Saturday, April 30, 2011

Front Porches

An American tradition. To quote:
Now that summer will soon be upon us, there is no time to lose to think about outdoor living space, which brings me to the topic of the porch. Time was that most new homes came with porches, no matter the size of the home. Porches offered an outdoor room where the family could sit together, children could play, older people could rock and watch, ladies could sew, bluestockings could read, teenagers could gab or cuddle in the evening, and people could gather for parties all summer long.

Porches, with their roof overhead, offered an outdoor refuge from rain and sun alike. The shade of the porch roof also helped keep down temperatures inside the house.
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Peace, Commerce and Friendship

With North Korea? Joshua Snyder explains:
With the southern half of that tragically divided country, America finds herself tied up in an "entangling alliance," and with the northern half, rather than "peace, commerce and honest friendship," we find war, sanctions, and animosity. Didn't George Washington warn us against "the mischiefs of foreign intrigue" resulting from "excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another" in his farewell address?
Ending the permanent and entangling alliance with South Korea is a no-brainer. If the alliance ever made sense, it clearly no longer does. Americans find themselves expending treasure and potentially blood defending one of the richest countries in the world against one of the poorest. Lest one point to China, South Korea has been enjoying decades of friendly political and commercial relations with the regional power. (Do they read Jefferson in South Korea?) The South Koreans have even been attempting the same with the North, with some degree of success, and with much opposition from Washington (the misnamed imperial capital, not the Founder of the Country).
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Friday, April 29, 2011

History's Witness

Whittaker Chambers testifies before the HUAC. (Alger Hiss can be seen in the back.)
The American Conservative has published my interview with David Chambers the grandson of ex-Communist spy, Whittaker Chambers. There is still much to be revealed about the Cold War and I am grateful to David for sharing his research with me and with the world. Here is an excerpt of what he told me:
 I have read most books on the Hiss case. In the process, I have amassed a library of more than 500 books on that and closely related subjects. Almost every book is so partisan, whether left or right—again, in my opinion—as to contribute nearly nothing to understanding the case. Furthermore, most of them regurgitate what others in their camp have said before them.

Susan Jacoby’s book Alger Hiss and the Battle for History approaches the Hiss case from the left. Jacoby was so sloppy with her facts that even the Hiss camp decried the book. I like her writing style—when I started reading the book, I felt like I was listening to a deep discussion among family and friends. It seemed open and inviting, and I was eager to read on. However, she muffed numerous facts, which colored her account. Her sole contribution seems to have been to concede on behalf of the left that Hiss was indeed guilty.

The latest book, Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary, by Richard Reinsch, is weaker still. It takes a decidedly [right-wing] approach. The author promises to systematize Chambers’s thought. He then proceeds not only to dismiss all leftist influences but to focus solely on what he calls “conversion passages” in Witness and Chambers’s other late writings. This book was far more narrow-minded than Jacoby’s and contributed exactly nothing new to an understanding of Whittaker Chambers.

My father helped Allen Weinstein when he was writing Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. The only other book I know of to which my father contributed as a source is Sam Tanenhaus’s Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. To this day, my father remains so upset at the way Tanenhaus portrayed his approach to the book and then wrote it that my father has sworn never to work with anyone else again. That wound up hurting the only writer to publish something really interesting about my grandfather: Andrew Meier for his book The Lost Spy, which traces an American couple who not only mirrored my grandparents but whom they in fact knew. (Read entire interview)
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Mother of All Tongues

The Western Confucian reports:
"The world's 6,000 or so modern languages may have all descended from a single ancestral tongue spoken by early African humans between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago, a new study suggests" — Human Languages Originate from Africa, Too. The hypothesis, which provides further evidence for a Proto-Human language, in a nutshell:
About 50,000 years ago—the exact timeline is debated—there was a sudden and marked shift in how modern humans behaved. They began to create cave art and bone artifacts and developed far more sophisticated hunting tools. Many experts argue that this unusual spurt in creative activity was likely caused by a key innovation: complex language, which enabled abstract thought. The work done by Dr. Atkinson supports this notion.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Gift for the Queen

Louis XVI gave a diamond-encrusted feather to Marie-Antoinette to encourage her to stop wearing plumes in her hair that were too tall. He said:
I beg you will limit yourself to this ornament, even of which your charms have no need. This present should please you the more that it has not increased my expenditure, since it is composed of diamonds I possessed when I was a dauphin.
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"Y'all"

A remarkable history from Dialect Blog. To quote:

“You want to go to the store?” if they were talking to a single person. Or,
“Y’all want to go to the store?” if they were talking to a group of people.
How “y’all” got to New York City is quite obvious: at several points in the Twentieth Century, African Americans moved to northern cities like New York for industrial jobs, and brought this dialect word with them from the South. No big mystery there.
But where did “y’all” come from in the first place? A fews years back, historian David Parker explored this question on his blog. For an answer he looked to linguist Michael Montgomery:
…Montgomery claims that “y’all” goes back to the Scots-Irish phrase “ye aw,” and he offers as evidence a letter written in 1737 by an Irish immigrant in New York to a friend back home: “Now I beg of ye aw to come over here.” As I understand Montgomery’s hypothesis, “ye aw” was Americanized into “y’all,” which is indeed a contraction of “you all” but would not have come into being without the influence of the Scots-Irish phrase.
I see little reason for doubting Montgomery’s hypothesis. But I dug a little deeper to see where “ye aw” itself comes from. Turns out I didn’t need to look far: a quick Google search of “ye aw” brings up numerous examples of this phrase being used in contemporary Scots. (Scots is a language spoken in much of Scotland which derives from middle-English. It influences, but is separate from, contemporary Scottish English.) This language was brought to Northern Ireland by Scottish planters, then brought to America by “Scots-Irish” immigrants.
So if we take this evidence seriously, it looks like “y’all” followed a unique path: A phrase in the Scots language was brought to the American South by Scots-Irish immigrants primarily from Northern Ireland. The word filtered down to slaves and their descendants, and became a feature of African American Vernacular English. African Americans moved to the Northern cities and brought this word with them.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Duchess of Angoulême in Her Youth

Here is a rare picture of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France in 1805, during her exile in Courland, which was part of the Russian empire. She was six years into her marriage at the time.
In her heart, she had found her way home to Trianon, home to the garden of childhood peace and innocence. With the Abbé’s help, she had finally slipped through the garden gate.... She had found a garden where she would interiorly live, regardless of the vicissitudes of life, and turmoil of events that swirled around her.
~ from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal
Marie-Antoinette and Madame Royale at Petit Trianon by Caraud
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The Brief Life of Guildford Dudley

