The most fascinating ones are brilliant, maddening birds of paradise.
I'm thinking of three in particular.
1. Amanda Eliasch
"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.
2. The Dowager Countess of Grantham
"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")
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.
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
"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)
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?