Friday, August 21, 2015
The late Countess of Snowdon would have been 85 today, and really I rather wish she were.
She didn't have the happiest of lives, and certainly her last few years were grim out of all proportion to anything one might have expected even as a result of her long and heedless exploration of ways to harm the body. Once upon a time, though (and what phrase could be more apropos for a real-life Princess?), things were very different...
A legend I once worked for observed, when her name came up, "Oh, she can be a very naughty girl, but catch her at the right moment and she's more fun than anybody." Since this some was someone who indeed knew anybody who was anybody, that was saying something.
One thing that fascinates me about pictures of Princess Margaret is how she had such completely different public and private faces. If you look at her sister, one sees a single person, whole, one as likely to grimace on the dais at the Olympics as she is to smile broadly at a child offering her a flower as she pases. Margaret, by contrast (although she had her share of public moods and was feared in some quarters for her volatility - she could indeed be a very naughty girl) kept her most intriguing expressions private; blandly regal in the glare of publicity, she let down her guard and became both simpler and more sophisticated when offstage. Here she cooly regards the camera as she might a suitor, cautious but intrigued.
One wonders, in a couple of decades, if today's sparest of heiresses, now dreaming as heedlessly as her great-great-aunt once did in an ancestral crib, will have a life anything like hers. Princess Charlotte is of course growing up in a wholly different world: her predecessor was an Emperor's daughter, raised at the diktats and to the high standards of not only her formidable mother but her peerlessly hieratic grandmother, Queen Mary. The young Cambridge princess is more likely to receive a practical education, for one thing, and far less likely to be held to standards of propriety more appropriate to the Victorian than to the future Wilhelmine era. One wishes her the best - and perhaps just a touch of her forebear's personal élan...