Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Thoughts on Times Past
Were you born in the wrong century? It’s a question I gave a little thought to recently. I was born in the twentieth century, in 1986, to be exact, and I'm now on the threshold of my quarter century! I shall be glad to be twenty-five, so I’m glad to be born when I was, possibly at exactly the right moment in history.
If I had been born significantly earlier I would most likely have been denied the opportunities that women have now. If I had been born, say, in Jane Austen’s England, no matter how wealthy and privileged, my life would been spent in speculations about marriage and romance, thoughts about Darcy or Knightly!
To be born now, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, so far as I can see, is to face a wholly uncertain future, arguably a little like those born in the Roman Empire in the late fourth century AD, a time of classical senescence, the Barbarians gathering on the border.
So, yes, the 1980s was the best time in the best century, the best of all possible worlds, a slightly odd statement considering how violent it was, how violent its history. Time and circumstances are always the thing; my time was good and my circumstances better. Others have been far less fortunate.
Still, in answering the question, I did alight on an earlier period when to be young and alive would have been very heaven – the 1920s, Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age. I see myself as a flapper attending Gatsby’s parties on West Egg! Or, out of the confines of fiction, as a habitué of the cabarets of Paris or Berlin.
Berlin now is something of a sad ghost, a place full of decaying memories, but that brief interval between the Great Inflation and the Great Depression seems magical to me, the place and the time to be by alive, young and wealthy. I can just picture myself – there, see, staying in a suite in the Hotel Adlon!
The other period I have in mind is England of the Restoration. I would, of course, have to be a great courtesan during the reign of Charles II, my favourite English king, perfectly imperfect in every way. Yes, that’s it, very much in the image of Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine and duchess of Cleveland, a personal heroine of mine, an individual who might very well be said to have put fatale in femme.
Like Charles’ other mistresses she owed her position to her, ahem, personal charms, but she knew how to build on something that is subject to time’s short lease, and, oh my, how she built. She was, as I once wrote, the Enchantress, a woman who, second only to the king, set the tone of the early Restoration monarchy, an image of venality, bedchamber politics and sexual licence that persists even so far as today. In other words, she put the Merry in the Monarch!
Hmm, come to think of it, I might have done just as well as Valeria Messalina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius, though I would have been Messalina with brains, a fatal combination. :-)