Author Susan Higginbotham shares her research on the ill-fated husband of Lady Jane Grey, saying:
Jane’s last days have been described in detail; Guildford’s have not. Among the graffiti carved into the walls of the Beauchamp Tower by the Dudley brothers is the word “Jane,” which might have been Guildford’s effort; it is unlikely to refer to his mother by the same name, as she was in no danger of death and there was no need to memorialize her. At some point Guildford wrote a message to his father-in-law in a prayer book, the one which Jane was to take to the scaffold: “Your loving and obedient son wishes unto your grace long life in this world with as much joy and comfort, as did I wished to myself, and in the world to come joy everlasting your most humble son to his death G Duddley.”[27] A few pages later in the same prayer book, Jane added her own note to her father: “The Lord comfort your grace and that in his word wherein all creatures only are to be comforted and though it has pleased God to take away 2 of your children, yet think not, I most humbly beseech your grace, that you have lost them but trust that we, by losing this mortal life have won an immortal life and I for my part, as I have honored your grace in this life, will pray for you in this life. your Grace’s humble daughter Jane Duddley.” Jane had expressed nothing but contempt for Guildford’s own father after his downfall; it says something about Guildford, surely, that he was able to write without rancor to Jane’s father, the man whose ill-advised participation in Wyatt’s rebellion had sealed his fate.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marie-Antoinette's Unruly Hair

Elizabeth at a wonderful new site entitled Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France explores Antoinette's many trials with her hair from the time she was a young girl. To quote:
The Duc de Choiseul was the strongest French advocate for the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis Auguste, Dauphin of France. However, he wanted to make sure that he was waging all his power and influence on a suitable match. One of his biggest complaints about Marie Antoinette was her hair. According to sources, the young Archduchess had an “unruly mess of reddish-blond curls [which were] habitually worn pulled back off her forehead with a harsh woolen band that ripped at her scalp. The band, however, was beginning to cause unsightly bald patches along the archduchess’s hairline.” This style also gave Marie Antoinette an unusually large forehead, which was considered very unbecoming. Thus, a French hairdresser was brought to Austria and managed Antoinette’s unruly hair into a lovely coif à la française. Almost immediately, the women at the Austrian court began wearing their hair in this manner. Even before she arrived in France, Marie Antoinette was already a trend setter.
And here is a rare portrait of Marie-Antoinette with her hair unpowdered so  that we can see the natural color (before she began to go grey).
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Early American Currency

Fascinating early banknotes. Share

Monday, April 25, 2011

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette Receive the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan, 1788.

In late August of 1788 the King and Queen of France received ambassadors from the Far East. Here is an account:
After the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French could no longer dream of an empire in India. However, they retained five trading posts there, and continued to espouse any opportunity of extending their influence, especially at the expense of the British. After supporting the colonists in the American War of Independence (1776), the French now aspired to expel the British from India. To this end, St Lubin considered an alliance with the Marathas in return for a port on the West coast of India; Louis XVI and Madhu Rao Narayan signed a treaty of alliance in 1782 which brought the great Bussy to the Ille de France (Mauritius). The French Admiral, De Suffren, met Haidar Ali, and ceremonially presented him with a portrait of Louis XVI. The Treaty of Versailles (1783) halted Tipu's attempts to recover Mangalore from the British, but in 1786, he was able to dispatch an embassy to Constantinople and thence to Paris, although this second stage had to be abandoned. Impatiently, Tipu dispatched another embassy direct to Paris in July 1787. The three ambassadors, Mohammed Dervich Khan, Akbar Ali Khan and Mohammad Osman Khan arrived at the port of Toulon with M.Monneron, a French merchant from Pondicherry.... It was not until late August 1788 that Louis XVI granted the ambassadors an audience in the Salon d'Hercules at the Palace of Versailles....

The French courtiers were somewhat contemptuous of Tipu's ambassadors, but the Queen was fascinated by these 'turqueries' and hoped to obtain a wax portrait of them....No surviving wax portrait is known, but a splendid oil portrait of Mohammed Dervich Khan, by Mme Vigée Lebrun, shows a tall, imposing figure, clad in elegant muslin, richly embroidered, an exotic figure which Mme Vigée Lebrun herself describes in her Memoirs: 'They (Mohammed Dervich Khan and his son) were both dressed in gowns of white muslin, embroidered with gold flowers, a kind of tunic with large sleeves folded back...fastened at the waist with richly decorated 'belts.'
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The Easter Bunny

Author Amanda Borenstadt explores old customs, saying:
The Hare was a pagan symbol for the ancient German people. The Easter Bunny or "Osterhas," was brought to America with German immigrants, who were Protestant. Now this is a little funny because from my experience it's typically the Protestants who complain that Catholics have too many "pagan" traditions. (Read entire article.)
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vision (2010)

I had the honor of previewing the extraordinary German-language film Vision, the story of  the great Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen. Not since the magnificent 1980's Spanish mini-series Teresa de Jesus has a film so accurately yet poignantly portrayed a famous woman saint. Newly released on DVD, the Zeitgeist production, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, stars Barbara Sukowa as the enigmatic twelfth century German abbess. One of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard was not only a mystic but an author, a musician, a foundress and a director of souls, learned in the natural sciences as well as in theology and philosophy. She wrote some of the first mystery plays, laying the groundwork for modern drama. Madame Sukowa is able to convey the inner stillness of the contemplative spirit of Hildegard along with her strength and common sense. All the while, the very human side of the saint is always present as she struggles with those who oppose her, as well as with the devil, and with herself.

Resisting the temptation to make the film into a piece of feminist propaganda, Vision portrays Hildegard as an obedient daughter of the Church. Her obedience is by no means mere childish acquiescence, as the vow of obedience is too often misconstrued, but an expression of a vibrant faith. St. Hildegard is not afraid to take a firm but charitable stand against injustice. She will brook no infractions of the Rule which protects the serene and disciplined life of her nuns. She is a true mother ready to fight to the death for her spiritual children.

Because of the film's commitment to authenticity there are many elements of medieval life, such as the custom of everyone embracing each other on the lips, which seems odd to modern sensibilities. Hildegard is deposited with the nuns when still a small child as a gift to God from her parents. The cloister becomes the only world she has ever known and the nuns her only family. When a young nun Sister Richardis becomes like the natural daughter she never had, Mother Hildegard objects strongly to Richardis being sent away to become the abbess of another community. At first it appears that the saint has given in to an inordinate attachment but eventually it becomes clear that Hildegard can see that no good will come of the transfer, and she proves to be correct. An exceptionally powerful scene is when Hildegard is summoned to be questioned about her visions by several formidable churchmen. As they glower in anticipation of proving her to be a crazy woman or a demoniac, Hildegard faces them with such calm assurance that there is no doubt as to who will emerge triumphant.

