Movie Review: Mayerling

Friday, 19 September 2014

On 30 January 1889, the dead bodies of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his lover, Baroness Maria Vetsera, were discovered in the Imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. The official version is that Rudolf killed Maria in a suicide pact before taking his own life. But, another, more sinister theory suggests that the two lovers were murdered by political enemies. Personally, I believe the assassination theory. The suicide pact has always seemed too simple an explanation to me.

Plenty of royals, even married ones, have found ways to be with the women they loved. So, was suicide really necessary? It's also true though, that as Rudolph used drugs and probably suffered from bouts of depression, he may have thought there was no other way for him to be with Maria bar in death. Depression twists our perception of things and can make any situation seem utterly hopeless and any problem without solution. Self-medication with drugs just makes things so much worse. I doubt we'll ever know for sure what happened, unless new evidence should be discovered in the future.

This post, though, is not about my thoughts about Rudolph's death, but on the 1968 movie inspired by the events at Mayerling. The movie espouses the suicide pact theory. Rudolph (played by Omar Sharif), kept away by his father from any real position of power for his liberal ideas and thwarted in his desire to be with Maria (Catherine Denevue), becomes so depressed that he decides to take his own life. Maria, who doesn't want to live without him, asks him to kill her too. 

Although Sharif and Denevue are both great actors, they lack chemistry. There is so little spark between them that you can hardly believe they are madly in love with each other. Of course, this could have been intentional. This story is more about despair than passion, but still, I'd have loved to see more of the latter at least in the initial stages of their relationship, before the obstacles in their path seemed so large and indomitable to destroy all their hopes and lead them, ultimately, to their deaths.

The lack of emotions permeates the entire movie though. The cast is full of brilliant actors - James Mason plays the Emperor Franz Josef, Ava Gardner the Empress Elizabeth, and James Robertson Justice the Prince of Wales - but their performances are quite cold and detached, even when away from the prying eyes of the court. Instead, the movie is a feast for the eyes. The costumes, settings, and music are absolutely stunning and show us the opulence and decadence of a world long gone. Just for that, this movie is well worth a watch.

Prince Arthur, Duke Of Connaught

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Queen Victoria didn't like babies much, but her seventh child, Prince Arthur, seems to have been the exception to that rule. Born at Buckingham Palace on 1 May 1850 (the same day as the Duke of Wellington, who was chosen as his godfather), the little prince had an easy-going and obedient nature that appealed to the Queen right from the start. The adoring mother gushed that he was "dearer than any of the others put together", probably because, unlike his siblings, he "has never given us a day’s sorrow or trouble".

Arthur received a private education at home, dreaming of embarking on a career in the army. In 1866, aged 16, he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, were he distinguished himself well and, later, he joined the famous Rifle Brigade. His Commander-in-Chief? First his godfather, the Duke of Wellington, and then his father, Prince Albert. During his career he served in Ireland, South Africa, Egypt, India, and Canada, where the Iroquois made him a Chief of the Six Nations.

In 1874, Victoria made her favourite son Duke of Connaught and Strathern. Five years later, he married Princess Louise of Prussia. The couple was very happy together. They had three children: Margaret (later Crown Princess of Sweden), Arthur, and Patricia. Sadly, his wife passed away in 1917. He then became close to Leonie Leslie, Winston Churchill's aunt.

Arthur continued his career in the Army, reaching only the grade of Field Marshal, rather than Commander-in-Chief as his mother had hoped. In 1911, he became the only member of the royal family to serve as Viceroy of Canada. He greatly contributed to the war effort, visited the wounded in the hospitals, and served as auxiliary war services and charities. Although he was loved there, he came home after the war, having received a mixed review by the Prime Minister Robert Borden, who thought he had overstepped his constitutional role. Back in England, he took up ceremonial duties as a minor member of the royal family. He died at his home, Bagshot Park, on 16 January 1942, aged 91.

Further reading:
Witness of a Century: Life and Times of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (1850-1942) by Noble Frankland

The Balm Of Mecca

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

This is a liquid resin, of a whitish color, approaching to yellow, with a strong smell, resembling that of a lemon; a pungent and aromatic taste. It is likewise called balm of Judea, white balm of Constantinople, balm of Egypt, balm of Grand Cairo, and Opobalsamum. It is one of the most highly esteemed cosmetics, though very dear, and in its genuine form extremely difficult
to be procured. That sold in London and Paris is made by the perfumers of those cities: "It is," says M. Mongez, "a mixture of the finest turpentine with aromatic oils, whose aroma approaches nearest to that of the genuine balm. These imitations sell at the rate of twenty-four to thirty shillings per ounce, whereas the same quantity of the real balm of Mecca cannot be procured for less than four guineas."

