Tag Archives: anti-romance

Anatomy of a Breakup: Søren Kierkegaard & Regine Olsen

“You, my heart’s sovereign mistress (‘Regina’) stored in the deepest recesses of my heart, in my most brimmingly vital thoughts, there where it is equally far to heaven as to hell–unknown divinity!  Oh, can I really believe what the poets say:  that when a man sees the beloved object for the first time he believes he has seen her long before, that all love, as all knowledge, is recollection, that love in the single individual also has its prophecies, its types, its myths, its Old Testament?  Everywhere, in every girl’s face, I see features of your beauty, yet I think I’d need all the girls in the world to extract, as it were, your beauty from theirs, that I’d have to criss-cross the whole world to find the continent I lack yet that which the deepest secret of my whole ‘I’ magnetically points to – and the next moment you are so near me, so present, so richly supplementing my spirit that I am transfigured and feel how good it is to be here…” 2 February , 1839.

Regine Olsen by Emil Bærentzen (1840)

The tormented philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard pursued Regine Olsen for two years before he proposed and ultimately regretted the decision he’d made.  They met in the spring of 1837 while Kierkegaard was still a student.  His liking for her was immediate.  He pursued her as a friend and then a suitor before he confessed his true feelings, which he recounted in his writings about the awkward event nine years later:

“On 8 September I left home with the firm intention of settling the whole thing.  We met on the street just outside their house.  She said there was no one at home.  I was rash enough to take this as the invitation I needed.  I went in with her.  There we stood, the two of us alone in the living room.  She was a little flustered.  I asked her to play something for me as she usually did.  She does so but I don’t manage to say anything. Then I suddenly grab the score, close it not without a certain vehemence, throw it onto the piano and say: Oh! What do I care for music, it’s you I want, I have wanted you for two years.  She kept silent.  As it happens, I had taken no steps to captivate her, I had even warned her against me, against my melancholy.  And when she mentioned a relationship with [Johan Frederik] Schlegel [future husband and former teacher], I said: Let that relationship be a parenthesis for I have first priority…She mostly kept silent.”

Not the stuff made of ladies’ dreams, is it?  Despite his fumbling, Regine agreed to marry Kierkegaard, and they were engaged for almost a year before he sealed his engagement ring in a breakup letter and put it in the post on 11 August, 1841.  Is that today’s equivalent of breaking up via text?  Among a few other lines which aren’t necessary to relate, he wrote: “Above all forget the one who writes this: forgive someone who whatever else he was capable of could not make a girl happy.”

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard, 1840. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard.

Regine was rightfully devastated.  She thought herself in love with a melancholic heart, and the poor girl threatened to commit suicide.  She was so put out that Kierkegaard stopped writing her “I don’t love you anymore” letters (he thought indifference would convince her of his unworthiness) and finally visited her in person on 11 October, 1841…where he said some dick things:

“…I received a letter from him [her father] saying that she had not slept that night, that I must come and see her.  I went and made her see reason.  She asked me: Will you never marry.  I answered: Yes, in ten years time, when I have had my fling, I will need a lusty girl to rejuvenate me.  It was a necessary cruelty.”

Kierkegaard was capable of intellectual romantic excesses and though he broke with Regine because of his depressive nature, his inability to be writer and husband, and what he decided was divine opposition, the complicated man remembered her fondly for the rest of his life.  Upon his death, he wished Regine to have “whatever little I  may leave behind… [his books and author’s rights].  What I want to express in this way is that to me an engagement was and is just as binding as a marriage, and that therefore my estate is her due exactly as if I had been married to her.”  It was later revealed in 1896 that her husband Schlegel refused the inheritance.  Regine is also said to have destroyed her letters to Kierkegaard, so there isn’t much from her point of view, but Kierkegaard, who some biographers say suffered from hypergraphia, later reflected:

“I cannot quite place her impact on me in a purely erotic sense.  It is true that the fact that she yielded almost adoringly to me, pleaded with me to love her, had so touched me that I would have risked everything for her.  But the fact that I always wanted to hide from myself the degree to which she touched me is also evidence of the extent to which I loved her… Had I not been a penitent, had my vita ante acta not been melancholic, marriage to her would have made me happy beyond my dreams.  But even I, being the person I unfortunately am, had to say that without her I could be happier in my unhappiness than with her – she had touched me deeply, and I would so much, ever so much, have done everything.”  24 August, 1849

You can read more about Kierkegaard’s writing on Regine in Papers and Journals: A Selection. I also did a series of posts a while back on Napoleon’s letters (Achy Breaky Heart part one or part two) to Josephine if you find yourself in an epistolary reading mood.

