The pursuit of love and happiness

The pursuit of love and happiness

The pursuit of love and happiness was an 18th-century ideal.

Voltaire (1694-1778), the French philosopher and author was one of its chief exponents and is one of the heroes of my character Sinclair. Sinclair takes his copy of Candide, Voltaire’s satirical novel to India with him but he loses it when the ship goes down. Once he’s established himself in Tooley Street he’s quick to buy himself another copy.

Candide was an 18th century best seller. The story is about a young man who is the illegitimate nephew of a German baron. He grows up in the baron’s castle under the tutelage of the scholar Dr. Pangloss, who teaches him that this world is “the best of all possible worlds.” Candide falls in love with the baron’s young daughter, Cunégonde which does not please the baron at all and so the young man and his teacher are thrown out of the castle and their adventure begins.

The work describes the abrupt end of their idyllic lifestyle and Candide’s slow, painful disillusionment with the world as he witnesses and experiences its hardships.

The book ends with Candide, not rejecting Dr. Pangloss’s optimism outright but advocating that “we must cultivate our garden”, rather than rely on optimism alone to make it flourish. Thus, Candide rejects the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, “all is for the best” in the “best of all possible worlds” for the act of making the world we desire by cultivating it like a garden.
Voltaire was a man of passion and emotion as well as ideas. At the age of nineteen Voltaire was sent as an attache to the French Ambassador to the Netherlands. It was there that he fell in love with Olympe Dunover, the poor daughter of lower-class women. Their relationship was not approved of by either the ambassador of Olympe’s mother and Voltaire was soon imprisoned to keep them apart.

Writing from his prison cell in The Hague in 1713 he poured out his love for Olympe.

“I am a prisoner here in the name of the King; they can take my life, but not the love that I feel for you. Yes, my adorable mistress, to-night I shall see you, and if I had to put my head on the block to do it.

“For heaven’s sake, do not speak to me in such disastrous terms as you write; you must live and be cautious; beware of madame your mother as of your worst enemy. What do I say? Beware of everybody; trust no one; keep yourself in readiness, as soon as the moon is visible; I shall leave the hotel incognito, take a carriage or a chaise, we shall drive like the wind to Scheveningen; I shall take paper and ink with me; we shall write our letters.”

“If you love me, reassure yourself; and call all your strength and presence of mind to your aid; do not let your mother notice anything, try to have your pictures, and be assured that the menace of the greatest tortures will not prevent me to serve you. No, nothing has the power to part me from you; our love is based upon virtue and will last as long as our lives. Adieu, there is nothing that I will not brave for your sake; you deserve much more than that. Adieu, my dear heart!”

Arout (Voltaire)

His time in prison was brief. Being young and fit and the prison not so secure, he jumped out a window and got away.
Twenty years later, in 1733, Voltaire would meet the love of his life, Émilie, Marquise du Châtelet. She was the wife of an aristocrat. He, by then was by then a successful writer. Having just returned from a period of enforced exile from France for his political views Voltaire was introduced to Émilie by friends.

The attraction was immediate, physical and cerebral. He wrote of her; “That lady whom I look upon as a great man… She understands Newton, she despises superstition and in short, she makes me happy.

Soon the pair were living together in the Marquis du Châtelet’s chateau. The arrangement suited them all. Voltaire who was a rich man paid for the much-needed renovations to the chateau, Émilie’s husband the Marquis hunted all day and at night he lent Voltaire his willing wife.

Their love bore intellectual fruits; Émilie translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica and wrote her philosophical magnum opus, Institutions de Physique (Paris, 1740, first edition), or Foundations of Physics. Her own work circulated widely generated heated debates and was republished and translated into several other languages. During her time with Voltaire, she participated in the famous vis viva debate, concerning the best way to measure the force of a body and the best means of thinking about conservation principles. Posthumously, her ideas were heavily represented in the most famous text of the French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond D’Alembert.