Another unique aspect of the film is the rare but real depiction of the vocation of nuns as joyful brides. From the lustrous beauty of the herb gardens to the austerity of the monastic halls, every scene radiates a light and beauty that suggest there is more to living than what the eye can see. Although the viewer is gently and continually reminded of the sacrificial lifestyle of Mother Hildegard and her nuns, a mysterious sense of exultation permeates the film. It becomes clear that while the Benedictines have renounced the world they have been given in return a gift so precious that it is beyond price.

(*NOTE: The DVD Vision was sent to me by the producers in exchange for my honest opinion.)




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The Easter Sequence

Here is the Easter Sequence, to be sung before the Gospel during the Easter Octave:

Victimae Paschali laudes immolent Christiani.
Agnus redemit oves: Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores.
Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando: dux vitae mortuus, regnat vivus.
Dic nobis Maria, Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis.
Angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea: praecedet suos in Galilaeam.
Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere: Tu nobis, victor Rex miserere.
Amen. Alleluia.

++++++++++

Christians, to the Paschal victim offer sacrifice and praise.
The sheep are ransomed by the Lamb; and Christ, the undefiled,
hath sinners to his Father reconciled.
Death with life contended: combat strangely ended!
Life's own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.
Tell us, Mary: say what thou didst see upon the way.
The tomb the Living did enclose; I saw Christ's glory as He rose!
The angels there attesting; shroud with grave-clothes resting.
Christ, my hope, has risen: He goes before you into Galilee.
That Christ is truly risen from the dead we know.
Victorious King, Thy mercy show!
Amen. Alleluia Share

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Orphans in the Temple

Madame Royale and Louis XVII
Rosalie trudged back towards the Conciergerie. It was dinner time, and she would be needed. With her head lowered, she moved through the masses of people, all going about their business, the spectacle having ended. On the cobbles, she saw a card, and quickly stooped to pick it up. It was a holy picture of the Sacred Heart, drawn in red ink, with orange and yellow flames, and around it were inscribed in letters of gold: “Long live Louis XVII, King of France!” Rosalie quickly put the card in her apron pocket. Tears streamed down her face, as she whispered a prayer for her little King, mistreated by his jailers in the Temple. Everyone at the Conciergerie talked about it. She prayed for him, and for his sister, Madame Royale, a girl about Rosalie’s own age, who like her brother was orphaned and imprisoned. “Oh, God, save them,” whispered the servant girl.
~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal
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Friday, April 22, 2011

At the Foot of the Cross

From ad altare dei:
This grisaille work was a model for an engraving by Adriaen Lommelin (c. 1616-after 1673). It is dated 1652 and dedicated to the newly appointed bishop of Ypres, the Dominican Ambrosius Capello. The saints represent the qualities a bishop should aspire to: doctrinal wisdom, Marian devotion, courage, rectitude, zeal in pastoral work and in preaching, charity, and intelligence-all under the sign of the cross, Verbum Cruci. 
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Suspicion

Suspicion...is an opinion, not too well-grounded, or grounded in false assumptions, that another has an evil purpose in a certain line of conduct. A suspicious person somehow adopts the general assumption that everybody must be deemed guilty of evil until he has proved himself to be innocent. Worst of all, he must always give expression to his suspicions in the hope of making others share them with him....

An unjustifiable lack of trust hurts deeply. If you set a low value on moral worth of another, misjudge his dispositions, drag down his character, misinterpret his intentions, or torture his innocence by false suspicions and accusations, you inflict upon him one of life's bitterest trials. A trial like this caused the heart of the Lamb of God to be wrung with anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. The whole story of Good Friday is summed up in false suspicion.

Mistrust leads astray. Not only unjustifiable mistrust, but at times even well-founded mistrust is a force that drags one down into the depths. When a man is aware that he is being suspected of a sin, he sometimes experiences a desire to commit that very sin and so to take another step on the downward path.
(from Father Lawrence Lovasik's The Hidden Power of Kindness, Sophia Institute Press, 1999, p.98) Share

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Garden with Christ

My soul is sorrowful even unto death. To quote:
Luke writes, “He was in such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood.”
Christ so agonized over each and every one of us. He pleaded before the Father on our behalf as wave after wave of the horrors we would carry out upon each other besot Him. Nothing other than love must have driven Him to undertake such a journey with courage and conviction.
Love too, is what motivated me as I walked in the desert alone sobbing, and pleading with every ounce of my being for the one I loved. Tormented, I could not be consoled and would have willingly taken on whatever physical pain was necessary to manifest the mental anguish I felt. My very soul ached with such sorrow and confusion. “Why?” I asked, over and over again. It was at that very moment that I felt a clarity and profound union with Christ’s own suffering. I knew for the first time in my life, in a real and personal way, a mere fraction of what Jesus must have felt as He pleaded to His heavenly Father for us. Did He too welcome physical pain, willing to take our salvation to whatever level was necessary to save our very souls? Was there consolation with every piercing sting of the whip that brought Him ever closer to the realization of His ultimate purpose and the reward that awaited us?
Love is what will move the mountains, make straight the paths, and repair the damage of our sin. “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Love will compel us to pray for one another, to plead for one another, and to find our way out of the garden into the new light. It finds the lost, lights the darkness and heals the hurts. (Read more.)
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Louis XVI Prepares for Death

Louis XVI meets his last confessor, Abbé Edgeworth.
...The King led him into a small alcove built into one of the turrets of the tower. It contained a broken-down stove, a table, and three chairs. They sat down. “Now, Monsieur,” said the King, “the great business of my salvation is the only one which ought to occupy my thoughts. It is the only business of real importance! What are all other subjects compared to this?...” 
~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The 18th Century Shirt

Author Susan Holloway Scott reports on the finer points, saying:
There are few historical garments more misrepresented than an 18th c. man's shirt. For European men from the middle ages into the mid-19th c., the shirt was not only an indispensable piece of clothing; it was a democratic one, too. The shirts worn by George III would have been cut exactly the same as the ones worn by his grooms, as well as by Thomas Jefferson, Beau Brummel, Tom Jones, and Mr. Darcy. You know what they looked like: silky, lace-trimmed shirts cut to open like a modern tux shirt, on everyone from those Founding Fathers in the bank commercials to Fabio.

