Tag Archives: history

‘The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy’, by Anne de Courcy – review

The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British AristocracyThe Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They were the Beautiful Buccaneers dressed in fine dresses a la Parisian mode, expensively educated in Europe, and exclusively cultivated in the upper echelon of the Classless Class Society. They were American women seeking English aristocratic men who could promise them with prestige of class distinction with a complementary endowment of stately country houses, royal banquets, and a general carte blanche to basically all social occasions, events, and establishments exclusive to a select few. Although it wasn’t exactly akin to the plebeian idea of “Mail-in Bride,” the wealthy American women were vying for the lordly attention of the English bachelors of peerage at the ballrooms of high social clubs. These celebratory high society American women are unveiled in Anne De Courcy’s telling episodic vignettes of The Husband Hunters.

At first, De Courcy’s portrayal of these American Cinderellas is deemed to be cast in rather favorable light despite their manifest materialistic intent on marrying peerage not for love but for necessity. De Courcy eulogizes the idea of “American Beauty” whose circumstances conspired to make her feel that she was mistress of her fate and who always got what she wanted, the remarkable American character that looked so irresistibly attractive and desirable in the eyes of high-class English men. In addition, American women were said to always adonize themselves with fashionably beautiful dresses with a natural air of confidence blurring the boundary of arrogance, which was also oddly very alluring about them. De Courcy is unfailingly sympathetic toward these young beautiful American social arriveste, for theses women fell by the wayside of the highest circle of social class by their birth and ranks, such as whose daughters they were, despite the constitutional credo of freedom to all without hereditary succession of peerage and the entitlement of prestige equal to the inherited ranks. In De Courcy’s humane perspective, these American Cinderellas were in one way or another victims of social discrimination per se of their time.

The book has also nice diversions in contextualizing the cultural and social ambiance of the time, including the introduction of one Charles Frederick Worth, the progenitor of modern-day fashion house designer and trailblazer of hauteur-coutre. Working as a ship assistant at a London tailor shop until the age of 12, Worth went to Paris alone and set up his design studio with exquisite choice of fabrics and gorgeous design that soon caught the eye of Empress Eugene, a tall, slender, beautiful woman who was a great model for Worth’s fabulous dresses, and thus became the most sought-after designer in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, the American young women of the moneyed class were intent on buying the dresses made by Worth in Paris to adorn themselves at social balls to woo their desirable aristocratic suitors from England. For these women firmly believed if they were not worth the wooing, they surely were not worth the winning in consideration of Shakespeare’s fierce observation of beauty as a standard of woman’s merit to escalate social status by marriage: “She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed. She’s a woman, therefore to be won.”

The gem of this book is its cleverly nuanced subject matter underlying the hypocrisy of American credo of Independence, Equality, and Freedom, vis-a-vis European, especially their former colonial English, class snobbishness. inherited entitlement of landed peerage, against which Americans claimed to fight and guarded. The American moneyed class needed titles to level themselves with dignitaries to display their flowing hard cash. What it used to be inter-class marriage became intra-class marriage by uniting the well-heeled bourgeoisie with blue-blooded aristocrats. But what good of it if such without end businesslike marriage was loveless, heartless, and soulless? The fear of falling into unwanted spinsterhood might have been deemed miserable, but the repining at the prospect of being an old maid shouldn’t be the main force of being wed at leisure. For marriage is indeed a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneyship as the Bard keenly observed. The Husband Hunters to me is more of a social context of American moneyed class of the time and their economic power that could acquire centuries-old ranks and titles. Such a marriage was regarded as a biblical bond of objectives (money) and prestige (title) in the minds of the American rich families of the time when it was believed that women’s fortune depended upon strength of men. In light of the above, this book is provocatively revealing and cleverly ironic to learn of these American Princesses.

