Saturday, December 6, 2014

Princess Strikes Blow for Freedom of Writers

The Infanta Eulalia
in her writing tiara
It’s unusual for a member of a royal family to be supporting the independence of artists, but that’s what happened. In December 1911, the Infanta Eulalia defied the wishes of her nephew and went ahead with publishing a book. If you’re king, you get to boss your aunt around, whereas for the rest us, your father’s sister somewhat outranks you. Alfonso XIII was somewhat limited in what he could do about his aunt, according to the pair of articles in the December 6, 1911 Washington Herald, but he did hold the strings to the royal purse, and could cut off her allowance.

The king was fairly young, he was only twenty-five years old and had been king his entire life (his father died at the age of only twenty-seven)[1] His aunt, the Infanta Eulalia, was only forty-seven herself. The Wikipedia article on her uses the word “controversial” three times, twice in relationship to her books, one of which got her in the bad graces of her nephew in 1911.

The book in question was published in English (in 1912) under the title The Thread of Life, with the original French title of Au fil de la vie, and the publicity given it be the king probably helped sales, no matter what the Herald said. We get the story from both side, starting in Madrid, then off to Paris.
Infanta Eulalia Sends Alfonso Telegram from Paris.
Madrid, Dec. 5—Prime Minister Canelejas to-day received the following telegram from the Infanta Eulalia, who is in Paris:

“I await punishment, but as I am contemplating a voyage, I request you to transmit it as soon as possible.”

It is expected that King Alfonso will cut off the civil list allowance of his aunt, the princess, as a result of her refusal to obey his orders and stop the publication in Paris of her new book, “The Thread of Life.”

The public sides with the King and considerable indignation is expressed over the stand taken by the princess in refusing to obey his orders.

As the infanta is a member of the royal family King Alfonso could not have her deprived or her titles, save by a special act of the Cortes. Instructions have been sent to the Spanish ambassador in Paris to visit Eulalia and induce her, if possible, to top the publication of her book and obey the King’s orders.

Paris, Dec. 5—The Infanta Eulalia of Spain to-night insisted that the wording of her dispatch to the prime minister was correct as given. The dispatch, she said, is intended for the King, and that by the word “you” she means Alfonso. She explained that she had sent the king two telegrams, one merely announcing that she would take leave of the King. She did not give out this dispatch, but she gave out and confirmed the text of the dispatch as received in Madrid.

It does sound like the princess wasn’t terribly worried over what her nephew might do, with the tone of “can you get to this quickly, so I can go on with my travel plans?” The article doesn’t say, but the indignant public is likely that of Spain, and not the public of Paris or Washington.

But what of the book in question? Wikipedia, at the entry for the Infanta Eulialia describes it as “controversial.” What exactly was the controversy? Maybe time has dulled things, but the impression it gives is the nattering of a pampered wealthy woman. The Thread of Life is a short and vapid work (which is readily available thanks to Google Books). It’s organized into twenty-five very short chapters, and you will be pleased to know that prejudice is bad, while moral courage is good.

Her most interesting (as in risible) thoughts are in the middle of the book, and maybe this is were things got too radical for young King Alfonso, where the chapter titles include:
  • Divorce
  • The Complete Independence of Woman
  • The War Upon Feminism
  • The Equalization of Classes through Education
  • Socialism
  • The Working Classes
  • Servants

Let’s take that last one first. It sounds like the Dowager Countess of Grantham issuing a complaint in Downton Abbey.
The domestic of the past, a man or woman working for wages yet forming an integral part of the family, no longer exists. As ideas of loyalty gave way to false conceptions of liberty, servants steadily altered their code of manners, and have now become intolerable.
You have to make sure that your domestic staff doesn’t get tricked by those “false conceptions of liberty.” It’s like you can’t flog a chambermaid if the tea is delivered cold. What is the world coming to? Two chapters prior, she wasn’t exactly in favor of socialism, asking,
Is not the despotism of the multitude as dangerous as that of the favored few?
As Eulalia was part of those “favored few,” it’s not surprising that she felt their despotism was the better course. As a member of the multitude, I'll side with my own. Knowing your place in society should be, according to the princess, something akin to a religion. What do princesses dream of?
I dream of schools for the children of the working classes, schools planned especially for them, in which place the child is to play in his future work is made a kind of religion, where the employer of the future shall figure as a kind of beneficent protector.
This woman would have read Brave New World as a utopia, which would be from the point of view of an Alpha, not so much if you’re an Epsilon (though you’ve been chemically prevented from thinking about it).

Perhaps Alfonso, aware of his and his aunt’s familial ties to Louis XVI of France (the Spanish monarchy has been the house of Bourbon since the reign of Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV), wanted to forestall the chance that his aunt’s musings on the Servant Problem and how the working class should be raised (apparently to worship the rich and powerful) might lead to a repeat in Madrid of those upsetting events of 1789 Paris.

Or maybe it was the chapter on morality that bothered the king the most. Here she said that
The moral code of Royal Courts implies the preservation and perpetuation of Court traditions. It does not hesitate to sacrifice individuals to this one unchanging and imperious cause. It is an exceptional morality, that of the Courts, above right and beyond duty.
Shouldn’t the Infanta Eulalia been trained, as she suggested for the children of the working class, to see her monarch “as a kind of beneficent protector”? That, I think, would have taken more self-awareness than she managed to muster in The Thread of Life.

  1. As Alfonso XII was not a musician, this does not make him eligible for the 27 Club, though perhaps he could be considered its (appropriately) posthumous royal patron.  ↩

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