borderline? really?


Yes, I had an eating disorder. Yes, I was vain and eccentric. Yes, there is the concrete proof that a cult arose to celebrate my beauty in the Barbie version of me. But does that relegate me, as many seem to think, to the current DSM description of Borderline Personality Disorder?

I submit the following Wikipedia boilerplate:

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is marked by a prolonged disturbance of personality function, characterized by unusual variability and depth of moods. The disorder typically involves an unusual degree of instability in mood and black-and-white thinking, or splitting. BPD often manifests itself in idealization and devaluation episodes and chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, issues with self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual’s sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation. The primary features of BPD are unstable interpersonal relationships, affective distress, marked impulsivity, and unstable self-image.Suicidal or self-harming behavior is one of the core diagnostic criteria.

Let’s take these points one by one, shall we?

Moodiness. I beg you to find a woman, empress or not, who is devoid of peaks and valleys. Some days simply set one off. For instance, when my husband bought me a monkey for my birthday, but once the little creature began pleasuring itself in the halls, my mother-in-law banished it to the Court zoo. Anyone might have a wee snit fit under those circumstances.

Black and white thinking. Hm. I beg to differ! On the contrary, my challenges at Court had more to do with rebelling against the stodgy Habsburgs and their absolutism and monarchical demands. Was it not I who eased tensions between the Emperor and Hungary? Did I not submit a compromise in allowing my mother-in-law rule over my children? And what of my negotiating an on-going tryst between that actress and my husband? Shades of grey were paramount (and I’m not talking about that popular smut series).

Impulsivity. I reject this. I was calculated and obsessive, but not impulsive. One does not learn five languages, invest in the cultures of other lands, and painstakingly maintain a regime of exercise and beauty cures if one is given to willynilly adventures at the drop of the hat.

Splitting. Okay, you have me here. I did tend to idealize and demonize regularly. And those in my circle would continually thrill and disappoint me in turn, but I see my waffling more as a cycle of naivety and betrayal than psychotic rupture.

As to my relationships and self-image. C’mon. I was first lady to the most powerful man in the world! I bore up, even at the tender age of 16, to all sorts of pressures. Maybe maintaining a 19 inch waist and a weight of 50 kilos was compensatory? Maybe, instead of a pharmaceuticals to release the pain of my obligations, I chose to be tight-laced to the edge of my threshold in order to distract myself from the perpetual Habsburg white noise of disdain. If you consider that my marginal anorexia led to anemia, which, in turn led to various rest cures in Madeira far from the frigid halls of Viennese court-life, well, maybe I was crazy like a fox!

Ironic, also, that in the end I did not kill myself. Someone else had that dubious honor. Borderline, schmorderline. I was merely living my life.

another fortnight, another tart: a Lola reprise

this little harlot unseated many a king

note: I am having quite a Lola day today. Thought this little piece should come out of hiding —new and improved with some more pictures!

Her name at birth was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, but by the time she seduced my uncle, everyone knew her as Lola Montez, the Spanish Dancer and Enchantress.

By the time she’d arrived in Bavaria, she’d already danced her way into and out of India, London, Spain, Paris and Dresden, leaving a trail of scandal and fractured hearts in her path.

Having been born in Limerick, and raised in India, young Dolores learned sensual, exotic dancing from her Hindu servants–and as her future as a professional castle-wrecker, her practice of the danse du ventre served her well.

By the time she was fifteen, she was an uncontrollable flirt.  Her Indian stepfather, in an attempt to keep her chaste, arranged a marriage for her with a boring old judge.  Alas, her “see you next Tuesday” self had no interest in domesticity.   Her name was Lola, after all,  and she was a show girl!  So off she strutted, leapfrogging and belly-dancing her way to notoriety and fortune, and political power.

This is where my poor Uncle Ludwig, a sextogenarian, who’d already mucked up his marriage by philandering about with that tart, Jane Digby, could not resist Lola’s web of seduction.

As soon as he first laid eyes on her, he had her summoned to the Residenz, and within five days he presented her to the court as the love of his life.

