Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Queen of the East and her feral Cats

Let us remember the elegant and intrepid Lady Hester Stanhope, granddaughter of Pitt the Elder and “Queen of the East.”

    “In the end, with her pension cut off, and overcome by debt, she became increasingly reclusive.  Her servants left, stripping the house as they went, and in 1839 she walled herself up alone in her decaying mansion [in the Syrian hills] where her decomposing remains were found a month later surrounded by feral cats.” Times Literary Supplement, 7/15/05.

The cats are essential to the account, as Lady Hester would undoubtedly have understood.  Otherwise, it’s just an elderly recluse dying alone.  The feral cats make all the difference.

It’s a shame that stories can’t be entirely atmosphere and exotica: a remote, decaying mansion in the Syrian hills, liveried servants and villainous cats (or vice-versa).  No plots or characters, only shadows and empty corridors and dust floating in the sunlight of an empty room, a closed door without a handle, leatherbound books stacked in a corner, the creak of a floor board, an overgrown garden, a feral cat watching from atop a wall  . . ..  Put me in a world like that and I am content and have no need for character or plot, though I suppose it might be more appropriate to poetry than to prose.

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