Count Alfred D’Orsay, 1801-1845: Charmed, I’m Sure

The one difficulty in Brideshead Revisited (okay, there are a lot of difficulties in Brideshead Revisited, but I’m only interested in one of them) is the question Sebastian Flyte’s charm.

We are assured that he has it, repeatedly, but somehow it never quite gets off the page. Now Waugh is some kind of writerly genius, and Sebastian is based on the real thing, but in this exercise, the author is coming up against a writing challenge even harder than describing sex without sounding absurd. Charm, like certain jokes, is evanescent.

As with Sebastian, so with Alfred. That he had charm and by the bucket-load is widely attested, and his CV ticks all the boxes for any romance writer’s dashing leading man. His father, a general for Bonaparte,* was considered the best looking man in the army and a dab hand at warfare. While the general was off expanding and defending the empire, Alfred was raised by his maternal grandmother, another good looking and elegant wit, Anne Franchi, aka Madame Craufurd, mistress of Duke of Wurtemberg among others. (Of her it is written “there is considerable mystery about this good lady’s career”. But I digress.) Continue reading

Henrietta d’Orleans, 1644-1670; Gather Ye Rosebuds

She is better known to history as the sister of Charles II of England and the sister in law of Louis the XIV of France.  It was the latter association which made the luck of Henrietta’s life.  She was the last child of Charles I  and his French Queen Henrietta Maria. She had gone with her mother into exile in France after her father’s capture and execution, and endured a cold and miserable childhood flitting about the backstairs of the French court, noticed by the young Louis only for her extreme lankiness.

After the Restoration of her brother Charles’s crown, Henriette went from being a skinny girl of no consequence, to being one of the most eligible young women in France.  She made a very grand marriage indeed (1661) to Phillippe d’Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIVContinue reading

Rosina Bulwer Lytton (née Rosina Doyle Wheeler; 1802 –1882) ; A Woman Scorned

“The first mistake I made was being born at all, though, like most of the serious errors that may be laid at my door through life, I had no choice and little part in the matter.”

Hm, sounds pretty bad.  And when did this unfortunate event take place?

“At ten o’clock of a dreary drizzling November morning…”

At least it was not a dark and stormy night, which is really quite the pity as our subject was the wife of Edward Bulwer Lytton, author of the great cliche.

He’s well enough known, of course, if mostly as a butt of cheap shots based on his failure to please current tastes in prose.   Continue reading

Catherine Dickens 1815-1879: His “Dearest Pig”

 There are fatal encounters in this life some of which do not turn out well for either of those appointed by time and fate to meet.  Catherine Hogarth and Charles Dickens probably met at the home of her father George Hogarth in 1835.  They quickly became engaged.

Charles was on the rebound from a failed courtship of a determinedly flirtatious girl named Maria Beadnell who had, after the manner of flirts, ended up marrying a young man with greater expectations than his own.  He was at a loose end and he was invited home to one of his editors’ houses, and the rest was history.

Catherine at about nineteen or so was an early Victorian pin up with brown hair, big blue eyes, a pink face and a curvaceous figure that was going to run to fat in later life.  She was captivated almost at once by Dickens’ energy and his humor, his bright waistcoats, may have helped as well.  He, on the other hand, liked Catherine’s “calm”. Continue reading