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Lady Caro Crops Her Hair

The worst I can say about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she suffered from erotomania.  This is the medical euphemism for saying she was sexually, intellectually, and psychically besotted with Lord Byron to a degree that made him squirm in his trousers.

Lady Caroline Lamb – Thomas Phillips

Their short affair lasted from March to August of 1812 and made an indelible impression on his poetry.  A number are direct rejoinders to Caro’s immoderate behavior.  (*Sigh* All the years I spent at university learning about Romantic poets and never once encountered Byron’s “Remember Thee”.  The poem was a stab at his ex-lover when, in a fit of desperation, she descended upon his household and scribbled in the flyleaf of one of his books “Remember thee!”)

 Lord Byron – Thomas Phillips

For the man she had initially spurned as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caro had it bad.  She is credited with being the first celebrity stalker, running her sprightly self around London trying to enflame Byron by Any Means Necessary.  She even impersonated Byron in writing, requesting his favorite miniature portrait of himself from his publishers.

Mimicry was nothing new for Caro.  As Lady Morgan recounts in her memoirs, Caro’s childhood at the Duchess of Devonshire’s household:

Caro’s unconventional education was her solace amid the madness of the aristocracy.  Her perspective turned her into a novelist and poet, and to Byron’s annoyance, a damn good copyist.  He criticized her for modeling the great originals in her work, lamenting over her ability to capture voice—especially his own.

Although history relegates her to the archives of the sexually diseased, she was witty and singular.  Her work and legacy deserve a closer look.  Dickens called her “One of the most interesting stories of fashionable life . . . [a] really clever woman—a heroine in a way. . .”  Byron recognized her eccentricity saying, “I do not at all know how to deal with her, because she is unlike everyone else.” (BLJ 2:222)

Lady Caroline Lamb – Sir Thomas Lawrence (1805)

Caro’s reputation, through much her own fault, was defamed by her peers.  In a letter of November 1824 written to Captain Thomas Medwin, Byron’s biographer and close friend, she imparts her version of a salacious tale following their breakup:

“. . . unhappily, we continued occasionally to meet. Lord Byron liked others, I only him–The scene at Lady Heathcote’s is nearly true–he had made me swear I was never to Waltz. Lady Heathcote said, Come, Lady Caroline, you must begin, & I bitterly answered–oh yes! I am in a merry humour. I did so–but whispered to Lord Byron ‘I conclude I may waltz _now_’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn–you always did it better than any one.  I shall have a pleasure in seeing you.”–I did so you may judge with what feelings.  After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared; Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after; seeing me, he said, ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped a knife, not intending anything. ‘Do, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if you mean to act a Roman’s part, mind which way you strike with your knife–be it at your own heart, not mine–you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron,’ I said, and ran away with the knife. I never stabbed myself. It is false.”

Take the tale out of context and Caro does seem crazy, but if we are to trust her word, Byron taunted her nearly as much as she harassed him.  They were that broken couple, terrible together, terrible apart.

It didn’t help that Caro refused to shrug off her individuality.  Her inability to comport like other ladies made the ton jittery and even estranged her friends.  She possessed an artful way of living but was artless, by her own account “not a woman of the world.”

Physical and emotional hardships persisted throughout her life.  At age 19, she married William Lamb for love.  By 26, she’d lost a daughter and tried to raise her mentally handicapped son.  She’d turned from her former piety, aped the ton’s moral ambiguities, and taken Byron as a lover.  She was a woman like no other, cropping her hair when hair, no matter how tightly wound upon the head during the day, was long and heavy against the neck at night.  As she said about herself once:

“…everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” *

Further Information:

Ban and Mary: A Lover’s Wager

For a fellow who had earned the nickname “Bloody Ban”, Banastre Tarleton was quite the ladies’ man.  Although not a large man, his compelling physical presence belied his short stature.  He was strong and athletic with reddish hair and dark eyes.  It was his arrogant charm, however, that tantalized the ladies as much as (if not more than) his handsome features and his heroism.

