Friday, August 03, 2012

Counting all this money is so tiresome!

'Tis a Friday of virtual hobnobbing with the wealthy and titled . . .

We'll start with the diary entry of Count Harry Kessler for June 20, 1911:
Dinner at Madame Edwards's. D'Annunzio, Boni de Castellane, Rejane, Bakst, Romain Coolus, Tata Golubeff, Sert, the lover of Rejane Nicodemi, and an Argentinian, Quintana, the son of a former president, were present. After dinner came Maupeou, Gloria, Ricciotto Canudo, and the Russian Baryton Kedroff, who sang wonderfully. The apartment of Edwards is one of the most tasteful I have ever seen. Many chinoiseries from the time of Louis XV and Louis XVI, everywhere expensive old laces as curtains and tablecloths and on the walls, like tapestries, decorations by Bonnard. In between a mass of roses, big and small. D'Annunzio had said he would come after dinner but arrived during the fish course. He seemed to enjoy our surprise. Rejane who is a ruin, but still of a refined elegance and very amusing, allowed D'Annunzio to pay court to her. They disappeared together after dinner into a boudoir as Rejane, in leaving the salon, cried out, "When you hear the first cry, you will come . . . no, not the first, but at the third."
Those of us who generally move in less refined circles can take solace from the fact that most of those names mean nothing today, even when annotated--but it's hard to begrudge Kessler his society and name-dropping, as he at least seemed to appreciate it and make good use of it, working with von Hofmannsthal and spending time with Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Nietzsche, Rilke, Verlaine, Richard Strauss, Shaw, and others of impressive accomplishment.

But mightn't we, were we to be suddenly dropped, Quantum Leap–style, amid all that glamor, simply get bored? Ben Macintyre, early in his new book about the D-Days spies, Double Cross, offers an example:
Boredom stalked Elvira Chaudoir like a curse. Her father, a Peruvian diplomat, had made a fortune from guano, the excrement of seabirds, bats, and seals, collected off the coast of Peru and exported as fertilizer. Elvira grew up in Paris, where she was expensively educated and tremendously spoiled. In 1934, at the age of twenty-three, to escape the tedium, she fled into the arms of Jean Chaudoir, a Belgian stock exchange representative for a gold-mining firm. Jean turned out to be a crashing bore, and life in Brussels was "exceedingly dull." After four years of marriage and a number of unsatisfactory love affairs with both men and women, she came to the conclusion that "she had nothing in common with her husband" and ran away to Cannes with her best friend, Romy Gilbey, who was married to a scion of the Gilbey gin dynasty and very rich. Elvira and Mrs. Gilbey were happily losing money made from gin in a casino in Cannes when the Germans invaded France; they fled, in an open-top Renault, to St. Malo before taking a boat for England.

In London, Elvira moved into a flat on Sloane Street, but the tedium of life swiftly descended once more. She spent her evenings shuttling between the bar at the Ritz and the bridge tables, losing money she did not have. She would have borrowed from her parents, but they were stuck in France. She tried to join the Free French forces gathering around the exiled Charles de Gaulle but was told she was unsuitable. She did a little translating for the BBC and found it dreary.
Chaudoir eventually turned to the elixir that has stemmed the ennui of so many of the idle rich over the centuries: spying.

Finally, lest you assume that our jet-powered, ever-connected, new Gilded Age has freed the poor wealthy from the besetting curse of boredom, I'll leave you with the unimpressed glories of the Pierces.

Milton's ending to Paradise Lost--
The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest
--was surely intended to be equivocal, perpetual grace traded for free will--but little did he know those centuries gone that with but the appending of a weary sigh his lines could be adapted to the pitiful plight of the privileged.


  1. A literary post that still manages to reference Quantum Leap. Thank you for that.


    "Being Boring"! (Apparently the title is derived from Zelda Fitzgerald?)