Uh, no. Eighteenth century men's shirts didn't button down the front, and they never were made of silk. They pulled over the head with an opening slit to about mid-chest, and were fastened with two or three buttons at the throat. Shirts were geometric jigsaw puzzles, an elaborate series of rectangles cut without curved seams and designed not to waste even a scrap of a length of fabric. The sleeves were luxuriously full, 20" wide or more, pleated into dropped shoulders and wrist cuffs. Additional gussets for ease were placed under the arms, on the shoulders, and at the hem-slits. The collar, upper right, was another rectangle, soft and without interlining, whose final shape was determined by the neckcloth, cravat, or stock tied around it. Ruffles could be sewn into the neck slit and on the cuffs.

These shirts were wide, full, and long, reaching to the middle of the thighs. An average 18th c. shirt could be 60'" around the chest and 40" long. While some gentlemen wore under drawers, for most men a shirt was an all-purpose garment, with the long tales drawn between the legs to form underwear. Shirts were also worn for sleeping. As a result, shirts were frequently changed, and a man was judged by the cleanliness of his linen. (Read entire article)
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Austrian Cuisine

Food and Wine Magazine has a piece on the delights of Austrian cooking, which I fell in love with while I was over there, especially the soups and breads.
Like Seäsonal, Edi & The Wolf explores the lighter side of Austrian food, marked by frequent use of dill and caraway, savory-sweet flavors and lashings of pumpkin seed oil. Although the chefs do make Austria's famous schnitzel, much of the menu is vegetarian. "Austrians actually have this very granola way of eating," says Frauneder. "There's a lot of muesli and whole grains." Dishes like panko-crusted asparagus with watercress salad and spring vegetable stew with pickled onions aren't stereotypically Austrian.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Marie-Antoinette the Mother

In October of 1793, when on trial for her life, Marie-Antoinette was accused by the revolutionary tribunal of sexually abusing her eight-year-old son. When the queen failed to answer, she was badgered for a response. She rose to her feet and faced the crowded courtroom, saying: Si je n'ai répondu, c'est que la nature se refuse à répondre à une pareille inculpation faite à une mère. J'en appelles à toutes celles qui peuvent se trouver ici. "If I do not respond, it is because nature refuses to answer such a charge made to a mother. I appeal to all the mothers who are here!" The spectators, especially the women, applauded the queen and hissed at the revolutionaries, who had overplayed their hand. (see Jean Chalon's Chère Marie-Antoinette)

The infamous charge elicited disgust even from those deeply committed to the Revolution. Whatever else her faults may have been, Marie-Antoinette was a devoted mother. As Maxime de la Rocheterie wrote in his biography of the queen: "There is not a letter to Marie-Antoinette's friends, not a letter to her brothers, which does not abound in details of the health and a thousand incidents in the life of her dear little ones. She goes to see them at every hour of the day and night...."

To the governess Madame de Tourzel she gave detailed instructions concerning the care of each of her children, saying:
I have always accustomed my children to have great confidence in me, and, when they have done wrong, to tell me themselves; and then, when I scold them, this enables me to appear pained and afflicted rather than angry. I have accustomed them to regard 'yes' or 'no' once uttered by me as irrevocable, but I always give them reasons for my decisions, suitable to their ages.... (from The Life of Marie Antoinette by Charles Duke Yonge)
According to Nesta Webster, Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI decided early in the Revolution never to allow themselves to be separated from their two surviving children. However, after the king's death, little Louis-Charles was taken away from his mother in August 1793 and infamously brutalized by his captors. In the fall of the year, the queen was removed from the Temple prison to the Conciergerie, away from her fifteen-year-old daughter Madame Royale, whom she never saw again. When interrogated in prison as to whom she regarded as her enemies, the queen replied: "My enemies are all those who would bring harm to my children."

In her last letter she wrote to her sister-in-law: "I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister....My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell!"

Likewise, she is quoted as saying: "I was a queen, and you took away my crown, a wife, and you killed my husband, a mother, and you took my children away from me. All I have left is my blood. Take it. But do not make me suffer long." Share

Tsar Michael II: Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich

Did Tsar Michael truly abdicate? Scholars explore the other side of the story.To quote:
On June 12, 1918, Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich (henceforth Michael) and his secretary Brian Johnson, a Brit, were randomly executed in the outskirts of the far away city of Perm in the Ural Mountains. A year ago, Russia "rehabilitated" both, along with other Romanov-related victims of Soviet repression. The decision followed a similar act about Tsar Nicholas II and his family on October 1, 2008.

However, the Russian media at large failed to single Michael out from among the other Romanovs. Didn´t Tsar Nicholas abdicate in favor of Michael, his younger brother? If so, shouldn´t he be treated as Michael II, the last of the Romanov tsars?

Yes, he should. So thinks Donald Crawford, the co-author of a 1997 book Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, the Last of the Romanov Tsars. Crawford is a lawyer and the publisher of "Parliamentary Briefs" in London. He is fully aware of deviations from the law in both Nicholas´s abdication and Michael´s deferring his assumption of power contingent upon the decision of the popularly elected Constituent Assembly. However, Crawford insists that those deviations were necessary in order to save the spirit of the law and Russia herself. He is right in calling Michael "the last of the Romanov tsars." Not for the sake of anybody´s vanity, of which Michael had none. But for the sake of extraordinary legacy that Michael bequeathed to Russia. That legacy is worthy of any tsar.

Left-liberal and Soviet propaganda for years maligned and dismissed the only act Michael signed on March 16, 1917 in response to his brother´s declaring him the Emperor of Russia. They called it a yet another abdication following the one by Nicholas. In fact, it was far from it. In his Manifesto Michael declared his readiness to assume the supreme power contingent upon the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the best form of government for Russia. He stipulated the Constituent Assembly to be elected through universal, direct, equal, and secret ballot. He thus introduced to Russia the most democratic electoral law anywhere at the time, including the US. He finally empowered the Provisional Government to run the country until the Constituent Assembly was elected.

The immediate effect of Michael´s conciliatory compromise decision was that the February revolution was stopped in its track. Russia was enabled to resume her war obligations as part of the Entente alliance. The victory was clearly in sight, especially, after the United States joined the alliance next month. However, the Provisional Government proved ineffective. The Bolsheviks continued to undermine war efforts with the slogan "Turn the imperialist war into a civil war" and the promise of land to soldiers who were mostly peasants. Trying to win a popularity contest with the Bolsheviks, the left-liberal Provisional Government of Aleksandr Kerensky declared Russia republic on September 1, in direct violation of Michael´s Manifesto. Finally, the Provisional Government was overthrown in a Bolshevik coup d´etat on November 7, 1917. (Read entire article.)
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A Randian Childhood

A young woman describes how objectivism tore her family apart, saying:
Dad wasn't always a Rand zealot. He was raised in a Catholic family and went to church every week. After he and my mother got married in 1982, they shopped around for a church. He was looking for something to live by, but he couldn't find it in traditional organized religion.