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They say Providence; he says Chance

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That which they called Providence,
A divine scheme of God’s purposes,
Was the handiwork of Fair Fortune,
The ancient idea of lucky chances
Of adventures and misadventures,
Knocking the door of a poor man’s hut
With a pouch of lucky stars regardless
Of what the world saw for his worth,
Pacifying his ills of grief and grievances.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The doctrine of providence that a man’s life was an intricate handiwork of God’s mysterious purposes was a tenet of Protestantism which, as a counter-cultural way of resisting medieval Catholicism, advocated zealous work ethics in an effort to combine a practical faith with an active self-reliance and independence. That riches and authority came of men’s industry and diligence, of their labor and travails, not of miracles as a result of mechanical recitations of prayers and devotions to saints was the canonical principle of the reformed church. However, the folks who were not well-off, not-too-rich, poor, and very poor never subscribed to the doctrine of providence. They still clang to the concept of luck because it accounted for any misfortune befalling them regardless of merits and efforts when others wayward seemed to prosper. By believing in luck or chance that reformists condemned, he who in travails did not have to jeopardize his self-esteem as something of a mental analgesic against the strains of his contemporary life, lest he should fall by the wayside, and thus could reconcile himself to the environment he lived. Hence this belief in luck survived the seismic protestant reformation and still thrives on in our time. 

‘Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling’ by Ross King – review

Michelangelo and the Pope's CeilingMichelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Pope Julius II saw the Pieta installed for the tomb of a French cardinal, he wanted the same awe-inspiring adornment for his tomb. Hence, Michelangelo Buonarroti from Florence was summoned for the work. That’s how Michelangelo at age thirty-three reluctantly embarked on his Herculean task of frescoing the vault of the Sistine Chapel. This book by Ross King recounts such background stories of the making of the Sistine Chapel frescoes and descriptions of the personal traits of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s work on the frescoes resulted from part Divine Providence of endowing the humanity with an awe-inspiring masterpiece of art to delight the senses of mankind throughout the ages, and part secular ambitions to mark the names of both the commissioner and the artist themselves. Pope Julius II also wanted to renovate the Sistine Chapel that had been used as a living quarter for the guards, a fortress against papal enemies, and a jail. As no one pours new wine into old wineskins as said in the bible, the pope’s plan to revert the chapel to its original place of worship, which made him drop his tomb project, was met by his idea of frescoing the vault in its entirety. Michelangelo, who was a breadwinner of his family, accepted the commission with good amount of salary and commenced four-year of labor of woes and dramas on the vault of the chapel.

There are revealing truths that should be known concerning the process of frescoing the Sistine Chapel as follows: Contrary to popular belief that Michelangelo did the work while lying prone on his back, he worked with his upper body bent backward like a bow. Also, it wasn’t done by Michelangelo alone but by a team of his assistants chosen by Francesco Granacci, a close friend of Michelangelo, even though he was innately a solitary worker who had a strong distrust of others who worked with him.

Michelangelo was said to be a man of  homely appearance without sociability in comparison with his contemporary and rival Raphael Santi whose beautiful look, even-tempered, and sweet character topped with artistic ingeniousness endeared him to the many. Also, Michelangelo’s direct altercation with Leonardo da Vinci as described in this book was amusing to discover. Both of the masters of the arts did not like each other publicly, but it was on the part of da Vinci who instigated such heated feud. He disregarded sculptors, including Michelangelo, as mechanics in the appearance of unkempt bakers.

It is also interesting to pay special notes on the figures Michelangelo used for the frescoes, which shows his ingenuity of selecting unique subject matters distinguished from his contemporaries. To illustrate, he used 7 prophets from the Old Testament and 5 sibyls from pagan myth to decorate the Sistine vaults. He was fascinated with prophetic knowledge of the sibyls who had dwelt in sacred shrines and predicted the future in fits of inspired madness. This offered a riveting link between the sacred and the profane, the church and the esoteric pagan culture by reconciling pagan mythology with orthodox Christian teachings.

