Monday, January 9, 2012

What Is It About English Women?

The most fascinating ones are brilliant, maddening birds of paradise.

I'm thinking of three in particular.

1. Amanda Eliasch

Famous quotes:

"The Muscovites say that the moment a woman learns to be ugly she becomes interesting."

"Think positive, paint the town red, have a ball, have a laugh...but don't have such a good time that you're left empty."

"It's essential to have style on the back of a horse."

(from "As I Like It")

(Amanda Eliasch via her blog)

1. Last Friday I went to a performance of "As I Like It", a one-act play written by Amanda based on her colorful and oh-so-complicated life.

Imagine a McQueen-clad Marilyn crossed with an R-rated Nancy Mitford. That's the quickest way I know of describing her.

Here's the more conventional way: Photographer, poet, neon artist, US fashion editor for Genlux Magazine and full-blown eccentric, Amanda never lets anything as insignificant as fear stop her. I've known her for over fifteen years and she never stops surprising me or making me howl with laughter.

"As I Like It" is a whirlwind monologue that takes you on a journey of her life so far, from the hardships of a vulnerable childhood and Dickensian boarding school to her stint with the Moscow Theater Company to being a married London socialite and a Parisian mistress. Performed by actress Elizabeth Karr and punctuated with operatic duets from Lisa Zane and Amanda's son, Charles, it's a gutsy way of approaching love and loss -- with zero apologies and lashings of trenchant wit.

(info here and here)

2. The Dowager Countess of Grantham

Famous quotes:

"I do hope I'm interrupting something."

"No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else's house."

"What is a week-end?"

(from "Downton Abbey")

(photographer unknown)

Ah yes, the old dame is back. Domineering, intractable and fiercely opinionated, she's part peacock, part snapping turtle and we love her for it. I can't remember a time when a character on television has been so over-the-top entertaining, can you?

Whether she's grumbling about fact vs. fiction ("The truth is neither here nor there, it's the look that matters") or reprimanding her granddaughter for wanting to learn to drive ("You are a lady, not Toad of Toad Hall"), we somehow find ourselves firmly on her side.

And those expressions.
Watch carefully.
If you spot pursed lips, eyeballs threatening to jump ship from their sockets or that massive walking stick of hers hitting the floor like a thunderbolt, DUCK AND ROLL.

She's getting ready to unleash a corker.

3. Violet Trefusis

Famous quotes:

"Be wicked, be brave, be drunk, be reckless, be dissolute, be despotic, be a suffragette, be anything you like, but for pity's sake be it to the top of your bent."

"Live fully, live passionately, live disastrously."

(in a letter to Vita Sackville-West)

(via here)

I just finished reading Michael Holroyd's "The Book of Secrets" and its spell upon me lingers.

Part biography, part memoir, the book is about the author's fascination with the various English enchantresses who shadowed and inhabited the palatial Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy.

There was Violet Trefusis -- daughter of Alice Keppel (and perhaps King Edward VI) -- whose love affair with Vita Sackville-West wreaked havoc on her entire life and turned her into a latter-day Miss Havisham. There was Eve Fairfax, purported mistress of Rodin and possessor of an enormous scrapbook of her private life that she carried everywhere with her.

And there are two modern-day women Holroyd encounters, each with a personal connection to the Villa Cimbrone, and whose stories are seamlessly woven in with the others to reveal a patchwork of secret longings and uncelebrated achievements.

What English woman do you think is fabulous?


Lily said...

It is an endless list... and I adore another iconic English woman, Beryl Markham: fearless and adventurous, glamorous with a dry self deprecation, didn't give a fig about rules, loved animals with a fierce loyalty and men with a casual nonchalance, wore a tiara and aviator's goggles with equal ease... What a pilot, what a jockey, what a writer! ( I'm half English and so have decided views on the subject.)
What a great subject Lisa, we need more spotlight on fabulous women!

Karena said...

There is that fierce independence and self assurance. I loved Downton Abbey last night! Bravo!

