Saturday, May 19, 2012

King-Hall, The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-1765


Opening Passage: Strictly speaking, the opening passage is in the fictional Editor's Foreword by Alexander Blacker Kerr, but, really, one has to consider Cleone Knox's first entry as the true opening passage of the book.

March 3rd.
This morning had a vastly unpleasant interview with my Father. Last night, Mr. Ancaster, who is the indiscreetest young man alive, was seized suddenly while riding home along the shore with the desire to say good night to me. He climbed the wall, the postern gate being locked at that late hour, and had the Boldness to attempt to climb the ivy below my window; while but half way up the Poor Impudent young man fell. (If he hadn't Lord knows what would have happened for I am terribly catched by the Handsome Wretch.) As ill luck would have it Papa and Ned, who were conversing in the library, looked out at that moment and saw him lying Prostrate on the ground!

Summary: This inauspicious attempt of Mr. David Ancaster, of the wild, dark-haired Ancasters, to kiss a young woman good night leads to Cleone Knox's being whisked away on a Grand Tour of the Continent; her wealthy father seems to think that this will broaden her mind and lead her to recognize that she has more respectable options than an Imprudent Ancaster with Wicked Eyes. The story is in a sense about the romance of Cleone and Mr. Ancaster, but it's handled with extraordinary subtlety: Mr. Ancaster is simply not there for most of the novel, and in an odd way it's by his absence rather than his presence that the romance is mostly carried out. But the real interest in the book, of course, is simply a young woman of dry wit commenting on the Europe of her day.

Favorite Passage:

January 9th.
Mme. Pochon had the complaisance to escort us to Ferney to pay our homages to the illustrious philosopher, Monsieur de Voltaire. The great man received us in a chintz dressing-gown, with a flow of brilliant wit. Sometimes affable, more often peevish. To tell truth, he reminded me of nothing so much as a chattering old magpie. But we listened silent, with that Respect which is due to Genius, however Wearisome it may be.

Recommendation: Comic light reading, highly recommended.

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