Then he discovered objectivism. I don't know exactly why he sparked to Rand. He claimed the philosophy appealed to him because it's based solely on logic. It also conveniently quenched his lawyer's thirst to always be right. It's not uncommon for people to seek out belief systems, whether political or spiritual, that make them feel good about how they already live their lives. Ultimately, I suspect Dad was drawn to objectivism because, unlike so many altruistic faiths, it made him feel good about being selfish.
 (Via The Marriage Debate) Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Daughter of Louis XVI

Thérèse...in jeweled coronet and a cloud of white plumes, either offended by her frigid manner, or elicited tears by those who saw in her person the chaste austerity of Saint Radegonde and other holy Frankish queens of old. 
~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal
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Revolution in the Muslim World

It's not what you think. Professor and author Philip Jenkins makes some fascinating observations. (Via The Marriage Debate) To quote:
In just the last thirty years or so, those very Middle Eastern countries that used to teem with children and adolescents have gone through a startling demographic transformation. Since the mid-1970s, Algeria's fertility rate has collapsed from over 7 to 1.75, Tunisia's from 6 to 2.03, Morocco's from 6.5 to 2.21, Libya's from 7.5 to 2.96. Today, Algeria's rate is roughly equivalent to that of Denmark or Norway; Tunisia's is comparable to France. Counter-intuitively, that remark about "the closer to Rome" also holds good on the southern, Muslim, side of the Mediterranean.

Just what is happening here? Everything depends on the changing attitudes and expectation of the women in these once highly-traditional societies. Across the region, women have become increasingly involved in higher education, and have moreover moved into full-time employment. That sea-change simply makes it unthinkable for women to manage a rampaging tribe of seven or eight children. Often, too, images of women's proper role in life have been upended by extended contacts with Europe. Migrants to France or Italy return home with changed attitudes, while families who stay at home find it hard to avoid the media portrayals of Western lives they see via cable and satellite dish. Maybe Europe and the Middle East are merging into one common Eurabia - but it's far from clear which side is doing a better job of imposing its opinions on the other. Presently, it looks as if the Maghreb is becoming European.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Song of Renewal

Emily Sue Harvey's debut novel Song of Renewal was difficult for me to read at first. The family portrayed was so perfect that it was almost cloying. However, when the only daughter, a blonde cheerleader and All-American princess, sneaks away to make herself vomit up her supper, it becomes obvious that the perfection is only a brittle veneer. Eliza (the mother) defies (the father) Garrison's wish that Angel (the daughter) stay safely at home on a dark and stormy night. With Eliza's blessing, Angel and her boyfriend go for a drive in the storm; a terrible car accident ensues. The family shatters like glass.

Not only is Angel in a coma, but her boyfriend Troy dies in the accident. The hopes of two families are destroyed, although Troy's family does not come into the story much. Liza, who had a traumatic childhood, is thrust into maelstrom of past guilt and old wounds as she waits to discover whether her daughter will survive. Garrison is confronted with his own past demons. I thought it was annoying of Liza to blame Garrison for everything but I suppose she was speaking from her own guilt, since she was the one who encouraged the young people to go out in the rain. I found her a little spoiled and narcissistic in spite of (or maybe because of) her dysfunctional childhood.

While the tragedy is of the kind anyone would find heartbreaking to read about, I had trouble relating to the characters' ways of dealing with the ordeal. Of course, people have different ways of coping with pain and I suppose becoming more self-absorbed is one way of feeling better. The character I liked the best was Charlcy, Liza's older sister. Charlcy is the one who protected Liza from the abuse of their seriously deranged mother while growing up. Charlcy is the opposite of Eliza in that her life is openly a mess; she does not mince words and lets everyone know what she thinks. The most pathetic character is Angel, who even while she was healthy lived a life of many layers of deception. It is interesting that Charlcy, who bore the brunt of physical and psychological abuse, has it more together than Angel of the perfect family and perfect childhood. Perhaps it is because Angel's parents were trying to work out their unresolved issues through her rather than parenting her in a mature manner. At any rate, Angel's long hospitalization becomes a catalyst for self-examination and the renewal of relationships.

Anyone who enjoys novels with a great deal of psychological introspection will find Song of Renewal to be a rewarding read. I think it would make a fine made-for-television movie on the Lifetime Movie Channel or the Gospel Music Channel.  It is a story of ordinary people getting through extraordinary circumstances with grace and grit, finding courage they did not know they had. Most especially it is about how God can bring good out of anything, a truth of which I for one need to be reminded over and over again.

(*NOTE: Song of Renewal was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

Civil War Fantasies

Krugman said he has always been infatuated by the "symbolism" of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, with "Lee the patrician in his dress uniform," compared to General Grant, who was "still muddy and disheveled from hard riding." Krugman is apparently unaware that by the late 1850s, on the eve of the war, Robert E. Lee was in his thirtieth year as an officer in the United States Army, performing mostly as a military engineer. He was hardly a "patrician" or member of a ruling class. Grant, by contrast, was the overseer of an 850-acre slave plantation owned by his wealthy father-in-law. The plantation, located near St. Louis, was known as "White Haven" (which sounds like it could have been named by the KKK) and is today a national park. (On the "White Haven" Web site the National Park Service euphemistically calls Grant the "manager" of the slave plantation rather than the more historically-accurate word "overseer"). 

In 1862 Lee freed the slaves that his wife had inherited, in compliance with his father in-law’s will. Grant’s White Haven slaves were not freed until an 1865 Missouri emancipation law forced Grant and his father-in-law to do so. The fact that Lee changed clothes before formally surrendering did not instantly turn the 36-year army veteran into a "patrician," contrary to the "all-knowing" Krugman’s assertion....

The North waged war on Southern civilians for four long years, murdering at least 50,000 of them according to historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel. It bombed cities like Atlanta for days at a time when they were occupied by no one but civilians, and U.S. Army soldiers looted, ransacked, and raped their way all throughout the South. The "arts of peace" indeed.

