Growing: Seven Years in Ceylon by Leonard Woolf

Growing: Seven Years in Ceylon by Leonard Woolf

Author:Leonard Woolf [Leonard Woolf]
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781780600291
Publisher: Perseus Books, LLC
Published: 2015-12-19T05:00:00+00:00

On Thursday in ordinary day-clothes I went up to the Pavilion. The whole business seemed to me absurd, for the ceremonial was exactly what I imagine it would have been if the old lady, Eugénie-Marie de Montijo de Guzman, Comtesse de Téba, had still been the wife of Napoleon III and Impératrice des Français. The fact that she had ceased to be Empress of the French thirty-seven years ago appeared to make no difference to the etiquette of her Court in King’s Pavilion, Kandy. It seemed to me not inappropriate that the old lady in her make-believe Court should be, under a misapprehension, entertaining a young very pseudo-Government Agent. I was met by Count Clary with immense politeness and conducted by him into one of the smaller rooms – all rooms in King’s Pavilion are very large – where once more I was introduced to the other three members of the retinue. After five minutes’ fluent conversation one of the ladies-in-waiting left the room and returned immediately saying that the Empress would receive me. I was then led off by her and Count Clary to the enormous central room. Here a large square had been walled off, as it were, by screens and inside it a kind of throne room arranged with chairs and sofas. At the far end Her Majesty sat as upon a throne in solitary state. I felt vaguely that I ought to bow and kiss her hand, but that was beyond me, and instead we shook hands. A chair was put in front of her and I was invited to sit on it, while Clary and the lady-in-waiting stood on each side of the Empress. After a few minutes she rose and we moved in slow procession into another room where tea and the other gentleman- and lady-in-waiting awaited us.

We all sat round the table and the Empress talked or asked me questions. If you look her up in Petit Larousse, that monument of lexicography, all you are told about her is: ‘Célèbre par sa beauté, elle eut une grande influence sur l’empereur, qu’elle poussa à défendre les intérêts catholiques dans le monde.’ Most women who have been so beautiful that their beauty (and often little else) is recorded in dictionaries and encyclopaedias – indeed also women of great beauty who have never been sufficiently famous or infamous to have their names recorded in Petit Larousse, when they are old or very old, retain in the shape of face or features or in the expression something from which you can see how beautiful they must have been. This was not true of the Empress Eugénie. In 1908 her face to me seemed positively ugly. Other accounts by people who knew her well do not agree with this; for instance, Ethel Smyth wrote of the Empress in Impressions That Remained: Memoirs of Ethel Smyth

I remember saying to the Duchesse de Mouchy that it was hard to believe that she could ever have been more beautiful than now,


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