In 1737, Châtelet published a paper entitled Dissertation sur la nature et la propagation du feu, based upon her research into the science of fire, that predicted what is today known as infrared radiation and the nature of light.

In another publication, she debated the nature of happiness. During the Age of Enlightenment, personal happiness was one of the great philosophical themes. Many philosophers and writers studied it. There were many discourses on the subject but they were by men. Chatelet offers a new perspective on the philosophical question of happiness, a woman’s perspective. Her views on happiness were published posthumously long after she had ended her relationship with Voltaire.

Chatelet begins her work on happiness by recognising the difficulty of finding or achieving happiness due to the obstacles of circumstance such as age and other hindrances. She explains that fortune has placed individuals in specific states and that one of the most important elements in achieving happiness is not to try to change those circumstances. Chatelet’s way to happiness is to be satisfied with the condition we find ourselves in.

Happiness for Chatelet lies in satisfying personal tastes and passions and from “… having got rid of prejudices, being virtuous, getting well,….” In other words, she says it’s up to the individual to know and do what makes them happy.
I suppose that was alright for her she was a Marquise with a chateau, a husband, and rich lovers.

Her pet hate was religion which she saw as the ultimate prejudice. Prejudice she believed made people vicious and we cannot be both vicious and happy. Happiness, she believed came from virtue, inner satisfaction and the health of the soul. Finally, she concluded that happiness relied on illusion or the arts and that it was important to retain the illusions that produced pleasant feelings, such as laughter during a comedy.

Whilst I cannot argue with her view that pursuing interests, being free from prejudice and enjoying the arts all help us to achieve a state of happiness I cannot help being aghast at this very clever woman’s nativity. Perhaps she was so happy for most of her life, so happy with her studies and her lovers that she didn’t notice the people around her. Perhaps she didn’t notice the poor people who did her cooking and cleaning and grew everything she ate. Perhaps she lived life through such rose-tinted spectacles that she was blind to the routine injustice the state handed down to ordinary people and anyone who got in its way. Was Chatelet like so like so many aristocrats who met with Madame Guillotine a generation later – totally unaware of how they had created their own grisly fate? Did they not see that they had failed to ‘cultivate the garden’?

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her books are available worldwide on Amazon. 

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Dancing through the bedrooms of Europe

Dancing through the bedrooms of Europe

Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein otherwise known simply as Metternich was probably the greatest diplomat of the nineteenth century. As well as being a towering intellectual he seems to have been a very physical man, if not on the field of battle then in the bedchamber. In her book, Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857, Judith Lissauer Cromwell describes him as, “witty and charming, above average height, slim and graceful, “the Adonis of the Drawing Room.” A man with, “fair hair, an aquiline nose, a well-shaped mouth, a high forehead, and piercing blue eyes.”

He served as the Austrian Empire’s Foreign Minister from 1809 and Chancellor from 1821 and was responsible for what historians call ‘The Concert of Europe.” This was not a forerunner of the Eurovision Song contest but a concert in the sense of an arrangement of something by mutual agreement or coordination and the thing he was in charge of arranging was the restoration of Europe to its state before the French Revolution after the defeat of Napoleon. He managed what is called ‘The Congress System’ from 1814 until the liberal revolutions of 1848 finally forced his resignation. But it is not his achievements as a statesman or his politics I am interested in today, it is achievements as a husband, lover, and as one of the most prolific love letter writers in history.

Metternich had three wives, obviously not all at the same time although one suspects he might have managed that if he had had the opportunity he rarely had only one bed to go to at a time. With his first wife, Princess Eleonore von Kaunitz (m. 1795–1825) he had 10 children, with his second wife, Baroness Antoinette Leykam (m. 1827–29) he had one child; and with his third wife, Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris (m. 1831–54) he had another five. You would think that was more than enough for any man but Metternich did not stop there. He managed to squeeze in another child with his mistress Katharina Bagration. Princess Marie-Clementine, was born on 29 September 1810 in Vienna and to save face was promptly adopted into the Bagration family in Russia.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Metternich had two mistresses in tow. His long-standing mistress the widow Katharina Bagration and his new love interest the Duchess of Sagan.

