On Feckless Aristocrats
I spent all yesterday evening reading the stories of Babar and Saint Exupery’s Le Petit Prince. I’d forgotten how beautiful they were. I scoured YT for my favourite Babar episode which one can watch here:- Part 1 & Part 2. Then, entranced in all that nostalgia, something struck me. It was an acute realisation of enormous significance.
There are three words that I love so much to the point of obsession; comrade, illusion and saudade. I was mired with patchy memories of friends gone, feelings I would never again know, people I would never meet and opportunities lost. Such is the time that had passed. And then I am left alone.
That is where my thoughts on the failure of an untitled aristocracy, and the fact that I am woman-less (but not loveless), come in. Today, after a polo match, I was interviewed. I saw a preview and this is how someone described me. :- ‘Rich, good looking, intelligent, cunning, dishonest, conceited, a drunk and probably psychotic.’ I suspect it was my second-cousin’s mother. I’ve always been viewed as an upstart. A distant (Fitz) relative shooting above his station.
My late grand-mama was intensely disliked she was able to create so much from the pittance my great-grand-mama left her. But now this hate has been transferred to me. I was refused entry into Maxim’s not long ago because the de Crussol d’Uzès were entertaining there. Neuilly residents think it funny that I do not care much for ‘my people.’ It’s a tiny bit arrogant of people to go around worrying about those less fortunate, don’t you think? And the French aristocracy do not seem to see harm in what excessive candour can do. This dehumanising artifice comes from the fact that to most French women I know, men are either are dates, date substitutes, or potential dates.
Then recently there’s been this talk about social mobility in an age of French austerity. Hollande is spouting so much rhetoric about this, with the focus usually on the comparative ease of moving upwards. What’s less discussed is how easy it is to go down. I think that’s the direction that we’re all heading in. And I think that the downward fall is going to be very fast – not just for us as individuals – but for the entire French aristocratic class.
All one has to do is take a good look around. Take those of our fathers who grew up well off. Maybe their careers started out very well, but just as their contemporaries really began to accomplish things, they started to quit, gradually spending more and more time on something more interesting – conservation or the arts; for even if they were total failures no one would know it.
I was sixteen when I knew I’d be a failure – maybe that’s why I’d like to marry an extremely rich woman. Am I doomed? Haha, sorry for writing something so depressing and over-stated. But maybe, when you look at world and the untitled aristocrats and the upper-classes, maybe it wouldn’t be such a great tragedy if some of us lost our class prerogatives. Melodramatic? Maybe. But life is melodramatic if you look at the whole sweep of it. I think my grand-mother considered herself a failure, and my father as well.
The thing is, very few people’s lives ever match their own expectations and they keep on dreaming.
When I was at boarding school we used to go to these dinners in London and Paris during the Christmas vacation. You’d go to a party, meet a group of people and feel that ‘these people are going to be my friends for the rest of my life.’ Then you’d never see them again. I always used to wonder where they went. But now I see them everywhere. In trains, at the Hurlingham, at Soho House, Claridge’s, in Covent Garden, in Lyon, Paris, NY, Tokyo – hell even in Cadiz and Bienos Aires.
Generally speaking I don’t want to say that people from my ‘background’ are doomed to failure. No, in my generation, we fail without being doomed. It’s not about destitution. We’re rich, intelligent, we can support ourselves and others. No, it’s just that our lives just seem so very mediocre, or unimpressive to use another term. I nowadays hate talking about things that I liked, that I had a passion for. My contemporaries, old school and university friends are releasing albums and films, writing articles, changing the world, and have their art in galleries. I have nothing to show. I see them on the BBC or MSNBC, I read about them in Tatler and Vanity Fair, I recognise their names online.
An energetic self-confident achiever, free of the illusions of an artificial aristocracy is the one who will succeed.
I am neither of these. When you think to yourself, and most of our waking life is taken up thinking to ourselves, you must have that feeling that your thoughts aren’t entirely wasted, that in some sense they are being heard. Rationally, they aren’t. You’re entirely alone. Even the people to whom we are closest can have no real idea of what is going on in our minds. It is this loneliness that devastated my grand-mama and now me.
We are the urban-haute-bourgeoise. Egotism, aesthetics and self-interest are our motivations. We ascribe to life as bon vivants. We are failures. I hope this makes sense. If not…c’est la vie.