The balm of Mecca, as already observed, in its genuine state, is held in the highest repute by the ladies of the East, by whom it is used to render the skin soft, white and smooth. They anoint their heads and face with it at night going to bed; the following morning minute scales are detached from the skin from every part in which this precious balm has operated. This renovation of the skin renders it incomparably white and delicate. The Egyptian females use it in a different manner. The dark color of their complexion, it is true, requires a stronger dose. It is at the bath that they anoint themselves with this balm.

They remain in the bath till they are very warm; they then anoint their face and neck, not slightly, like the women of the East, but wit an ample and copious ablution, rubbing themselves till the skin has absorbed the whole. They then remain in the bath till the skin is perfectly dry; after which they remain three days with the face and neck impregnated with the balm ; on the third day they again repair to the bath, and go through the same process. This operation is repeated "several times, for the space of a month, during which time they abstain from wiping the skin.

The European ladies who have an opportunity of procuring the genuine balm are more frugal of it. They seldom use it pure, but mix it with other similar substances, and compose a cosmetic balm which is thought to possess considerable efficacy in preserving the beauty of the skin. A good composition of this kind is the following : — Take equal parts of balm of Mecca and oil of sweet
almonds, recently extracted. Mix these drugs carefully in a glass mortar till they form a kind of ointment; to three drachms of which, previously put into a matrass, pour six ounces of spirits of wine. Let it distil till a sufficient tincture be extracted; when this is done, let it be separated from the oil, and put one ounce of it into eight ounces of the flower of beanwater, or other water of a similar kind, and an excellent milky cosmetic will soon be formed.

Obs. Others make a kind of virgin-milk. For this purpose it is sufficient to dissolve the balm of Mecca in spirits of wine or Hungary water; then put a few drops of this solution into Hungary water.

Notwithstanding the great reputation of the balm of Mecca, it has been deemed by some as dangerous and injurious. Lady Mary Wortley Montague describes it as having agreed very ill with her. In one of her letters from Belgrade, near Constantinople, to a female friend in London, she writes as follows: "As to the balm of Mecca, I will certainly send you some; but it is not so easily got as you suppose it, and I cannot in conscience advise you to make use of it. I know not how it comes to have such universal applause. All the ladies of my acquaintance at London and Vienna have begged me to send pots of it to them. I have had a present of a small quantity (which I assure you is very valuable) of the best sort, and with great joy applied it to my face, expecting some wonderful effect to my advantage.

The next morning, the change indeed was wonderful; my face was swelled to a very extraordfaiary size, and all over as red as my lady H 's. It remained in this tormentable state three days, during which you may be sure I passed my time very ill. I believed it never would be otherwise; and to add to my misfortune, Mr. W reproached my adventure without ceasing. However, my face is since in status quo; nay, I am told by the ladies here that it is much mended by the operation, which I confess I cannot perceive in my looking-glass. Indeed, if one was to form an opinion of this balm from their faces, one should think very well of it. They all make use of it, and have the loveliest bloom in the world. For my part I never intend to endure the pain of it again; let my complexion take its natural course, and decay in its own due time."

Obs. It cannot be denied, notwithstanding the inconvenience suffered by her ladyship, which might be attributable to a variety of causes, that the balm of Mecca is used with advantage by the most beautiful women, and that the Turkish ladies, who all make use
of it, have, as her ladyship justly remarks, the loveliest bloom in the world.

The following method has been pointed out by a person who resided at Constantinople, to detect the spurious from the genuine balsam of Mecca. — Pour a drop into water of the genuine balm; and put into this drop an iron knitting needle. If the whole of the drop of balm adhere to the needle, it proves that it has not been adulterated.

Further reading:
The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion

Book Reviews: Irene A Designer From The Golden Age Of Hollywood, Robert The Bruce, & One Size Never Fits All

Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Hello everyone,

ready for today's reviews? Let's get started then:

Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49 by Frank Billecci and Lauranne Fisher
In the Golden Age of Hollywood, actresses were the epitomes of timeless elegance and sophistication. That was, in part, due to the very talented but troubled designer Irene Lentz-Gibbons, who created countless looks for the big screen before moving on and starting her own label, Irene Inc. But if you're looking for a full, in-depth biography of this remarkable woman, you won't find it here.
Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood: The MGM Years 1942-49 is a short volume that focuses on Irene's time at MGM. Based on interviews of people who knew Irene well, unprecedented access to her records, and the memories of her personal artist, Virginia Fisher, the book reveals what it was like to work for such a big study in the '40s, and the friendships, politics, and backstabbing that took place behind the scenes. It's peppered with anecdotes about the movie stars of the era, who often sought reassurance from Irene, and glimpses into her tragic personal life, marred by the loss of her first husband, the love of her life, and alcoholism.
Although chapters are short, they are widely illustrated. The book is full of photos of Irene and her staff and of sketches of designs created by the designer for the many movies she worked on, including some that were never used. They are absolutely gorgeous.
If you're a fan of Irene, fashion, or Hollywood's Golden Age, you can't miss this book. It deserves a place in your library.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots by Michael Penman
My science teacher in high school loved his subject and knew it inside out. You couldn’t fault his knowledge. But you could fault the way he imparted it to his students. He would just enter the classroom, make sure we were all present, and then he'd started talking, piling science facts one upon the other, using always the same dry and monotonous tone of voice, for the next 50 minutes. As a result, me and most of my classmates really struggled in his subject.
What has all this got to do with Robert the Bruce? It's simple. Michael Penman reminds me of my science teacher. He knows and loves his subject, but he doesn't communicate it clearly. Rather than telling the story of what Robert did after Bannockburn (the book is supposed to focus on that, although the first chapters cover his struggle to be recognized as king before that battle), he chooses to pile facts upon facts upon facts, which makes, at time, for some very dry reading. Worse, some of these facts, such as the endless lists of land transfers from Robert's enemies to his allies, are irrelevant and disrupt the narrative of the book while also leaving no room for important background information. For instance, in the first part of the book, where Robert and Comyn are both battling for the throne, the author doesn't mention what right the latter had to it. He also often introduces new characters (and there are plenty of them) into the story without giving us much information about them. As a result, if you're not already familiar with the history of the time period, you'll often feel lost and confused.
Having said that, this book isn't all bad. It is clear that Penman has done his research. The book is extensively noted and debunks common myths about Bruce. Therefore, it would be an interesting read for scholars and students of this period looking for accurate information about Rober's kingship after Bannockburn. But casual readers wouldn't enjoy it much.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3/5

One Size Never Fits All: Business Development Strategies Tailored for Women (and Most Men) by Arin N. Reeves
Only a very small number of women hired by professional firms makes it to the top and becomes a leader of the organizations they work for. Why is that? According to Reeves, it's because most firms continue to encourage the use of traditional business development strategies, which were created and developed by men and thus focus on their strengths. But women (and some men) are different, and these tactics simply don't work for them.
That's when the shoes come in. Doesn't matter how talented a player you are, if you play basketball wearing shoes that don't fit your feet, you're gonna perform poorly and maybe even cost the team the match. Yet, this is exactly what women are been asked to do every day. And when they fail, they feel frustrated and start doubting their abilities. But these women are very talented, qualified and competent. They’re just not well equipped for the game they are playing. Just like a player needs the right shoe size, women need to use tactics that work for them.
After explaining why traditional strategies aren't working for women, Reeves proposes a series of alternative approaches that both firms and women, on their own, can adopt to develop business and thrive in their careers. It's not going to be easy. Business development is closely linked to money and privileges, and those who are enjoying them won't let them go without a fight. But change is possible. Reeves's strategies are simple and customizable, allowing each woman to pick and adapt those that best suit her personality and strength, bringing home results that their bosses and partners simply won’t be able to ignore.
If you're a woman or a man struggling with business development, or a boss who wants to see the women in his/her organization thrive, I highly recommend you pick up this book. It may transform your life.
Available at: amazon
Rationg: 4/5

Which of these books would you like to read?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

More 18th Century Inspired Commercials

Monday, 15 September 2014
A few months ago, I shared with you some cool ads inspired by the 18th century. Well, I've recently found three more I think you may enjoy. I especially love the latter. It features a ball, masks, and David Bowie. Enjoy!

15 Minutes With Evangeline @ Edwardian Promenade

Friday, 12 September 2014

Edwardian Promenade is a must read for all fans of the Edwardian era. Run by the lovely Evangeline, the website covers every aspect of life during this period, "with a bit of Gilded Age America, Belle Epoque France, and WWI thrown into the mix!" Evangeline lives with her "very possessive and territorial cat" in Northern California, where she writes historical romantic fiction with "strong and intelligent heroines grappling their personal relationships and the thornier issues of their time".

Curious to know more about Evangeline, read on:

1. If you could live in any era, what would it be and why?
Tough one! Either the court of Versailles during the reign of the Sun King or 1930s Hollywood. The court of Versailles because I want to see its magnificence at the beginning and have a soft spot for Madame de Montespan. 1930s Hollywood because I am a classic cinema buff and I'd love to meet Jean Harlow (so pre-1937 ).

2. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite, and why?
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Rosa Lewis--three strong, unforgettable, and independent women who left an inedible mark on society.

3. Three books everyone should read?
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. Who's your style icon?
The late Lauren Bacall

5. What are you watching on TV?
Sleepy Hollow, Downton Abbey, Extant, Scandal, and lots of history documentaries.

6. What's the soundtrack of your life?
Christina Aguilera's Stripped. I've loved this record for over a decade.

7. What's your favourite holiday destination, and why?
Washington D.C. - I'm a political history junkie and the Smithsonian was where I fell in love with history and science as a child.

8. What inspires you?
Food--as you can see with my recommendation of Julia Child's cookbook. I read them for pleasure, whether they be modern or historical.

9. One thing on your bucket list?
Extensive travel in the UK and Europe.

10. Something about you that would surprise us?
I don't Maybe that I was a cheerleader in high school? I auditioned at the last minute in jeans and made the squad my freshman year.

Thanks Evangeline!

If you haven't already done so, go check out Edwardian Promenade now. You can also keep up with Evangeline on Facebook and Twitter, and buy her books on Amazon.

Laetitia Pilkington, Her Serene Highness Of Lilliput

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Laetitia Pilkington was a celebrated Anglo-Irish poet best known for her friendship with Jonathan Swift. Until he cut her off when she divorced her husband, Matthew Pilkington, a priest for the Anglican Church of Ireland. He didn't want to be associated with a separated couple, although he was in a way responsible for the divorce. Not that he had meant any harm. He had just wanted to help the couple. But let's start at the beginning.

Laetitia, whose maiden name was van Lewen, was born in around 1709 in a good Irish family. Her father was a physician and obstetrician, and eventually became the president of the College of Physicians for Ireland, while her mother was the niece of Sir John Meade. Laetitia had met and married Matthew when she was only 16, and shortly afterwards the couple was introduce to Swift. The celebrated author enjoyed the company of the Pilkingtons, whom he called "a little young poetical parson, who has a littler young poetical wife" for their literary skills.

Swift spent many nights conversing on all kinds of topics with the couple. He was inspired by them, but also inspired them. Once he recognized how talented Laetitia was at poetry, he encouraged her to pursue it. He also tried to help the couple financially and was eventually able to get Matthew a job in London, as chaplain to the Lord Mayor for 1732–1733. That's when the problems began. Laetitia didn't follow her husband to the English capital, preferring to stay in London.

Alone in the big city, Matthew did a lot more than preach. He had involved himself in many shady political schemes and had fallen in love with a Drury Lane Theatre actress. Laetitia discovered all this only two years later, when she visited her husband in London. So, she started spending time with the fashionable set of writers, journalists, and artists, and rakes of her time. Years later, she would write about them, their habits and their scams in her memoirs. But Matthew's time in London was running out. In 1734, he was arrested for one of his shady political affairs and sent back to Dublin.

Laetitia had put up with her husband's affair with the actress, but he didn't return the favour. When, three years later, he found her alone in her bedroom with Robert Adair, a young surgeon who would later become surgeon general of England, he promptly filed for divorce. It was a bitter, long and costly proceeding, and it ended up costing Laetitia her friendship with Swift. The writer had once called Laetitia "her Serene Highness of Lilliput". Now, she became the "profligate whore".

Laetitia was left with little money after her divorce so she threw herself in her work. She wrote poems, a feminist prologue for Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold, and even an opera that was however only performed and never published, No Death but Marriage. In 1739, she moved to London, where she lived under the name of Mrs Meade to escape her fame and suitors. Here, she met the great literary minds of her time, such as the publisher and novelist Samuel Richardson and the poet laureate Colley Cibber, who advised her on how to make money from the press, like he had.

She continued writing, penning many poems for other people they could pass off as her own, and even tried to set up a print shop and bookseller's in St. James's. Unfortunately, the enterprise wasn't successful and Laetitia ended up in the Marshalsea prison for her debts. Luckily for her, Richardson came to her rescue. In 1743, she began writing her most popular work, her memoirs. But she struggled to find someone to published the book. No one in the literary London world wanted to see their flaws exposed in a book. Matthew also did all he could to stop his ex wife from publishing her memoirs too.

Finding it impossible to find a publisher for her memoirs in London, Laetitia went back to Ireland. Once there, she published the first two volumes, but died of a bleeding ulcer on 29 July 1750, leaving the third one unfinished. Her son would complete and publish it four years later.

Further reading:
Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington by Norma Clarke

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