Both women ran pro-Russian, anti-Napoleonic salons in the city mainly financed by the Tsar and in the case of Bagration by her besotted but estranged husband until he died from his wounds at the battle of Borodino in 1812. Bagration was known as le bel ange nu “the beautiful nude angel” because she wore low cut dresses with bare shoulders, and la chatte blanche “the white cat” for her white Indian muslin dresses that clung seductively to her body and her wily intelligence. Her influence on the politicians and statesmen who frequented her salon was significant and Napoleon is said to have considered her a formidable opponent.

But by 1815 Bagration’s charms were becoming less beguiling to Metternich. The new woman in his life, Katharina Friederike Wilhelmine Benigna, Princess of Courland, Duchess of Sagan (1781-1839) a German noblewoman from what is today part of Latvia was taking over his affections and attention.

There was intense rivalry between the women who were living in separate wings of the Palm Palace in Vienna in 1815, both the paid guests and informers of Tsar Alexander. This state of affairs was a complication even the greatest diplomat in Europe found hard to manage. “What a detestable complication your residence is in Vienna,” he wrote Sagan but he was not going to give up Sagan. He had been infatuated with her since 1813 and besides she was useful. Over the years he had built up a network of female informants or ‘spies’ who had been his lovers like Caroline Bonaparte, now Queen of Naples and Laure Junot the wife of the French General and Bagration and Sagan would be no different in the end.

Sagan had been perusing Metternich since 1804 when the ambitious young widow’s family moved to Berlin so that she inveigle herself into his affections but he did not fall under her spell then so she remarried only to divorce her new husband a year later saying, “I am ruining myself with husbands.” When their affair began it was intense and Sagan demanded that Metternich divorce his wife and marry her if he wanted to continue. Her demands were brushed aside but the affair continued. While he was in her thrall he wrote Sagan over 600 letters. The letters which were read by the Austrian Secret Police who rightly suspected Sagan of being a Russian spy at the time were lost and remained hidden until 1949. Reading the letters more than 100 years later it is easy to see that Sagan mimicked her lover’s prose, they reflected his opinions back to him, confirmed his conceits and his image as peacemaker and conqueror. In short, she pandered to his enormous ego and he loved it and her much to the Tsar’s delight. In the summer of 1814, the pair fell out. She wrote, “Everything has so completely changed between us that it is not at all astonishing that our thoughts and our sentiments agree on anything. I am beginning to believe that we never really known each other. We were both perusing a phantom.” The break up was acrimonious with Metternich saying as he took to the baths at Baden that they were, ” to arm his skin,” against her.”

Three years later, Metternich began another affair with Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857). Dorothea was a Baltic German noblewoman and wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to London from 1812 to 1834. It seems Metternich had a penchant for aristocratic women from the Baltic, she was the third in succession of Baltic lovers. Cromwell describes Dorothea as a “tall and slender woman, distinguished rather than beautiful, with a strikingly proud bearing.

Dorothea was not an instant success in London and was considered cold and snobbish by London Society. She had a long and elegant neck that earned her the nickname, “the swan” and by those who disliked her, “the giraffe. But her reputation did not bother her she was not after friendship she was after power much like her predecessors Sagan and Bagration and she used her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to make herself a leader of London’s politically infused society. She cultivated friendships with the foremost diplomats of the day. Not only did she become Metternich’s lover she was also reputed to have had an affair with Lord Palmerston, although there is no firm proof of this and she was a close friend of Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, and Lord Grey.

Her hard work paid off and she became a leader of London society; invitations to her home were the most sought after. She was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack’s, London’s most exclusive social club, where she introduced the scandalous dance, the waltz to England when Tsar Alexander came to London in 1818. It was during that visit the two great lovers first met. They took an instant dislike to one another. She thought he was cold and intimidating and far too self- important. He dismissed her as just a pretty woman travelling in the Tsar’s wake and treated her with complete indifference.