Mary Robinson as Perdita, John Hoppner, 1782

One of the most desirable women in England at the time, the actress Mary Robinson, better known as Perdita, met him through the Prince Regent.  Upon his return to England, Tarleton was hailed as a hero, an honor which granted him membership into Prinny’s exclusive set.  Mary Robinson had been one of Prinny’s many mistresses and had lately found a new protector in Lord Malden.  Much like Tarleton, Malden was convinced of his sexual prowess.  He bet that Mary would remain faithful to him even if Tarleton attempted to woo her away from him.  An account of the bet in the salacious Memoirs of Perdita claimed Tarleton “would not only win her from Malden, but also jilt her.”

Nice guy.

Ever the gambling man, Tarleton’s wager was well placed.  Several weeks after the planned seduction, Mary was in Tarleton’s bed and Lord Malden was astonished.  Up until this point, the three had been a mischievous trio, amusing themselves by playing tricks on Mary’s admirers and would-be suitors.  Now they had a fracture.

Ban in his green coat uniform

Mary was furious when she discovered herself the victim of their scheme.  As his hubris had made him a grand fool, Lord Malden relinquished his role as Mary’s protector, though he did settle upon her an annuity and also a house in Berkley Square.  Tarleton, never truly ruffled by anything, weathered the storm.  He was at Mary’s side in June when she suffered a traffic accident in Hyde Park and this dilligence in attending to her awarded him her forgiveness.

Although their passionate affair evolved into one of increasing strife and reconciliation, Tarleton remained Mary’s lover for 15 years.  They were the celebrity couple of their time.  Wherever they went—to balls, operas, political gatherings—people whispered.

Considered the most fashionably dressed in any room, the young couple made a beautiful pair and the papers loved them for it.  The war hero and actress were fodder for the insatiable public, appearing in the papers with as much frequency as celebrities in today’s supermarket newsrags.  James Gillray, a fledgling cartoonist at the time, published his scathing cartoon, “The Thunderer” (subtitled “Vide; Every Man in his Humour, alter’d from Ben Johnson”) in 1792.

The featherhead is none other than the Prince Regent (the triple feather was his father’s emblem).  Tarleton (with a noticeably large package in his breeches) is regaling Prinny with tales of war.  Mary is the whirligig above the door with a sign reading “A la mode beef, hot every night.”  Every man, we are to assume, gets to have a go at her.  The dialogue reads as follows:

Throughout his relationship with Mary, Tarleton was criticized for keeping around a loose woman who was nothing but a hindrance to him.  His family keenly disapproved, in part because while around Mary, he could not seem to live within his means.  From the previous post, we know this problem predates Mary, but perhaps they thought Mary a bad egg, worsening Tarleton’s profligacy through influence.  They would not be the first family to do so.

Tarleton’s lavish lifestyle with Mary eventually caught up with.  In 1783 his family offered to pay his most pressing debts, a total of £5,000, if he would leave for the continent without his lover.  In desperation, Mary borrowed to prevent this eventuality and chased after him.  She suffered a miscarriage on her journey and, as her biographer Paula Byrne has speculated, experienced partial paralysis of her lower limbs, possibly at the hands of a malpracticing midwife.  Tarleton was greatly aggrieved to hear the news and the couple swiftly reunited in France.

Mrs Mary Robinson – Perdita by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781

Mary’s condition seems to be of no impediment to their relationship.  Although they were on occassion known to be unfaithful, they lived together for many years after her health problems commenced and became known as “the wandering couple”, a reference to their travels while under pressure of debts.

Regarding one affair of signifcance, Tarleton simply shrugged off Mary’s liason with Charles James Fox, saying, “I shall ever applaud the Perdita for being the most generous woman on earth.”  Mary was not so equanimous when Tarleton diddled with another lady.  From the late 1780s, she was known to write poetry and novels portraying Tarleton as a villain and whatnot.

The details of their eventual breakup are not known, but we do know that Tarleton had political ambitions.  He first ran for parliament in 1784, but he didn’t win a seat until 1790.

Over the years, Mary, plagued by her condition, evolved into an independent woman of letters.  Her peers called her “The English Sappho”.  She wrote prolifically, producing numerous poems, six novels, two plays, and a feminist treaty a la A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Wollstonecraft.  She was also working on her unfinished memoirs.

Her liberal, feminist leanings did no favors for Tarleton’s political career.  Compared to his Tory brother (whom he actually ran against once), Tarleton did vote for parliamentary opposition as a Whig, but he was also well known for his support of the slave trade.  One can see how this would not go over well with Mary.

