Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Modestly Offered As Proof that Eccentric Behavior Is Not Limited To The British Aristocracy

Despite what you may have seen and heard at Speaker's Corner, Hyde Park, London

"The Astor Orphan" by Alexandra Aldrich   Harper Collins   257 pages   $24.99

The term "Astor Orphan" is somewhat misleading because neither of her parents were dead..  Her father was just insanely stubborn about keeping the 43-room mansion, Rokeby, in his family's ownership.  As a result Aldrich's family lived in three rooms in the servants' quarters; outbuildings were rented to bohemians (precursor to flower children?) and the grandmother (an alcoholic fond of throwing dinner parties) lived in splendor downstairs. 

Her mother was from Poland, an artist who nagged her father, the estate's repairman, farm worker, engineer and repair man.  Consequently he wore old clothes and rarely bathed, to his wife's disgust.   None of which apparently bothered his French mistress whom he brought for dinner into the family house. 

There were frequent social evenings, musicales and pageants thrown by the whimsical and "unstructured" people who lived in the various outbuildings.  The old creamery was their ballroom. 

As a result, Aldrich writes that she longed to live a respectable and disciplined life where the mother was one and not the rather frosty, self-absorbed artist and the father had a job and went to an office.

She laments that she had no choice but to become a bohemian, saying, "We didn't live by rules that coincided in any way with those of the outside world.  We never had a dinnertime or matching dinnerware.  I had no set bedtime.  I did not own pajamas or a nightgown."

The book ends when she "escapes" and goes to boarding school.  Thus I have no idea how many years of therapy were then required.

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