However, at a party hosted by the Dutch Ambassador on 22nd October at Aix-La-Chappelle that year, they found themselves sitting next to each other and she played him for all he was worth drawing him out with questions on his favourite subject; Napoleon; and by indulging his ego and listening to his every word she won him over. The next day she found herself alone in a carriage with the Prince and as they chatted, they found that they had much in common. They were both disappointed in the people they were married to, they hated getting up early in the morning, they liked the same paintings, the same novels, and literature, the same style of furniture – in fact, they were kindred spirits. A few days later, their notorious liaison began with Dorothea concealing her identity by wearing a long cloak and veil in order to enter the Prince’s apartment incognito.

In Metternich Dorothea had found her equal, he was a man she could love wholeheartedly, who could satisfy her physically, emotionally and intellectually. She wrote, “Good God! My love, I know how to rejoice in so few things, do you understand what makes me feel true happiness, it is you, only you! My Clement, if you cease to love me what will become of me?  … My dear friend promise to love me as much as I love you; our lives are pledged in this promise.”

In Dorothea Metternich had met the woman of his dreams, she could match his intellect and his passion. She could speak and write in four languages and her wit and intelligence were as sharp as his. He wrote, “My happiness today is you. Your soul is full of common sense your heart is full of warmth … You are as a woman what I am as a man.” “Why are your letters so like mine? Why do you write to me almost the same words I have written to you, and you have the air of knowing them whilst my letter is still in my room? Will such perfect identity of our beings be so complete that the same thought only finds the same expression in each of us, when a word, a single phrase will succeed in expressing what we feel? …. I could write volumes, I could repeat to you a hundred times in one page that I love you.”

Their heated, clandestine, affair soon succumbed to the requirements state. They continued their liaison mainly in letters continuing their physical relationship whenever their paths crossed. Metternich described writing to Dorothea as like speaking to her, or chatting to her as if she were in the room with him because she was ‘in him.’ “You are my last thought before I go to sleep at night and first thought when I awaken,” he wrote.

The pair were tortured by their affair not only because of their separation but also because they both knew that they were married to others and that they could never be together. Dorothea was well aware of Metternich’s reputation with women and called his fidelity to her into question on occasion. In the early years of the affair he chastised her for such thoughts but of course the inevitable happened and she broke off their relationship in 1826 when she found out that he traded her in for a younger woman.

Towards the end of her life, Dorothea burned Metternich’s letters afraid that their intimacy would shock her family and ruin their reputations but she copied sections of his letters into her notebook. In one letter, that survived because it was copied by the French Secret Service, Dorothea writes about a dream she had when she was staying at Lord and Lady Jersey’s house one summer evening. She wrote; “We spoke a great deal, and for fear we would be heard, you took me on your lap so that you could speak to me more quietly; my dear Clement, I heard your heart beating, I felt it under my hand so strongly that I woke up, and it was my own heart reacting to yours. Mr. God, my love, how it still beats at this moment …. will my dream ever become a reality?”

Metternich occupied her imagination from 1818 to the beginning of 1826. By the end she was disillusioned; references to him in letters written after that date, are cold and spiteful and it seems that time did not heal her broken heart. She had nothing good to say about him or his third wife when she saw him in Brighton in 1849 describing him as “slow and tedious” and his wife as “stout and well-mannered.” By then she was the wife in all but name of the French politician Guizot and living in Paris. It was said that even though she was a widow by then she refused to marry Guizot as she would have to give up her title of ‘Serene Highness’ something the proud and regal woman was never going to do. Like her former lover, she was ancien regime through and through.

