The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O’Connor holds my thoughts a lot lately as I’ve been reading it. In a time where wealth, elitism, and a hostile environment towards modernism in art and Jewish culture become a chaotic romantic period all its own. I continually think about what it must have been like to be part of high society. To live with papers writing about you and to see painters display portraits of yourself commissioned and hung on gallery walls. To live during a time of revolution and oppression all at once.
I often think about the way things were then. About what being a young woman in society looked like. The oppression of the feminine sexuality in the brink of its liberation. A time when social standing could be both a blessing and a curse to the private and social life depending on the pastime you chose as a lady. The more I read about it, the more I find myself wishing to ah e lived it. To be part of the golden revolution of sexuality and modernism. To go to fashionable parties and meet the artists of the time, talk to hem about their artistry, to speak on political climates and to spend time bejeweled in gowns at operas with friends.
Most days I wish I was born in another era.
What I both love and loath about the time is he way men treated women. Male callers would respectfully call on you and show you a good time, but to be seen as anything but virtuous while out with the male caller would mean the complete destruction of your eligibility were things not to work out. If you were less fortunate, you’re marriages would be arranged, with wealthy older men who probably had mistresses and STDs. Still, the glamor of the wealthy lifestyle would have been nice. To own palaces and fine jewelry. To attend social events regularly at salons to exchange new and exciting ideas. To get dressed to the aces and go out dancing as a single debutante. The thrill of being chased after, and the thrill of knowing you had a chance against all chances to sense the changing tide of female liberation.
Of course, the book I’m reading takes placed during both WWI and WWII. With political anxiety at its height threatening the liberation you so desperately were seeking and the research of Freud was so nearly honoring, only to be swept under the rug of war along with racism. What a trying, terrifying, and anxious time it would be to live in, if we are being realistic. Not something to envy.
Still, I romanticize the idea of living high society life in those days at its glamorous height. I envision myself much like the rebellious women of the time. Sensually dressed in the latest forbidden fashions. Frequenting salons to talk on the artistic and political climate (which only means talking about men, which I would be a considerable advocate of being young, single, and allowed my forgivable ignorance). Sipping champagne and tea on hot afternoons in galleries, alone and mysterious…and stubbornly unchaperoned. Loudly fighting for women’s suffrage and rights at the turn of the century.
Yes, I’ve been daydreaming about it a lot. Wondering why such things no longer take place? Though, to be realistic once again, such lifestyles require not just wealth, but elitism, something most Americans, myself included, would cringe at. That is the unfortunate issue with fantasies like this…they have so many negatives about them that at the end of the day you wonder how good could anyone in high society, then or now, really have it? Still, the shallow part of me wishes being able to dress up and go to respectable house parties Gatsby style wouldn’t be too bad if one could avoid the drama and times were fairly peaceful.