As for the war being a victory of "manners," as Krugman says, consider this: When the women of New Orleans refused to genuflect to U.S. Army troops who were occupying their city and killing their husbands, sons and brothers, General Benjamin "Beast" Butler issued an order that all the women of that city were to henceforth be treated as prostitutes. "As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women . . . of New Orleans," Butler wrote in his General Order Number 28 on May 15, 1862, "it is ordered that thereafter when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation." Butler’s order was widely construed as a license for rape, and he was condemned by the whole world. Ah, those Yankee "manners."
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gone With the Wind (1939)


It is one of my favorite films, although I can no longer bring myself to watch the sad ending. Many today criticize GWTW for being racist or for showing too flowery a picture of the Old South. However, the story is told from Scarlett's point of view; there would be many things about the dark side of life that as a sheltered young lady she would not know about. As far as racism goes, what we now call racist is just how it was back then. If the film had not shown it that way, then it would have been too sanitized and completely unrealistic. I do think the character of Mammy is one of the strongest female film personalities of all time. Even though Mammy has no civil rights for most of the film, she is a person of impeachable character and dignity, a pillar of strength for Scarlett and for the rest of the family. While she herself is a woman of honor, maintaining very high standards for herself (and for those whom she loves), she is nevertheless the only person besides Rhett who sees Scarlett for what she really is but loves her anyway. Mammy is the last word in class as far as I am concerned. Women like her held everything together after the War or at least tried to. At any rate, Gareth Russell has a spot on review. To quote:
For me, Gone with the Wind is really a story about survival. There are moments in the movie which are heart-breakingly beautiful to look at, the casting of every part is near-perfect, especially the four leads - Scarlett O'Hara, smuggler and ladies' man Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable), book-loving Southern aristocrat Ashley Wilkes (another British actor, Leslie Howard) and the demure, gentle and devout Melanie Hamilton, Ashley's wife (Olivia de Havilland.) Gone with the Wind is a wonderful, epic movie about a  lead character whose actions are often thoroughly worthy of condemnation, but who somehow always manages to be admirable. Even, weirdly, likeable. It is a fantastic love story, a great war movie, one of the most magnificent costume dramas of all time, a flawless adaptation of a bestselling novel and a moment of cinema history. I can still remember the first time I saw it, by accident, on TCM late one night, whilst channel hopping. I knew it had been my late grandmother's favourite movie but I was definitely under the impression it was campy, melodramatic, long and boring. Not that they're words that usually leave my mouth - but, I was wrong. Take an afternoon and a massive amount of popcorn and it's unlikely that Gone with the Wind will disappoint.
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Antal Szerb's Marie-Antoinette

The 6th Floor of The New York Times has an interesting quote from Antal Szerb's book called The Queen's necklace. Szerb was a Hungarian Catholic Jew who perished in the Holocaust. His criticism of Marie-Antoinette is different from the usual clichés. Szerb maintains that instead of being aloof and remote from the people the Queen was too close to the people, writing:
When a ruling class starts to show understanding and pity for the lower orders, idealizing them in verse, arguing over plans for reform and how to better their lot, it is a fine thing, history tells us, and a sign of genuine nobility. But on the one hand it does very little for these same lower orders, and on the other, it augurs very badly for the ruling class. It is a sign that it has lost its self-belief, lost faith in its own divinely ordered superiority: in short, it has lost its raison d’être….
The same applies to Marie Antoinette. It was all very fine, thoroughly human and extremely worthy of her that she should love nature, the people, and the whole romantic ideal that would bring the Revolution to a triumphant head. That she hated stiff Spanish formality and wanted to be just one person among others was deeply sympathetic in her. But it is not the business of a Queen to be human.
I do not completely agree; I think that Marie-Antoinette was quite aware of the dignity of her position. Nevertheless, it is an interesting point. More about Szerb's book, HERE.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Cause of Empress Zita

From the Mad Monarchist:
God our Father, you redeemed the world by the self-abasement of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He who was King became the Servant of all and gave his life as a ransom for many, therefore you have exalted him. 
We ask you that your servant Zita, Empress and Queen, will be raised upon the altars of your Church. In her, you have given us a great example of faith and hope in the face of trials, and of unshakeable trust in your Divine Providence.

We beseech you that alongside her husband, the Blessed Emperor Charles, Zita will become for couples a model of married love and fidelity, and for families a guide in the ways of a truly Christian upbringing. May she who in all circumstances opened her heart to the needs of others, especially the poor and needy, be for us all an example of service and love of neighbour.

Through her intercession, grant our petition (mention here the graces you are asking for). Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
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The Bestiary in Medieval illumination

An interpretation. Share

Thursday, April 14, 2011

André Michaux

André Michaux was a botanist sent by Louis XVI to America to study the plant life there. According to the St. Augustine Record:

About this time of year 322 years ago, French botanist Andre Michaux was visiting in St. Augustine. King Louis XVI sent him to America in 1785 to look for trees to rebuild the forests of France and to collect specimens for the royal gardens and parks. During the 11 years that followed, Michaux would record numerous plants, introduce some of the staples of Southern gardens -- including the camellia -- and nearly get nailed as a spy.

In 1788 he made his way to Spanish East Florida, probably intrigued by the observations and descriptions made by his friend and fellow scientist William Bartram, the leading American botanist of the day....

Michaux was born near the French palace of Versailles, but into a farming family, not the aristocracy. His skill with plants eventually drew recognition from officials in the government of King Louis XVI, but it was the death of his wife while giving birth and his subsequent grief that caused him to accept an opportunity to study botany. While his son was raised by his family, Michaux learned from some of the leading scientists of the day.
In 1782 he was part of a group sent with a new consul to Persia (now Iran). It was a life of adventure, including capture by a hostile tribe. But what thrilled Michaux was the chance to collect new species of plants. He did so well there that he was appointed king's botanist and sent to New York in 1785.

France was desperately in need of new species of trees to rebuild the country's forests, devastated by a series of wars with England. Michaux brought his 15-year-old son with him and quickly went to digging, collecting and sending specimens back to France. He first set up a garden in Hackensack, N.J., and then in 1786, he founded another, larger garden in Charleston. He met with some of the leading citizens of the new United States, including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
More HERE. Share

The Greatest Urban Legend

A critique of the Liv Ullman film Pope Joan.
With this coming out in the 1970s and all, I'm sure Joan was intended to be a feminist icon. But the ideology of that age couldn't celebrate women without putting down men . . . and there was a point when I wondered whether the movie's theme is that men are responsible for all the problems in the world the Catholic Church every woman's life.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Invisible World

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal. 
~2 Corinthians 4:18
 Many people have the experience of a certain book coming along at just the right time. The Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano was such a book for me. In bringing me back to the basic truths about God and the supernatural it freshened my perspective about earthly events, helping me to once more view the trials and tragedies of life in a supernatural light. Sometimes going back to the beginning and contemplating on a deeper level the simple truths of faith which we were taught in childhood can be the most worthwhile spiritual exercise. God is pure spirit, Who created us and Who loves us, yet He permits us to have free will because He does not want mindless automatons. Reflecting upon the greatness and power of God, knowing that such a great God sustains our very beings, can be overwhelming as well as humbling.