 

Dorothea Lieven died peacefully at her home, 2 rue Saint-Florentin, Paris, aged 71, on 27 January 1857, with Guizot and Paul Lieven, one of her two surviving sons, beside her. She was buried, according to her wish, at the Lieven family estate, Mežotne (near Jelgava) next to her two young sons who had died in St. Petersburg. She is a recurring minor figure in many historical novels about the period, notably those of Georgette Heyer. Heyer generally portrays her as a haughty, formidable, and unapproachable leader of society, but in The Grand Sophy she is described as “clever and amusing”, and there is a passing reference in that book to her role in political intrigues.

Metternich died in Vienna two years later on 11 June 1859, aged 86. He was the last great figure of his generation; almost everyone of note in Vienna came to pay tribute at his funeral but in the foreign press his death went virtually unnoticed. Of course ‘the coachman of Europe’ is the topic of much historical discourse. His reactionary political views held sway in Europe for the best part of 35 years and his love affairs were a source of fascination and intrigue throughout the courts of Europe.

 

Sources:

Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857 By Judith Lissauer Cromwell

The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics After Napoleon By Brian E. Vick

1815: The Roads to Waterloo By Gregor Dallas

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klemens_von_Metternich

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2015-01-28-sluga-en.html

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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75 Years of Spam

75 Years of Spam

The History of Food in Cans

SPAM is celebrating its 75th birthday today. Love it or hate it we’ve all had it at some time in our lives and it would not have happened without Nicholas Appert an 18th-century confectioner and chef from Paris.

In 1795, Nicholas Appert began experimenting with ways to preserve foodstuffs, succeeding with soups, vegetables, juices, dairy products, jellies, jams, and syrups. He placed the food in glass jars, not cans and sealed them with cork and sealing wax. The food was preserved by boiling the sealed bottles in boiling water.

In 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. After some 14 or 15 years of experiment, Appert submitted his invention and won the prize in January 1810 on condition that he made the method public. The same year, Appert published L’Art de conserver les substances animales et végétales (or The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances). This was the first cookbook of its kind on modern food preservation methods.

La Maison Appert, in the town of Massy, near Paris, became the first food bottling factory in the world. This was years before Louis Pasteur proved that heat killed bacteria. In honour of Appert, canning is sometimes called “appertisation.” Appert’s method was so simple and workable that it quickly conquered the world. The French public and press were loud in their praises – “Appert has found a way to fix the seasons” said one paper. The French Navy was quick to use his method, but it was in England that Appert’s idea was fully exploited and improved.

English Canned Foods

In 1810, British inventor and merchant Peter Durand patented his own method, but this time in a tin can, so creating the modern-day process of canning foods. Tin was already used as a non-corrosive coating on steel and iron, especially for household utensils, but Durand’s patent is the first documented evidence of food being heated and sterilised within a sealed tin container. His method was to place the food in the container, seal it, place in cold water and gradually bring to the boil, open the lid slightly and then seal it again. In some quarters, he is hailed as the “inventor” of the tin can, but a closer look at the patent, held at the National Archives in London, reveals that it was “an invention communicated to him”. Norman Cowell, a retired lecturer at the department of food science and technology at Reading University, had shown that another Frenchman hitherto uncredited by history, an inventor called Philippe de Girard, came to London and used Durand as an agent to patent his own idea. It seems Girard had been making regular visits to the Royal Society to test his canned foods on its members. Girard was forced to come to London because of French red tape, says Cowell, and he couldn’t have taken out the patent in England at a time when the two countries were at war so he sold his idea to Durand for £1000 and disappeared from history. In England, there was an entrepreneurial spirit and venture capital to kick-start enterprise. People were prepared to take a risk on new ideas whereas in France if someone had a good idea they took it to the Academie Francaise and if the members of the Academie thought it was a good idea they might offer a ‘pourboire’ a small amount of money to develop it.

In 1812 Englishmen Bryan Donkin and John Hall purchased both patents and began producing preserves. Between 1814 and 1821, the Admiralty’s orders for canned foods increased from around 3000 pounds to 9000. Donkin’s role in changing history is rarely acknowledged. Standing on the spot of Donkin’s factory today is a school car park on Southwark Park Road, there is little evidence of the industry which, 200 years ago, was about to spread around the globe.