Contemplation, Mrs. Mary Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1783-1784 (Wallace Collection)

The couple eventually parted ways in 1797.  Mary was left with thousands of pounds of debt, presumably shared, but her relationship with Tarleton had been costly.  When he first ran for MP in 1784, creditors found the couple, living again in England, and took possession of a large majority of Mary’s property.

Tarleton, although a war hero and the author of the successful History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, had very little to live on, essentially half military pay of £341.  Mary also earned  income off her novels, but the numbers were dismal.  Over her writing career, she earned approxiately £460.  Given her and Tarleton’s financial disappointments, perhaps the same woman who published the poem Sappho and Phaon in 1796, a markedly different poem than her “Ode to Valour“, had reason to be bitter.

A year after their final breakup, Tarleton married Susan Priscilla Bertie, the illegitimate daughter of the 4th and last Duke of Ancaster.  They were married for 35 years, but had no children.

After  years of poor health, Mary died in 1800, but in an interesting twist of fates, Susan Tarleton befriended Mary’s only daughter, Mary Elizabeth Robinson.  When Mary Elizabeth, a novelist herself, published the anthology The Wild Wreath in 1804, the engravings were based on drawings of “Mrs. B. Tarleton”.  Their friendship is not entirely surpising given that Mary Elizabeth was raised around Tarleton.  Since she likely had an enduring connection to the  man who was father to her for over 15 years, it was even to be expected.

For more about Mary Robinson and Banastre Tarleton:

My previous post: Handsome Devil’s and their Deeds: Banastre Tarleton

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide: Tart of the Week: Mary “Perdita” Robinson

Perdita, a biography by Paula Byrne

Mary Robinson’s bio and links to her works from the University of Pennsylvania’s Celebration of Women Writers

Mary Robinson: A Life Lived Extraordinarily (Jane Austen Centre) 

A short article on Sappho and Phaon from The Guardian

The First Actresses Exhibition: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons

All for Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson by Amanda Elyot (a novel)

The Prince’s Mistress: Perdita, a life of Mary Robinson by Hester Davenport

For the numbers on Ban and Mary’s pay scale see, Mary Robinson: Select Poems, edited By Judith Pascoe

Divorce and The French Revolution

Le Divorce by Le Sueur

 On September 20, 1792, the Legislative Assembly of the French Republic legalized divorce.  This was a first in the country’s history.  Under the Ancien Regime, the unshackling of partners was unthinkable–a move that would potentially crumble the foundation on which the First and Second Estates derived their power.

 In his Traité du contract de mariage of 1771, the French jurist Robert-Joseph Pothier wrote :

Gross adultery on the wife’s behalf and instances of extreme spousal abuse counted as rare exceptions for separation when annulment no longer remained a possibility.  In essence, marriages were immediately consummated for a reason and unless the petitioner produced testimony that might invalidate the original grounds for marriage, the couple was married until death do they part.

In cases where the law permited separation of any sort, two basic resolutions were recognized: séparation de corps et d’habitation, essentially of person/body and domicile, and less seldom, séparation de biens, or of financial accounts.  Consequently, an attitude of keeping families in their conjoined states prevailed.  As an additional argument against divorce, all children birthed during the marriage were rendered illegitimate upon the conclusion of formal legal proceedings.  Given the need for heirs, one can easily see how this could prove problematic.

Although the Enlightenment initially sparked the divorce debate, it was the French Revolution that succeeeded in secularizing family life.  Public institutions sought to invade the very private sentiments of individuals and turn them outward in service of the state.  In the first gasping breaths of the nineteenth century, a backlash developed against this transparency of state and individual, but for 24 years, marriage was viewed as a covenant which could be broken as all secular affairs could be torn down and if desired, rebuilt.  This resulted in 30,000 divorces between 1792 and 1803, the years when the divorce laws remained the most liberal.

The Morning after Marriage by James Gillray

In the centuries following the years wherein the divorce law of 1792 was active, married women and men were refused comparable rights to divorce until as late as 1975.  1884 saw the return of divorce in France, however limited.

Given its time, the law of 1792 was shockingly encompassing.  It allowed seven instances where legal proceedings were warranted:

  • “Insanity;
  • Conviction for crimes entailing corporal punishment or loss of civils rights;
  • Crimes, brutality, or grave injury inflicted by one partner on the other;
  • Notorious dissoluteness of morals;
  • Abandonment for at least two years;
  • Absence without news for at least five years; and,
  • Emigration (when taken as a sign of counterrevolutionary intentions.” 1

Note the oldest reason for marital dissolution–adultery–is nowhere to be found.

