Monday, January 18, 2010
Love Among the Butterflies
Love Among the Butterflies: the diaries of a wayward, determined and passionate Victorian lady, by Margaret Fountaine
This book is, in fact, a mere smattering of Fountaine's actual diaries, which began in 1878 and continued on until 1939, shortly before her death.
I hope that by now most of us are disabused of the notion that well-off Victorian/Edwardian women did nothing but pay calls and swoon in the orangerie. Those who still hold that view should read Miss Fountaine's diaries.
The daughter of a country clergyman, Margaret and her mother and siblings were left, after his death, without a great deal of money. However, as there were large, comfortable families on both sides, the widow and children were not what we would consider poor. Two of her uncles were quite wealthy, and one made provision for his sister's children in his will, resulting in Margaret's independence.
And, oh! what she did with it! She had fallen in love with a man who, frankly, didn't deserve her, and quite literally attempted to buy him, renewing acquaintance in a letter following her inheritance in which she boldly points out her good fortune. Fortunately, despite his positive response, nothing came of the relationship, and she was free to wander the world and leave us these diaries.
It was not uncommon in this era for young ladies of her class to study natural history, and Margaret's consuming interest was lepidoptera. She pursued this interest in Italy, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, and in 1901, in Damascus, she met a young Syrian with "grey eyes that were always looking toward me." For the rest of his life, despite separations, disapproval, and his marriage, they continued to look towards her, as hers did towards him.
She was always open to what was new, adopting first the bicycle, then the car, and ultimately the airplane as modes of transportation. She grew from a modest maiden to a woman fully in charge of her desires. She took risks, she never stopped learning, she reveled in life.
I am only sad that this volume ends in 1913. I'd like to read what she had to say about the next twenty-seven years.