American Canned Foods

Canning arrived in the US in the 1820 but was not common until the beginning of the 20th century, partly because a hammer and chisel were needed to open the cans until the invention of a can opener by an Englishman named Yates in 1855. Canned food changed the world; it improved the nutrition of the masses, feed armies and explorers, transformed the work of women in the kitchen; Andy Warhol even made cans into art. Today, households in Europe and the US alone get through 40 billion cans of food a year, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute in Washington DC.

Of course, America is the home of SPAM. SPAM) is a brand of canned cooked meat made by Hormel Foods Corporation. It was first introduced in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide after its use during World War II. By 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries on six continents and trademarked in over 100 countries (not including the Middle East and North Africa).

According to its label, Spam’s basic ingredients are pork, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. Natural gelatin is formed during cooking in its tins on the production line. Many have raised concerns over Spam’s nutritional attributes, in large part due to its high content of fat, sodium, and preservatives.

By the early 1970s the name “Spam” became a genericized trademark, used to describe any canned meat product containing pork, such as pork luncheon meat. With expansion in communications technology, it became the subject of urban legends about mystery meat and other appearances in pop culture. Most notable was a Monty Python sketch which led to its name being borrowed for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email

Since 1942, each year the Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists awards the Nicholas Appert Award, recognising lifetime achievement in food technology. In 1991, a monumental statue of Appert, a work in bronze was erected in Châlons-en-Champagne.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21689069, Wikipedia

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

The origins of Haute Couture are English!  Charles Frederick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris in 1858, championing exclusive luxury fashion for the upper-class woman and coining the term ‘fashion designer’ and upgrading himself from a basic dressmaker. Ten years later Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was first established as the safeguard of high-fashion. Designers were required to earn the right to label themselves a couture house according to certain specifications although at the time the requirements were rather vague but being male was certainly an essential part of the package

The phrase “haute couture” was used for the first time in 1908 and shortly afterward, in 1910, Gabrielle Chanel set up her milliner’s studio at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, and in 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville devoted to hats and a small range of clothes, made predominantly from jersey. In 1915 she reached new heights when she opened her Maison de Couture in Biarritz, in the Villa Larralde just opposite the Casino.

From the gamine fashions of the 1920s, Coco Chanel progressed to the womanly fashions in the 1930s: evening-dress designs were characterised by an elongated feminine style, and summer dresses featured contrasts such as silver eyelets, and shoulder straps decorated with rhinestones – drawing from Renaissance style. In 1932, Chanel presented an exhibition of jewellery dedicated to the diamond as a fashion accessory; it featured the Comet and Fountain necklaces of diamonds, which were of such original design, that Chanel S.A. re-presented them in 1993. Moreover, by 1937, the House of Chanel had expanded the range of its clothes to more women and presented prêt-à-porter clothes designed and cut for the petite woman. Among fashion designers, only the clothes created by Elsa Schiaparelli could compete with the clothes of Chanel.  Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her couture house closed in 1954. Her brand has recently been revived led by designer Bertrand Guyon.

It is now over a hundred years since Coco Channel challenged convention, the key feature of today’s fashion is gender neutrality but there is nothing neutral about who’s in charge in these bastions of fashion and wealth. “Who’s Who in Fashion,” a directory published by Fairchild Publications, is split 60-40 in favor of men, and “The Encyclopaedia of Clothing and Fashion,” published last year by Charles Scribner’s Sons, included entries on 36 female and 69 male designers. There is still a glass ceiling for women when it comes to the fashion industry.

With two films and several books about her life and legacy, Coco Chanel has become a style icon. In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were many female designers — Alix Grès, Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel — but after World War II, the big names were male — Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin even though the number of women entering the profession is more than ten to one in favour of the girls they are not making the progress they should.