Written in a conversational tone, Mr. DeStefano discusses the most profound topics with clarity and insight. The simplicity of the approach reminded me a great deal of C.S. Lewis' apologetic works, and yet The Invisible World is unabashedly Catholic, with much taken from the Scriptures and the wisdom of the saints. While it is a book I would feel comfortable handing to an atheist because of the logical explanations used, there is a great deal of depth to plumb so that lifelong practicing Catholics will surely find plenty of inspiration. I found the discussions of  the angelic realm and of the battle between the good and evil angels to be particularly intriguing, especially since we are involved whether we want to be or not.

Among the many anecdotes the author shares is one about his paternal grandmother. The poor lady had  a particularly tragic life but she never gave up her faith. Her trust in God was unshakable. The power of such blind, powerful faith had enormous repercussions for future generations, although the little grandmother never lived to see it. We do not know what good God will draw out of circumstances which to us are sheer misery. Since we cannot see God's entire plan then there is nothing for us to do but live in trust and abandonment to His love and mercy.

I will end with a quote from The Invisible World:
Nobody likes crosses. Nobody likes to suffer. But oftentimes that's exactly what we need most, because that's what works best. In the end, it's the crosses and trials and tests that are most effective in shaping us into the kind of human beings we're meant to be. Crosses change us. They change us by exposing the invisible truth about life — the truth that the devil wants to keep secret from you, the truth that the devil wants to stay hidden — the truth that we're in the midst of a colossal invisible battle. (p.151)

(*NOTE: The Invisible World was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

Barnave

Although Barnave began as a committed revolutionary, he played an interesting role in trying to save the crown. To quote from Vive la Reine:
Antoine Barnave was one of three men chosen to personally travel with the royal family as they were forced back to Paris after their capture at Varennes. Although Barnave had previously attacked the monarchy, he became sympathetic towards the royal family - and Marie Antoinette in particular - after witnessing their courage and misfortune during the return to Paris.

In July 1791, Marie Antoinette began a secret correspondence with him, believing that he could use his influence in the Assembly to work towards restrengthening the position of the king and restoring order to the government. He was a member of the Feuillant party, which split from the Jacobin party in July 1791, primarily due to desiring a constitutional monarchy.

However, his influence and that of the Feuillant party faded and he left Paris in early 1792, seeing that his continued efforts were hopeless.
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Christiada (2011)

Now THIS is a film I must see. Some Carmelite Monasteries in America were founded by nuns fleeing the brutal persecution of the Church in Mexico. Share

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Bridal Gown of Marie-Louise

Madame Delors describes what Napoleon's Habsburg Archduchess, Marie-Antoinette's  grand niece, wore at her wedding. To quote:
Like her grand-aunt Marie-Antoinette, Marie-Louise had to strip off her Austrian clothes upon crossing the French border, and was presented with a new, splendid trousseau (complete set of clothing, shoes and undergarments for all occasions.) Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples and Napoléon’s sister, had been put in charge of greeting the bride at the border. Carried away by the zeal of the neophytes, or out of sheer nastiness, Caroline even demanded that Marie-Louise, already terrified at the idea of marrying the man she had been brought up to loathe and call The Ogre, send back her pet spaniel to Vienna.

So Marie-Louise wore the wedding clothes that had been chosen for her in France: a magnificent dress of silver tulle, embroidered with pearls and gold thread, and hemmed with gold fringe. A diamond tiara held a veil of Alençon lace over her blonde hair.

Marie-Louise wore white satin slippers, embroidered in silver thread. There was a minor, or not so minor from her standpoint, problem. Maybe due to a miscommunication between Vienna and Paris, the dainty shoes had been ordered too small and caused the new Empress a great deal of pain.
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The Art of Business Development

What entrepreneurs can learn from Ben Franklin.
For the 100 years leading up to American independence, the rivaling superpowers of the day were England and France. But, France had recently faced scarring defeats at the hands of the English in the Seven Years' War, so American leaders needed a great envoy to convince King Louis XVI to join forces with them. They chose Benjamin Franklin, who got on a ship bound for Pairs... to do some Business Development work.
Much has been written about Benjamin Franklin and his effort to convince the French to partner with fledgling United States. Interestingly, so many of the concepts apply to today's Internet world.  By observing the circumstances of the time, entrepreneurs can learn what are the best practices in Business Development which are still applicable today.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Chocolate and the Queen

Leah writes of Marie-Antoinette's affinity for hot chocolate. Share

What Changed in 1800?

What caused the world to change so quickly? Gary North reflects, saying:
The world of 1800 would have been recognizable to Socrates, except for the printed book. In contrast, the world of 1889 would not have been recognizable to the young John Tyler.

By 1889, these post-1800 inventions had arrived: gas lighting, electric lighting (arc light), the steam powered ship, the tin can, the macadamized road, photography, the railroad, portland cement, the reaper, anesthesia, the typewriter, the sewing machine, the Colt revolver, the telegraph, the wrench, the safety pin, mass-produced newspapers, pasteurization, vulcanized rubber, barbed wire, petroleum-based industry, dynamite, the telephone, Carnegie's steel mills, the skyscraper, the internal combustion engine, the automobile, and commercial electricity.

So, as I move toward the day when I am a footnote rather than a participant, I propose a thesis. One unanswered question above all others constitutes the most important historical question in recorded history.
(Via Lew Rockwell) Share

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Montgolfier Brothers

Artist Daniel Mitsui has a post on the amazing men who invented the first hot air balloon. Share

Monastic Beehives

Here are some remarkable photos of the ancient Irish monastery on Skellig Michael, which I have blogged about before. Share

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Solid, Engrossing and Beautiful"

A. Amber of Vive la Reine has reviewed Trianon on her Marie-Antoinette book blog, saying:
Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal is the story of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, told through a series of vignette-like chapters. The vignettes, through flashbacks and active events, flesh out the lives of the royal couple and their family throughout the revolution. Trianon is unique not only because of its format, but because it tells the story through many different and often underused points of view - you have a chapter from the perspective of an often neglected figure in fiction, Louis XVI's aunt who has retired to a convent; you have a chapter told from the point of view of Marie Antoinette's young daughter as she watches her parents at mass, etc. It's also unique in that it starts near the end of the couple's lives. Though it does have flashbacks to their youth, at the start of the novel, it's already the end of their world--the days of ballrooms and late nights in Paris are over, replaced by a devotion to children and state....
Vidal's writing is solid, engrossing, and beautiful. Some of the best parts of the novel are seemingly simple scenes, such as Marie Antoinette wandering the Trianon in heart ache after the death of her first son. These scenes are written with such poignancy and emotion that you really feel as if you are an invisible spectator at a moment in their lives. (Read entire review.)