A great book recommendation as well! Thanks Lisa!

Art by Karena

Miss Bibliophile said...

Love the Dowager's "Toad of Toad Hall" line. That had me laughing out loud last night!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

That Toad Hall line made me choke on my Darjeeling.

Hellohello baby said...

Hello Baby!

It's me! I'm just the visitor from Rosendal in Norway <3

Love your inspiering posts about life :)

DM said...

There really are countless inspirational English woman, something we both seem to have an INSATIABLE thirst for!

JudyMac said...

The picture of "The Dowager" is worth a mint. Wish I had gotten in on Downton Abbey last year; hard to come in mid-stream as there are so many characters to keep up with. Just finished reading Portrait of a Marriage. I found the affair of Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West an exhausting read. They burned the candle at both ends for quite a long time.

Anonymous said...

You gotta love Maggie Smith. Has she ever had a bad performance?

Emily said...

Maggie Smith can do no wrong and is perfection in this role!
Thanks for introducing me to no. 1 and 3.
Fascinating women indeed!
I think Tilda Swinton could fit in well on your list!

Kelly said...

Thank you, I'm so often introduced to something new, some new corner of the literary world here...and always inspired!

Sofás de Piel - said...

The harmony of colors, feelings, natural colors, natural, I have my house decorated with your ideas I think are wonderful and charming with you needed help I got it.

Ms.A said...

I've just finished Diana Athill"s memoir "Instead of a Letter". She's rather the opposite a maddening bird of paradise, thus not on point with the post's topic, though she is English. It's searingly well written. Highly recommended.

Jeane M. said...

Gorgeous and witty woman indeed. Remarks from them makes a statement for inspiring young girls.
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Anonymous said...

oh delicious!

english women of note and eccentricity.

we adore nancy mitford. and diana fellowes - from the period of both their lives in Paris - there's nothing like a Foreign Backdrop to bring forth the really delicious bits of being english.

wouldn't you agree? ;-)

much love from teamgloria x

helen tilston said...

A great post Lisa

Congratulations to Amanda Eliasch on her play.

I love Maggie Smith and did see her in NYC many years ago, in "Lettuce and Lovage", a brilliant play.

There are so many brave and remarkable British Women and so hard to pick just one.
I would say the late Queen Mother would be high on my list.

Acanthus and Acorn said...

There is something so captivating about the dry wit of English women. I was just telling my husband when we were watching DA on Sunday night to remind me to practice some of the "Countess of Granthem's" expressions and sayings now so I can use them often when I am older!

Blue Turtle said...

Though I never watched the play but you convince me its quality. Thanks for posting. I enjoyed the discussion today.

jeavon @ interior design pro

Shoshana B said...

I've been lately fascinated with a cosmopolitan lady--sorry not English--Rosamond Bernier who is from Philadelphia(?) but has lived all over the world and met just about everyone.

Thank you for introducing me to Miss Mapp by the way. She is an English lady I am thoroughly enjoying.

themodernbluestocking said...

There is just something about the English woman, isn't there? This post really tickled my fancy...especially when you mentioned "What is a week-end?" It made me laugh then and now.

Beth K. said...

Hello-I have just stumbled on your delightful blog--What a treat!! I have added you to my favorites-Beth

24 Corners said...

It was such a relief to have Downton and the Dowager back in our lives again last weekend...I feel so much more refined, proper, and witty with them around!
xo J~

David Herbert said...

edith sitwell is another (and her gothic clothing... some of her jewells are in the V&A and worth viewing).

Victoria said...

I have the Book of Secrets in my "to read" pile, and I intend to get to it soon, and I am more than religiously watching Downton Abbey.

But I am reading the new biography of Elizabeth II, and she sure is an English woman - just fascinating. I LOVE it.

StuckInABook said...

Lovely post :) I adore the fact that you have Maggie Smith and Violet Trefusis in the same post. (Have you read Trefusis' novella Echo? It's great! Although, since it was written in French, I hadn't realised she was English.) (I read it in English, obviously!)


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