…. Another New Year Fancy Dress Ball
Mosaic by GB Stern
Max and Felix and Louis Rakonitz decided to give a grand ball for the New Year’s Eve of 1887, which was to be an especially gay year because of the Jubilee. It was never settled afterwards whether or not the ball were given for Berthe, in her honour. Berthe at 60 still boasted that it was, and told Val, moreover that it took place at the Albert Hall. Actually the ball happened in the Marlborough Rooms.
Berthe made an impressive arrival with Konrad. Standing proudly in the draped doorway, she at once looked round for the Marquis, but he had not yet arrived. Her dark eyes were glowing. She was wearing a fine dress of rich burgundy red velvet all her rubies and pearls and diamonds, of which by this time she had amassed a quantity from her husband…
A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL BLOG READERS
Yet another entry from this marvellous book, part of the Rakonitz Chronicles: this is the early days of the wonderfully monstrous Berthe, and is part of her feud with Elsa, which will last 40 years. The problem is the Marquis. Berthe is a respectably married woman, but likes her followers: the Marquis is her ardent admirer, and is coming specially from Paris for the Ball. Unfortunately, there is a ‘misunderstanding’ over what constitutes a New Year’s Ball, and he turns up the next day, for New Year’s Evening.
And Berthe is convinced that ‘Elsa had on purpose worded the invitation ambiguously; that Elsa had grudged her the possession of such a noble, beautiful, distinguished, corybantic Marquis from Paris.’ [corybantic means frenzied, agitated. Yes of course I had to look it up.]
Elsa had ‘scored heavily.. at a fancy-dress ball the week before in a directoire riding-costume’ – this was the closest I could get, not for riding of course, but it is a directoire lady:
And both Elsa and her rival, and her sister Letti, all take for granted that this was an excellent costume because Elsa was pregnant at the time. The younger generation, hearing this story 40 years later,
‘did not quite see. The dress seemed unsuitable.'But:
'it made her more seduisante pour les messieurs, vois-tu?’As ever, the young people are shocked by their elders’ indelicacy.
Berthe is wearing jewels from the fabled mines – so good for the family at the moment, but there is trouble ahead…
I am, always, endlessly grateful to Hilary McKay (someone else who writes so well about families) for telling me about these books. I cannot say how much I love them: they are so funny, and so real, and combine being sharp and cynical with having a good heart at their centre. And of course endless great clothes descriptions.
There are multiple earlier entries on the first two books, The Matriarch and A Deputy was King, and now on Mosaic, most recently last week’s splendid description of Christmas in Paris – romantic for some, annoying for others.
The top picture shows Fancy Dress Ball in the Palace of Yelena Kochubei in Honour of Emperor Alexander II in 1865. Picture, by Mihaly Zichy, is from the Athenaeum.
The lady in velvet is by Joszef Borsos, same source.
The Directoire woman in white silk is by Charles Sprague Pearce, also Athenaeum.