Increasingly, as the idealism of the French Revolution waned, restrictions were placed on the grounds warranting a divorce.  The Napoleonic Civil Code modified accessibilty to divorce, making it more difficult for a wife to leave her husband, as during the 1792 law, men and women enjoyed equal freedom to seek their happiness outside of marriage.  Instead of relying on grievances, Napoleon’s code initially proposed mutual incompatibility (later discarded) and/or mutual consent.  Smacks of his experience with Josephine, doesn’t it?  The formal reasons for divorce  written in the final code were: “adultery, infamous punishment of spouse, outrageous conduct, ill-usage, or grievous injury.”

If the history of divorce law during the French Revolution and/or the social circumstances warranting divorce interest you, there is a good wealth of literature out there, particularly in regard to a wife’s grievances.  Do see:

Works Cited for the Seven Grounds for Divorce

1  Aries, Philippe, and Georges Duby. “The Unstable Boundaries of the French Revolution.” A History of Private Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1990. Print.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Milan, 27 November, 1796

Earlier this week I left you with Napoleon in Verona, depressed and a trifle desperate.  Today, he’s looking a little like this:

The Emperor Napoleon I by Vernet (*see note below if the fancy strikes you)

Josephine’s cavorting with Hippolyte Charles who incidentally does not have the makings of a weak chin.  I’m told this helps in the romance department.

To say the least, Monsieur Bonaparte is suspicious of his lady wife.  He’s gone from realizing his general awesomeness to seeing cracks reflected in his veneer.  And you see, it’s all Josephine’s fault.

The General Napoleon by Andrea Appiani

Our little bit of muslin is just too wonderful in her own right to pay attention to her new husband who, in addition to being short, is apparently “impecunious” and “irrepressible”.  Touché, darling.

Josephine Bonaparte de Beauharnais by Andrea Appiani, 1796

Years later on 19 December, 1805, Napoleon writes to her, “. . . I am still in Brüun.  The Russians have gone.  I have made a truce.  In a few days I shall see what I am going to be.   Deign, from the height of your grandeur, to trouble yourself a little about your slaves.”

On this day, however, this is what he has to say:

 (click to enlarge)

P.S.

*As a complete side note, the upside of the sad-faced painting by Vernet is that it comes in a melamine plate offered by the National Portrait Gallery.  It was also mentioned in December’s Oprah magainze, if that’s your thing.  The downside: it’s £12, double the price of the other melamine face plates.  But I suppose he was an Emperor and as such large and in charge so he has to have the biggest sized plate of the bunch.

Also

You’re going to have to forgive me about the ongoing post name in this series.  For some reason I had Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart in my head which is odd because a) not a fan of Billy Ray; and b) I hardly like country.  Hauntings of country songs past, I guess, but attributing Napoleon’s letters to Josephine a result of his achy, breaky heart has cured me of my problem.  Hopefully, I have not passed it on to all of you.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Verona, 13 November, 1796

Eight months prior to Napoleon’s beseeching and, by turns,  chastising letter from Verona, Marie Rose Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, a thirty three year-old widow from Martinique, marries the then twenty seven year-old officer of the French Army.

The marriage is not a love match per se, but one marked by passion and enmity in equal measure.  Later they will share the affection of old friends, but on this November day Napoleon suffers beneath the rumors of Josephine’s affair with Hippolyte Charles, a handsome lieutenant in the Hussar regiment.

(click image to enlarge)

Problem is, the pre-Emperor Napoleon is intensely smitten with his sophisticated and vivacious wife.  “As for me,” he says, “to love you alone, to make you happy, to do nothing which would contradict your wishes, this is my destiny and the meaning of my life.”  His burning fire for all things Josephine, however, earns him much despair during the early years of their marriage.  He writes her letters of which she rarely answers.  He agonizes and pleads for the proof of her ardor and turns furious when he doesn’t receive it.  In many ways he is as fickle a lover as she.

Paranoid and oppressive, his romantic intensity later results in his own affairs, but throughout his life, he does exhibit a rare devotion to her that can never be felled by the chaos surrounding them.  Even after their divorce and his subsequent remarriage to the Grand Duchess Marie Louise of Austria, he writes her letters and shows concern for her well-being.  He even goes to his death with her name on his lips:  “France! . . . Armée! . . . Tête d’armée ! . . . Josephine!”