Much to Mummi’s horror (not to mention Ludwig wife’s distress), he soon gave the notorious belly dancer the title, Countess of Landsfeld.  In short order, he built her a sturdy house, and issued her a pension of twenty thousand florins.

Ah, but she had quite the temper, this passionate Lola Montez.  She often flew into unprovoked rages, even sometimes boxing the ears of her nay-sayers.  She kept a large, drooling bulldog beside her at all times–even took the dog to opera!  Worst of all, she was discourteous to the queen, besides meddling with the politics of the kingdom.

Lola Montez in her San Francisco phase.

But it wasn’t until she started stirring things up at the University that the camel’s back broke.  The residents of Munich drew their daggers against the harlot, and poor, lovesick King Ludwig came to her aid, renouncing the people, his city and, indeed, his country, all for the sake of–dare I say it–lust!

However, there came a day, when she approached the gates of Residenz and was the object of much scorn by a riotous group who’d assembled out front, she turned to the crowd, and drew a pistol, firing it into the mob.  Well, that was it, more mobs assembled, demanding a ruling beyond that of the king.

Poor, lovesick Uncle Ludwig stood before the court and lamented that he’d rather lose his crown than give up his mistress.

His royal advisers hung their heads in embarrassment.  It was too much, and the next day, a royal decree revoked Lola’s rights as a subject of Bavaria, and still another decree ordered her to be expelled. The rioters jumped for joy and in their celebration burnt her house to ashes.  Poor Ludwig watched the commotion by the light of the leaping flames.

You see, my uncle was still madly in love with the half-crazy woman.

Soon thereafter, he fell into a deep depression, and gave his crown up to his son, Maximilian – my much older, wiser, albeit sickly cousin.  Naturally, as soon as her old lover was no longer king, Lola moved on, taking her belly dancing to far off lands on all the continents, leaving a splintered trail of hearts and kingdoms all over the world.

why my sister did not become empress of austria

after my engagement, my sister grew grumpier yet

Alas, poor Nené, my humorless sister.  As the eldest daughter in an inbred family full of loons, she was the only sane one and for all of her sanity, she very nearly became an old maid.

As you all know, I was “that little monkey” who was dragged to Bad Ischl as an afterthought that day in August, 1853.  The Emperor was not supposed to pay me any mind–I was a mere child, just fresh from the nursery.

My sister’s likeness preceded her introduction in the form of many a studio shot: sitting in a brocade parlor chair with lips pinched; gazing into space, sporting a fresh heart-shaped coif; on horseback with the strong, straight back our father demanded of us, but an expression that merely said, “this corset is digging into my ribs.”

In photographs, my sister’s face always looked sour and stern.  Her eyes squinted under heavy brow bones, her mouth, well, someone should have recommended more of a smile–(though, in her defense, none of us Wittelsbach woman ever smiled with teeth showing for our family curse included a mouthful of unsightly brown). And yet, had Helene been bubbly and animated in the flesh, she may still have been able to charm the young Emperor.  But, it was not the case.

helene, looking glum, glum, glum

Now, here’s where I came in.  Franz Joseph’s mother, the ever-meddling Archduchess, had decided that her son, the heir, would marry her sister Ludovica’s daughter, period. No one was more surprised than she (except, maybe, me) when he chose “the little monkey” instead of the more turned out, well-behaved elder girl.

Years later the Emperor shared his disappointment in how plain and stern my sister looked when first they met.  “No youth!  No joie de vivre!  You’d think, at eighteen, she was forty!”

It is true, Emperor Franz Joseph robbed the cradle by plucking a fifteen-year-old child from her nursery, but things were quite different back then.  For one, not only was I a child, I was also the Emperor’s cousin.  Ah!  But there was no child protective police in 19th Century Europe, so off to the Hofburg I went, leaving my elder, jilted sister to sulk for years to come–until she finally married a wealthy prince named Prince Max at the ripe old age of 24.

But here is the irony. My sad-faced sister was the only one among us to have a happy marriage in the end.  Go figure.