Monday, May 16, 2016

Saying Goodbye. Again.

We lost Thomasina today. Even when you know a dearly beloved friend has lived a long, good life, it's still hard.

Because she was once feral (hence the cropped ear), we've never known exactly how old Thomasina was, but best estimates put her over seventeen or eighteen. When we first brought her home from the rescue group (just weeks after moving to New Orleans), she was so shy she lived in our spare room amidst the boxes for months, only venturing out after everyone had gone to bed. But Danielle slowly won her over. As far as Thomasina was concerned, the sun rose and set in Danielle--and the feeling was mutual.

Thomasina saw Danielle through all the painful adjustments involved moving to a strange new country, negotiating the American school system, and heading off to college and then graduate school. Last Wednesday, Danielle successfully defended her doctoral dissertation; on Thursday she accepted a position as assistant professor at a good university. And today, this.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Prince Regent’s Infamous Wife, Caroline, Princess of Wales

The Prince of Wales’s hatred for his wife is legendary. The young Caroline, Princess of Wales, was a lively, good humored, impulsive, playful, stubborn, and not always wise woman. In later life, after she left England, she grew increasingly fat, eccentric, and outrageous. But those later years can combine with the Regent’s well-recorded antipathy to create a false impression of the woman who had the misfortune to marry this sulky, spoiled, self-indulgent, narcissistic, vain, and breathtakingly selfish prince. So here are ten things most people don’t know about Caroline, Princess of Wales:

1. Caroline was a gifted linguist. She is mocked because her English always retained a heavy German accent, but she was fluent. In addition to her native German, she was also fluent in Italian and French, and frequently preferred to converse in French.

2. Caroline was a gifted and unusually proficient pianist. She continued lessons with masters well into her twenties, working with M. Fleischer eighteen hours a week up until the time she left Germany. In England she also studied the harp and took instruction from singing masters.

3. Caroline was artistic. Most young women of her class and age were taught watercolor. But Caroline continued to enjoy painting her entire life, and while in London she also took instruction in clay sculpture.

4. Like many young women of her age, Caroline received little formal education. But she developed a serious, enduring love affair with books, and spent her life reading classics, histories, and memoires in English, French, and German. She was particularly fond of Shakespeare. The diaries and letters of people who met the Princess frequently mention that they spoke with her of books. In her later life she began a novel, which has been lost.

5. Prinny didn’t like Caroline’s looks, but in her youth she was actually considered attractive, with lovely skin and curly golden hair. The Prince preferred his women delicate (and older, interestingly), whereas Caroline was broad shouldered and plump. But the Prince’s contemporaries described her in their diaries and in letters to their spouses as pretty, with fine eyes, a lovely mouth, and good teeth. While it is less commonly noted, Caroline didn’t think much of the Prince’s looks, either. When they met and the Prince famously, loudly, and rudely said, “Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy,” Caroline said to the same gentleman (later, and quietly), “Mon Dieu! Est-ce que le Prince est toujours comme cela? Je le trouve trรจs gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.”

6. When the Prince’s envoy, Lord Malmesbury, first met Caroline in Brunswick, he described her as not as clean as she could be. But as they journeyed through Germany toward London, he took great pains to impress upon her the importance of cleanliness, and she did pay attention to him. No one ever remarked on her lack of cleanliness again. However, Caroline continued to have a tendency to scramble into her clothes, and she never did care too much about her appearance. In later life while living estranged from the Prince in Italy, her clothing choices were definitely eccentric (as was her behavior).

7. The Prince of Wales forced his bride to accept his well-known mistress, Lady Jersey, as one of her ladies in waiting, and actually sent Lady Jersey to meet Caroline when her ship docked in England. Not only did Lady Jersey deliberately arrive hours late with the carriages, she also attended the wedding and even dined with them on their wedding night. At one point the Prince gave Caroline a pearl bracelet, only to take it back a few days later and give it to Lady Jersey, who then delighted in wearing it around the Princess.

8. Prinny passed out drunk on their wedding night and did not, ahem, perform well. He always blamed Caroline.

9. Caroline did not have an illegitimate child in England. A charitable woman who loved children, the Princess did pay to foster some 8-10 poor children with farm families, and once took in a ten-month-old baby girl found abandoned on the heath. In the infamous “Delicate Investigation,” in which the Prince tried to accuse Caroline of adultery and treason so that he could divorce her, he paid an unscrupulous, heavily-indebted couple named Douglas to testify that the Princess had actually given birth to one of the children she took in, a boy named Willy Austin. In truth, Willy was adopted from an impoverished couple when his father lost his job; the child’s birth took place in a hospital and was recorded, and his mother had continued to visit him. Not only was the mother able to testify before the investigation, but many other of Lady Douglas’s statements were also proven to be false. Unfortunately, those who write about Caroline continue to give far too much credence to the patently ridiculous testimony given by Lady Douglas at that inquiry. (For her pains, the Prince paid Lady Douglas 200 pounds a year for life.)

10. Caroline loved to travel and in later life was able to visit many of the sites she had read so much about. After she escaped the Prince and England, she traveled throughout Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, as well as Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, and Palestine. Her behavior on those journeys might have been precisely calculated to embarrass the Prince Regent—and perhaps it was. He earned it.