Please pardon my intrusion upon your discussion, but Hautefontaine becomes so lonely when my Maman is away… I thought it would not be unfitting if I sought diversion here. . Our country is called France, but it is not the France you know: it is another France, far distant, bordering Amazonia, and our customs are said to be very strange — I have heard it whispered that Westerners would consider us immoral. I don’t know why… everything here seems perfectly in tune with the Golden Order to me. I know that France is the best and most delightful of all places in the world, and Hautefontaine is the dearest of all chateaux, and I am a lucky maid indeed to be situated as I am.

I should not like you to think that I am anything but the most proper of blondes, so I shall be on my very best behaviour here, as if I were invited into the secret cabinets of our dear blonde Queen, Marie-Antoinette! It is not such a stretch to imagine that, for I was presented at Versailles when I was not quite fourteen, and fresh from a year at school in the West. I have sat amongst Her Majesty’s ladies several times, as we nibbled Turkish Delight and told each other’s fortunes, and spied on the new court artists from behind our fans! The last time, Marie-France slipped in and snatched my fan, and refused to give it back until I promised to ride with the Royal Hunt the very next morning! She really is the most incorrigible of brunettes, but a lot may be forgiven a Dauphine!Oh! I have not introduced myself, have I? Very well: I am, by the grace of Dea, Marie-Marguerite Celeste Emma de Saint-Vire, Marquise de Gothia. My Maman is Nathalie Ghislaine Electra de Saint-Vire, Marquise de Saint-Vire, Comtesse de Roquejardin, Comtesse de Gothia, and Generelle de Saint-Vire. Yes, ‘Generelle’, for in addition to the titles settled upon her, she is a great military commandress, and wears the most lovely blue and gold uniforms. She’s my brunette Maman; my own darling blonde Maman passed on some years ago… she was an Englishwoman; Lady Emma Hamilton, and it is after her, in part, that I am named. Marie-Marguerite is for my grandmere, the Duchesse de Gothia, head of our family even though she has passed many of her duties and titles to my Maman. But in deference to those two ladies, I am called by the least distinguished of my names: Celeste. You may address me as Mademoiselle de Saint-Vire, or de Gothia, or Mademoiselle la Marquise, as we say. Perhaps when we know each other a little better, we may use first names.

Haven’t I a very large name? I’m sad to say it goes with being a very large blonde… don’t mistake: my waist is as neat as Her Majesty’s, but I am as tall as a beanpole, and even my Maman can barely look over my head! I’m seventeen years old now, and I still seem to be shooting upwards, as if, Marie-France says, my hair is trying to reunite with the sun that once kissed it.

At least, that is almost what she said… I am not as adept at translating from French to Westrenne as my Maman is, bas bleu though I am. My language may sometimes seem clumsy to you. I hope you won’t mind. I should like very much to be liked here, for the company of my ladies, while always soothing, isn’t always scintillating. They do not read as I do — I don’t imagine many brunettes do either, for, you see, I was reared by a Generelle who is also a scholar, and my earliest memories are of her reading aloud to my blonde Maman and me. Books are just as beautiful to me as satin slippers, and given my choice, I should go without slippers to have a new book to dizzy myself with.

While my tutors never forgot my blondeness, they educated me almost as they would a brunette — in deportment and music and drawing, to be sure, but also in history and literature and geography and languages. I speak, read, and write, French, Westrenne, Italienne, and Latin, and I have a little German… and when I travelled in the East with my Maman, for her studies, I learned a few words of the strange tongues spoken there. I forget things, of course… my Maman says that even the most intelligent blondes tend to lack mental organisation, and she says it in such a loving way that my cheeks flush and my irregular verbs fly right out of my head. But she is patient with me, and coaxes them back between my ears, however long it takes. Do you think such learning unfits me for marriage? I overheard Madame la Comtesse de Pougy say as much to my Maman… but who minds La Pougy, I wonder? Not our circle, to be sure! La, I speak as though I were already a saloniste!

I must go now… I have babbled on too long as it is, and I hear Sidonie looking for me, to dress me for the evening. I shall wear my new powder-blue velvet, with cabochon diamonds about my throat, and I think I should like my hair dressed a la Melisande. Pouf! I’m glad powdered hair is no longer in vogue; it made me sneeze horribly! But you can see, here, in this portrait by Madame Fragonard, that it did become me!


Celeste de Gothia