The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 26, 2014

February 26, 1897

Elizabeth Bibesco (February 26, 1897 to April 7, 1945) was the daughter of the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, and married, in 1919,  Antoine Bibesco, Romanian royalty. The view from their Parisian home meant that the original art on the walls had to compete with a scene of Notre Dame de Paris through the window. The interesting thing is this spoiled beautiful rich woman, chose to write fiction.  First though, we have a photo of her.

Photo 28 from Princess Bibesco

Here is a story she wrote, one in a collection of short stories and published in Balloons (1922). We quote "A Touch  Of Spring" in its entirety. I enjoyed it, you might too.

[The] sun was streaming through the curtains silhouetting a strange bloated pattern on the chintz, breaking through an opening and cutting a deep yellow slit in the carpet. She lay in bed subconsciously awake, subconsciously asleep, her thoughts drifting into dreams, her limbs merging into one another. "This is happiness," she murmured to herself, and feeling consciousness invade her, she clutched at the perfect moment, and it was gone.

Smiling at her defeat she stretched herself luxuriously like a cat and poked her toes out into a cool expanse of sheet.

"It is nice," she thought, "to have the whole bed to myself."

She curled herself up and lay for a few moments watching the sun catching little patches of air and turning them into rainbow dust. Then she rang. Her maid let in such a flood of light that she was forced to shade her eyes. An unabashed cuckoo broke into the chorus of birds, glorying in being a solo part and despising them for mixing and intertwining their notes.

She got out of bed and her bare feet sank into the warm furry rug; without putting on her slippers she walked across the room, stepping like a child into the puddles of sunshine on the carpet. Leaning out of the window the air pierced through her transparent nightgown—a tingling quality underlying a faint veil of warmth. Everywhere mist and dew lay on the countryside like the bloom on a grape. The gardener's boy walking across the lawn had left his footprints stamped in emerald on the grass.

Smiling intimately to herself she got into her bath, wondering vaguely at the miracle of water, enjoying impersonally the cool whiteness of her body, doing tricks of perspective with her arms and legs.

She dressed slowly with indolent rhythmical movements, indifferently aware of her effortless inevitable perfection.

Even more slowly she walked down the staircase out through the open window on to the grey terrace. Somehow she felt that she was violating the morning, forcing the human on to the divine. Sipping the day she walked towards the almonds with their pink blush of blossom bursting through the brown; turning round her head she saw the double cherry, its branches nearly breaking under their load of snow. And at the roots of every tree uninvited primroses and violets were crowding out the earth.

She followed the winding terraces towards the gleaming river, past fluttering daffodils and wandering narcissi, over riotous anemones and bright sturdy scyllse, shaking showers of diamonds off the grasses as she went.

The river lay like a long satin streamer, a curling ribbon dropped on the meadows. And everywhere, hidden and vibrating, was an urgency of life: buds bursting into blossom, birds bursting into flight.

Gradually the veil was lifting from the morning, the sun was rubbing the bloom off it as a child rubs sleep from his eyes.

She retraced her steps, putting down her feet with the delicate fastidiousness of a cat in order not to tread on a flower. "I'm alone with you," she said shyly and ecstatically to the day. Never before had she had the Spring to herself. Always there had been the children (now on a visit) dragging plans and occupations, games, picnics, and bicycles across the pure joy of living, or her husband like a violin very close to her ear tearing her nerves to shreds with poignant urgent beauty.

Looking dispassionately at her life, it seemed to her a slum of human relationships, airless, overcrowded, a dusty arena where psychological acrobats perform by artificial light. And always that dragging of the general down to the particular, that circumscribing of everything by the personal, every rose a token, the moon something to kiss by, flowers prostituted into bouquets. She thought how happy she was this morning, feeling a little tiny speck of the miracle of life instead of trying to catch it like a wasp under the wine glass of some human desire.

This not being a wife, or a mother, or a friend, or a beloved, or even herself, but a tiny part of the universal, this surely was happiness. To be at one with the morning, to belong to this frontierless world of nature, to be coaxed into flower by the sun, to be a strand in some unknown design, how much better than the weary steering of your life between the Scylla of your ardent futile longings and the Charybdis of some senseless malignant providence.

She took her lunch into the wood. The bluebells were still in bud and hadn't yet swept everything before them in a headlong rush of waves that never broke. She sat in an open space on a patch of velvety moss, surrounded by tree trunks and waving windflowers and peeping primroses and violets, all diffident forerunners of Spring, shyly enjoying the sun before being submerged in that all-conquering flood of blue.

She caressed the ground with her hand and watched little gusts of wind play hide and seek with the sun. "I don't believe I've ever been alone before," she thought, and she stretched out her arms into the air, initiating them into freedom.

Gradually the sun began to sink, throwing a riotous tangle of crimson and gold streamers to salute the earth. "They are hauling down the flag of my perfect day," she thought with a stab of poignant sorrow.

The sky became the colour of a primrose stalk and as transparent as green glass. Before touching the horizon it dissolved into violet powder. The colour was being blotted out of every thing; one after another the flowers went out like lights; only the white cherry seemed phosphorescent in the gathering darkness. A thick white mist was relentlessly invading everything, climbing higher and higher, enveloping her in its cold, wet clutches.

Bewildered and miserable, she struggled forward through the extinguished beauty of the world. A thin white sickle of a moon painted on the sky looked cynically down at her. Stumbling, shivering, she hurried blindly along.

The big stone hall was flickering in the blaze of an immense fire, peopled with strange, unreal, clustering shadows. In front of it stood a man in a fur coat. He turned towards her with outstretched arms.

"My darling, what have you been doing out without a coat? Look at your hair all white with mist and your sopping dress. I can't trust you to look after yourself for one day, can I?"

She looked at him as if he were a ghost. A look of blankness and horror.

He gathered her up and carried her to her bedroom. Putting her in a chair beside the fire he knelt down and pulled off her shoes and stockings.

She felt as if something were breaking inside her. Cold unrelieving tears were running down her face.

He was kissing her hands and her feet, murmuring little caresses, enveloping her in the glow of his love. And still she couldn't feel any warmer.

Putting his arms tight round her he held her close to him, her cold wet face nestling in his neck.

"I shall never leave you alone again," he whispered passionately, but to his horror he felt her stiffen and fall to the ground with a thud.

At that moment her old maid came in. "Poor wee thing," she said, "don't you be worrying and fretting yourself. It's just a touch of the Spring."

Why did a spoiled beautiful rich woman write fiction? Because she was smart, spoiled, beautiful and rich. Why did she write THIS fiction? Because, in a world where human nature is plastic, a defining assumption of modernity, there is no place left to look for answers beyond one's one subjective impressions. And though the story presents us with a woman who is horrified because the sun went down,  it is possible to consider her reaction as part of a deeper realization of the suffocating aspects of solipsism. 


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