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A Poem to Honor Jeanne d'Arc

The first poem to honor Saint Joan was written by French poetess Christine de Pisan during the Maid's lifetime. (Via Daniel Mitsui)
 Tu, Jehanne, de bonne heure née,
Benoist soit cil qui te créa!
Pucelle de Dieu ordonnée,
En qui le Saint Esprit réa
Sa grant grace, en qui ot et a
Toute largesse de hault don,
N'onc requeste ne te véa.
Qui te rendra assez guerdon?


Blessed be He who created thee, Joan,
Who wast born at a propitious hour!
Maiden sent from God,
Into whom the Holy Ghost poured
His great grace, in Whom there was and is
An abundance of noble gifts,
Never did Providence refuse thee any request.
Who can ever begin to repay thee?
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Friday, April 8, 2011

The House of Elliot (1991-1994)

I just finished watching the entire BBC miniseries The House of Elliot. It is about the tribulations of two sisters trying to build a business in the fashion industry in the 1920's. Beatrice (Stella Gonet) rears her little sister Evangeline (Louise Lombard) after their mother dies in childbirth. Left penniless by a tyrannical father, who refused to educate them properly while failing to provide for them, the girls are forced to turn to the only thing they know how to do: sewing. Because of their innate creativity and sense of style, the clothes they design are soon popular with the ladies of London high society.

According to Blogger News Network:
“The House of Eliott” is a lavish and lush treat for anyone who loves the beautifully detailed BBC costume dramas.... I’ve never been able to figure out why the Brits do this sort of thing so consistently well, but American producers attempting the same thing more often fall flat. Attention to detail, I think… or a total willingness to put the acting company in authentic costumes and hairdos that may look distinctly odd, or unattractive to conventional modern eyes.

This three-season long series aired originally from 1991-1994 and follows the fortunes of the Eliott sisters, Beatrice “Bea”, (Stella Gonet) and Evangeline “Evie” (Louise Lombard) who are left apparently impoverished by sudden death of their domineering father early in 1920s London. Bea is a thirty-year old spinster who has raised her seventeen-year old sister after the death of their mother. Neither of them have any professional training, only the usual education thought fit for a middle-class woman of the time, no prospects for marriage… and no money.

But Bea has the experience of running a household, and Evie is a skilled amateur artist… and they are accustomed to making their own clothes. They are fiercely determined to be independent, to have successful lives on their own… and with the aid of a circle of friends they are able to establish a small couture firm; the “House of Elliot”. The series follows the sisters’ business and personal ups and downs, and those of their circle of friends and employees. Bea and Evie clash with each other, over what they want to focus on with their business, just as often as they agree. It’s soap-opera-ish but briskly paced. The details of period fashion are exquisite and fascinating, as the sisters very gradually develop confidence and style of their own, moving from dowdy post-war styles that seem a hangover from the age of Victoria, to very chic, jewel-colored clothes befitting the owners of a notable haute couture house.

So much of our current culture landscape was just coming into flower in the 1920s. Mass entertainment like the movies, radio and recorded music, the retail fashion trade, telephones and commercial air transport, the near-universal utility of automobiles, and women pursuing independent careers and balancing that with a family life. The world of the Eliott sisters looks just enough like ours to be familiar… but just different enough to be intriguing. But one absolutely timeless, brief scene of an elegant Evie Eliott, in high heels and a knee-length skirt, sashaying briskly along a London sidewalk is a reminder of how swiftly expectations of what a woman should be, and those that a woman had of herself had changed in a bare two decades.
The Elliot sisters' rise from simple dressmakers to couturiers is fraught with financial adversity and scandal. Because of their early cloistered existence the girls are easily taken in by any number of swindlers and bad eggs throughout the series. Their innate honor and integrity always get them through as well as a coterie of devoted friends. The most devoted is Jack Maddox, a popular society photographer who turns to film making, journalism and eventually politics. Over and over again Jack drops everything to save Beatrice and Evangeline from disaster.

The stormy romance of Bea (Beatrice) and Jack is one of the undercurrents that hold the story together amid many twists and turns. Having been betrayed by her father, Bea finds it difficult to trust men, even the man who has repeatedly demonstrated his trustworthiness. Since she struggled so hard to succeed in business she is terrified to lose control of all she has worked for, and so often puts the House of Elliot ahead of her relationship with Jack. The conflict many women have between career and family is thus vividly illustrated. Seeing all she has gone through makes it easy to understand Bea's point of view, although she comes close to losing the love for which she has longed. By the end, she realizes that she can surrender the business to other hands and focus on the domestic life which has always been her ultimate goal. Although she loses her temper at times, Bea is consistently a lady, putting up with snubs and humiliations with patience. She never loses her dignity and manages to bounce back from every calamity.

Evie (Evangeline) is thirteen years younger than Bea; she is a teenager when the story begins. Along with possessing a rare beauty, Evie is bubbling over with creativity as well as with curiosity about the big, bad world. Jack's feminist crusader sister Penelope gives Evie information about birth control without Bea's knowledge. After an initial affair with a French designer, Evie quickly goes from being a schoolgirl to femme fatale. She does not listen to Bea's advice but embraces a bohemian lifestyle, insisting upon learning about life the hard way. A torrid affair with Lord Montford almost destroys both Evie and the House of Elliot. Throughout it all, Evie retains a naive, almost innocent quality which is endearing, for she always looks for the good in people and wants to help the unfortunate. She refuses to accept money from her aristocratic lover, even when she desperately needs it to save the business. When she takes up with scruffy Daniel, the self-centered, impoverished artist, it seems to be part of a negative pattern of bad taste in men. In the end, however, Evie becomes a bride, with her prince awaiting her at the altar.

For those who love the history of fashion and couture, I highly recommend The House of Elliot. It is also a perfect portrait of England in the years between the Wars. And since it is the Roaring Twenties, the champagne flows. Every aspect of British life in the 1920's is touched upon, from the impossible living conditions of the working class to the rise of Communism and feminism. As the aristocracy declines, the way business is done and the way clothes are made and worn are changed forever.

Evie becomes a bride at last.
Bea and Jack At Home
(WARNING: The House of Elliot is highly addictive.)

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