Karl Lagerfeld has been the artistic director of the House of Chanel since 1983. He said of the brand founder,” Coco did a lot, but not as much as people think – or as much she herself taught at the end of her career.  She wasn’t only a designer – she was a woman of her time.’ He said didn’t like women and that she made two great mistakes towards the end of her long career; that she believed men did not like to see women in miniskirts and she took against blue jeans.

Coco Chanel was certainly a talented and controversial character, she spent the Second World War in bed with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklagea at the Hotel Ritz. In 1939, she took revenge on her staff who had struck for fairer wages in 1936 by closing her shops making 4000 of her mainly female staff redundant and she was well known for her dislike of Jews believing them to be a threat to Europe because of the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union. I would say that not taking the blue jeans was the least of her mistakes.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress

Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress

Benjamin Franklin was a lover of knowledge; after all, he was the quintessential Renaissance man. He gave us the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, and Poor Richard’s Almanack. He was also an indispensable politician and civic activist who not only helped lay the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution but was also the country’s first ambassador to France where in 1779 he fell in love with Anne Catherine Helvétius, the widow of the Swiss-French philosopher, Claude-Adrien Helvétius.

Nicknamed “Minette”, she maintained a renowned salon in Paris using her dead husband’s accumulated wealth and among its habitués were France’s leading politicians, philosophers, writers, and artists. In courting her attention, he sent her many letters expressing his love, admiration, and passion. In one, he claimed that he had a dream that their dead spouses had married in heaven and that they should avenge their union by doing the same on earth!  In another passionate plea, he wrote: “If that Lady likes to pass her Days with him, he, in turn, would like to pass his Nights with her; and as he has already given her many of his days…she appears ungrateful never to have given him a single one of her nights.”

Franklin’s libido was apparently so strong, he himself was scared of it. In his autobiography, he confessed: “the hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way.”

One of the more revealing documents on his views on women, which had been known in certain circles but kept under wraps for almost 200 years, was a letter he wrote in 1745, offering advice to a young man who was having trouble with his own insatiable libido. In the letter, which was entitled “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress,” Franklin advised: “In all your Amours, you should prefer old Women to young ones.” He goes on to explain that with older women they tend to have more discretion, will take care of you when you’re sick, are cleaner than prostitutes, and that “there is no hazard of children.” He also offered that you can’t really tell who’s old or young when you’re in the dark. What a romantic!!!

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £4.99   Also available on:

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Maria Cosway the Artist who Captured the Heart of Thomas Jefferson

Maria Cosway the Artist who Captured the Heart of Thomas Jefferson

Maria Hadfield Cosway, Repelling the Spirit of Melancholy

Maria Luisa Caterina Cecilia Cosway was born on 11 June 1760 in Florence, Italy to Charles Hadfield, said to have been a native of Shrewsbury, England, and an Italian mother. Her father was a successful innkeeper at Livorno, where he had become very wealthy. The Hadfields operated three inns in Tuscany, all frequented by British aristocrats taking the Grand Tour. One of eight children, Maria’s life should have been a tranquil one but four of the Hadfield children were killed by a mentally ill nursemaid. The nurse claimed that her young victims would be sent to Heaven after she killed them; luckily she was caught and imprisoned before she could kill all the children including Maria.

While still in Florence, Maria Hadfield studied art under Violante Cerroti and Johann Zoffany. From 1773 to 1778, she copied Old Masters at the Uffizi Gallery. For her work, she was elected to the Academia del Disegno in Florence in 1778. She also went to Rome, where she studied art under Pompeo Batoni and she studied with Anton Raphael Mengs, Henry Fuseli, and Joseph Wright of Derby.

