predisposition to such a disorder, if Juana would have been fine if she had had a stable situation and a loving and supportive husband?
CWG: I believe that even if she did have a disorder, a loving environment would have done wonders for her. Despite her occasional erratic patterns, she showed in many instances lucidity and commitment. She was not terminally insane; she could have ruled with a supportive council at her side, even if her husband was not. We must also not discount the effects of prolonged stress and repeated childbearing on her psyche; Juana may have suffered from some form of post-partum depression, which no one at the time would have understood. I think the most telling answer to this question is that when the Comuneros revolted against her son Charles V and made it to Tordesillas, releasing her for a brief time after years of captivity, she demonstrated bewilderment at the changes that had happened in the world but it was the normal perplexity of a woman who’d been left completely unawares. None of the men who met her mentioned that she acted insane. On the contrary, she welcomed them with regality and asked penetrating questions about affairs in Spain; she refused to sign a proclamation against her son because she wanted to first see him personally but not once did she show a lack of reason, though in trusting her son she did make a grave error.
EMV: I am very struck by your portrayal of Juana the mother. So often she is shown as being obsessed with her husband but in reading The Last Queen I gather that Juana's role as a mother, to the Spanish people as well as to her own children, was of highest importance to her and dictated some of her more dramatic actions. Would you agree?
CWG: I do think her love for Spain and for her children, as well as her desire to preserve her dynasty—a quintessential 16th century trait—were paramount to her, even more than her allegedly obsessive love for Philip. It was a trait her mother Queen Isabel would have instilled in her. Isabel raised her children together; she took them with her on crusade. In this, they were very different from other princes in Europe, who often lived in separate households. Juana would have sought to emulate her mother’s actions in this, as well as Isabel’s role as mother to her people. After all, she was Isabel’s heir and Isabel had given herself entirely to her family and to Spain. I do not think, as so many historians have claimed, that Juana and Isabel were antithetical. I think they had more in common than we assume.
EMV: Your re-telling of Juana's story is one which will haunt me for a long time. Do you think that there was anything that she could have done to extricate herself from her disastrous situation?
CWG: Only if she had changed her personality and that was as impossible for her as it was for her sister Catherine of Aragon. These were princesses raised by an indomitable mother, women who in many ways were ahead of their time; their strength and conviction proved unshakeable, even in the face of terrible injustice. Just as Juana refused to give in to Philip’s demands that she sign over her kingdom to him, Catherine refused to concede to Henry VIII that their marriage was invalid. Henry ended up tearing England apart in order to get around Catherine, who would have fared much better if she’d let him have his way. Juana in turn was imprisoned for the rest of her life because she insisted, and rightly so, that she was Spain’s sovereign, when she could have stepped aside and let the Hapsburgs usurp her throne. Both sisters paid a high price for cleaving to their truths; but they couldn’t do anything else. Their lasting appeal rests precisely in that they stood their ground and refused to concede.
Thanks to Christopher for adding to our understanding and appreciation of his magnificent heroine, Juana la Loca. Renaissance scholar Julianne Douglas also has some interesting posts on The Last Queen, here and here.