Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crushed By Troubles, Duchess Studies Esperanto

What language would she be
studying if she were happy?
I’m sorry, but was the Esperanto part supposed to make us feel more sorry for Consuelo Spencer-Churchill? The Esperanto reference appears in the third subhead in an article in September 9, 1907 San Francisco Call. In the headline and subheads we learn that the “American duchess” is “crushed by troubles,” “forlorn,” has given up society, and that she’s “reading and learning Esperanto.” Oh, the horror of it all.

The duchess in question was, at the time, Duchess of Marlborough. Her maiden name was Consuelo Vanderbilt; she was an American heiress who married into the British nobility (just like Downton Abbey!). Unlike the Crawleys (specifically the Earl of Grantham and his American-born wife), history (and Wikipedia, yeah) records that the Spencer-Churchills did not have a happy marriage (though this scandal would have died down before the Titanic sunk with Lady Mary’s marriage prospects)[1]

The article not really concerned with Esperanto, just the duchess’s troubles.
Only Comfort of Forlorn Woman Are the Sons of Marlborough
Spends Most of Time Reading and Learning Esperanto
Special by Cable and Leased Wire to The Call
DEAUVILLE, France, Sept. 8 — The state of health of the duchess of Marlborough is far from satisfactory. She is living quietly at Villa Macha near here. Her late troubles, which led to her separation from the duke, have so affected her that she is unable to sleep well and eats very little.
But what about Esperanto? That’s what we want to hear about: the beautiful, rich, and titled people and their Esperanto study habits. The Call makes us wait for the fifth paragraph before they get to it:
For something to occupy her time she has lately taken up the study of Esperanto, the artificial universal language. Little Lord Ivor, the other son, is keenly interested with his mother in this pursuit, and both are becoming quite proficient in it.
Wikipedia informs us that Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill was born in 1898, and so he would have been only thirteen at the beginning of Downton Abbey, and so unsuitably young for any of the Crawley sisters.[2] Besides, with the scandalous divorce (his father ran off with another woman), what would the Dowager Countess have said? “What would I talk about with him? His poor mother? She’s your kind, Cora. American.”

Consuelo Vanderbilt (later Consuelo Spencer-Churchill, finally Consuelo Balsan) wasn’t the only Esperanto speaker in her family. Her cousin, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard learned Esperanto as well, so perhaps Consuelo was planning on writing letters to her cousin. Lord Ivor seems to left no mark on the Esperanto movement. Alice, later Alice Vanderbilt Morris, went on to create the language Interlingua.

And a belated correction to the Call: that really is the name of the language, no need to put it in quotation marks.

  1. It’s too late now, but it would have been wonderful to have Lady Sybil an enthusiastic Esperantist, for which Lady Edith would be understanding but not interested, and Lady Mary somewhat contemptuous of it. Lady Sybil, of course, would have been reading about the labor movement in Esperanto.  ↩
  2. Fans have apparently worked out that Lady Sybil was born in 1895 (according to Wikipedia), making her about three years older than Lord Ivor.  ↩

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  1. Esperanto and Downton Abbey? I would totally watch that!
    Esperanto kaj Downton Abbey? Mi tute vidos tion!


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