Readers will find that the position of a painter/sculptor was not esteemed highly; he was more of a skilled laborer, a craftsman given exact orders how to produce his work by his commissioner or patron. In fact, he image of a solitary genius who would wield his brush and pallets to portray his world of imagination from the fathoms of his soul was a romantic fable. In Michelangelo’s time, an artist’s creativity was fettered by the demands of marketplace or his patron. Nevertheless, Michelangelo often disagreed to the pope’s own artistic direction and even had a temerity of broaching the shipping charges incurred in transporting the marbles from Carrara for the aborted tomb project at a dinner table with the pope .

All in all, this book has its magical way of transporting readers to Italy in the early 16th century and invites readers to meet with Michelangelo as he was without sprucing up his personal character. Upon reading this book, I avert that Michelangelo is an artist bizarre fantastico whose magnum opuses on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have both the beauty and the sublime that produce in the spectator a kind of astonished wonder so formidable and so fantastic transcendent of time and place.

‘Fairies: The Myths, Legends, & Lore’ by Skye Alexander – review

Fairies: The Myths, Legends, & Lore

Fairies: The Myths, Legends, & Lore by Skye Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


They are the hidden children of Adam and Eve. They are the minions of Lucifer fallen from Heaven into this terrestrial world when the gate was being closed by the Archangels at the time of the great celestial rebellion. No wonder they are neither good nor evil, although their amorality is felt more akin to treachery and terror to our mortal sense and sensibility. The ancient Greeks called them nymphs, and we call them fairies, frolicking and romping, feasting and dancing deliriously in their own fanciful realm: the slice of seacoast between tides, the deepening foliage between field and forest, and the sloping land between plain and mountain – a parallel universe existent in in their liminal four-dimensional world. Skye Alexander’s Fairies: The Myths, Legends, and Lore tells us all of it with her wealth of knowledge and introspection of these mystical beings as though it were her literary enchantment.

The ambiguous nature of fairies endows the mystical folk with wonder and terror, glamour and danger, all in the veil of mysterious invisibility that has protected them since the time immemorial. They can be friends or foes, depending upon their moods. In fact, fairies have a status which fuses the capricious powers of demoted deities with the erotic charge of modern celebrity in the kingdom of myth and folklore. So much so that they have consistently appeared in literature and movies, such as ‘The Fairy Queen’ by Edmund Spencer, ‘A midsummer night’s dream’ by William Shakespeare, ‘Rip Van Winkle’ by Washington Irving, and ‘Peter Pan’ by Walt Disney. Unlike educated Christianity of angels and demons, these mystical celebrities have lived among humans because they embody our certain human traits, which are the good and the bad, and wishes that we cherish secretly to live better life. Take the case of glamour spells that will make a plain-looking lady beautiful to impress the onlookers in a favorable light. Fairies are the embodiment of our what-ifs in a land of imagination where our strains of existential life can be forgotten, if not eradicated. This also relates to historian Keith Thomas’s analysis of myth and magic as a mental analgesic. That the concept itself can account for such misfortune explains any conspicuous discrepancy between merit and reward and thus helps to reconcile anyone who believes it to the environment in which he lives. That is, it helps a man to take decisions when other agencies fail him, not jeopardizing his self-esteem because it does not relate existential dilemma to his ascribed social ranks and conditions.

Changelings, Sleeping Beauty, Pixies, Brownies, Elves, Dwarfs, Selkies, Leprechauns, and Tinker Bell come alive pages upon pages of this enchanted book in an expense of the author’s charmingly kind guide to Fairyland we all have once believed. Since writing is also a peculiar alchemy of literature, this book is a magical concoction of the author’s knowledge of fairies and her alluring invitation to the liminal netherworld that will make the read even more enjoyable and lovable. Believers or unbelievers, this book is a good primer for the world of folklore and myths that we feel losing or lost.




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Tweet from Dr. Thomas Waters, the author of Cursed Britain!

What more can I say? I am simply thrilled by his recognition of my thoughts on the book. Which can say more than this rich praise, that you alone are you?