New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day?

. Another New Year Fancy Dress Ball

Mosaic by GB Stern

published 1930

Mosaic New Year

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…

Mosaic New Year 2


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:

Mosaic New Year 3

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.'
'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.


  1. Happy New Year, Moira! This book sounds like such an interesting look at a span of time (a 40-year feud!). And oh, the elegance of that New Year's Ball! That in itself is an appeal. Wishing you and those you love all the best for 2018.

    1. Thanks Margot, and again Happy New Year to you.
      This book gave me enormous pleasure - I hope we both find only great books in 2018!

  2. Happy New Year, Moira! I like your new blog design and layout.

    1. Hello Prashant, lovely to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words about the blog, and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

  3. Here's wishing you a wonderful 2018! Over here we are all all wishing for a New Year that will be an improvement over the absurdities and infamy of 2017.

    1. Indeed - and same wishes right backatcha.. Happy New Year John.

  4. Replies
    1. Happy New Year to you and yours, Jose Ignacio.

  5. GB Stern....nah, but I'll soon be reading a GB Williams - contemporary crime. Have a great 2018!

    1. Practically the same thing Col! Happy New Year to you and yours, and all best wishes for 2018.

  6. Happy New Year, Moira! I wish you much wonderful reading in the year ahead.

    1. And the same to you Chrissie, let's hope 2018 is a good one. Happy New Year to you and yours.


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