Self Portrait

On 18 January 1781, Maria Hadfield married a fellow artist, the celebrated miniature portrait painter Richard Cosway, in what is thought to have been a marriage of convenience. He was 20 years her senior, known as a libertine, and was repeatedly unfaithful to her. Richard was “commonly described as resembling a monkey.” Her Italian manners were so foreign that her husband kept Maria secluded until she fully mastered the English language. Cosway also forbade his wife from painting, possibly out of fear of the gossip which surrounded women painters. Her Self-Portrait with Arms Folded is seen as a response to his limitation of her work, her folded arms acting as a sign of her inability to practice. But, in time he realised his wife’s talent and helped her to develop it. More than 30 of her works were displayed at the Royal Academy of Art from 1781 until 1801. She soon enhanced her reputation as an artist, especially when her portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire in the character of Cynthia was exhibited. Among her personal acquaintances were Lady Lyttelton; the Hon. Mrs. Darner, the Countess of Aylesbury; Lady Cecilia Johnston; and the Marchioness of Townshend.

In 1784, the Cosways moved into Schomberg House, Pall Mall, and developed a fashionable salon for London society. Richard was Principal Painter of the Prince of Wales, and Maria served as hostess to artists, members of royalty including the Prince, and politicians including Horace Walpole, Gouverneur Morris and James Boswell. She could speak several languages and had an international circle of friends.

Thomas Jefferson met the Cosways in August 1786 at the Halle aux Bleds in Paris, through a connection with the American artist John Trumbull. According to Trumbull, the entourage “was occupied with the same industry in examining whatever relates to the arts …. Mr. Jefferson joined our party almost daily.” Their excursions included sites such as Versailles, the Louvre, Louis XIV’s retreat Marly, the Palais Royal, St. Germain, and the Column at the Désert de Retz. Jefferson was enchanted by Maria, and her departure from Paris in October 1786 compelled him to write the only existing love letter in the vast collection of his correspondence, “The dialogue between my Head and my Heart,” dated October 12th and 13th, 1786. The bulk of the letter is a dialogue between Jefferson’s calculating reason (for which he is well known) and his spontaneous emotions (for which he is lesser known). The letter gives vent to the sadness in his heart after Cosway’s departure. Jefferson describes his emotional state saying he is “the most wretched of all earthly beings.” His reason responds admonishing him for his attachment. In response his heart defends itself as the guardian of morality and relational solace, in that “assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody.”

Richard and Maria had one child together, Louisa Paolina Angelica, but the couple eventually separated. Maria often travelled on the continent, on one occasion accompanied by Luigi Marchesi, a famous Italian castrato. Marchesi might have been the handsomest castrato of all time and was said to have been adored by the whole female population of Rome. Whether she ever had a relationship with Jefferson is unknown. Though her husband’s extramarital affairs were no secret, Cosway was still a married woman and she was a devout Catholic and is unlikely to  have entered into sexual relationship. The pair did however engage in correspondence. After returning to America in 1789, his letters to her grew less frequent; partly due to the fact that he was increasingly preoccupied by his position as President George Washington’s secretary of state. She, however, continued to write to him and vented her frustration at his growing aloofness. In his last letters, he spoke more of his scientific studies than of his love and desire for her, finally admitting that his love for her had been relegated to fond memories of when their relationship had been “pure.”

Their relationship was fictionalised in ‘Jefferson in Paris‘ a 1995 Franco-American historical drama film, directed by James Ivory, previously entitled Head and Heart. The screenplay, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a semi-fictional account of Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as the Ambassador of the United States to France before his Presidency and of his alleged relationships with British artist Maria Cosway and his slave, Sally Hemings.

Maria Cosway eventually moved to Lodi, Italy, and established a convent school for girls. Cosway and Jefferson wrote one another occasionally, with letters coming first from Cosway. At her home in Lodi, Cosway possessed a portrait of Jefferson by John Trumbull that is now at the White House, presented by the Italian government on the occasion of the 1976 Bicentennial. Her paintings and engravings are held by the British Museum, the New York Public Library and the British Library. Her work was included in recent exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1995–96 and the Tate Britain in 2006.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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