The Snow Queen: Astrid Of Belgium’s Appeal

The birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid Sofia Lovisa Thyra of Sweden in Stockholm on 17th November 1905, was a cause for celebration. As the third daughter of Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland the brother of the popular Swedish King Gustav V, and his glamorous wife, Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, Astrid was born into a life of immense privilege, but with it, also came certain expectations, such as the idea that when she married, it would most probably be for dynastic reasons, like the union of parents, which though happy, as her mother admitted, ‘I married a complete stranger!’

Her childhood at Arvfurstens palats was an idyllic one, and Astrid, along with her siblings Princesses Margaretha and Märtha, as well as Prince Carl, who was born in 1911, was adored by her parents and the household’s staff,  so much so, that the family’s cook created ‘Princess Cake,’ for the youngsters – a cream covered sponge wrapped in green marzipan, which has since become a national favourite.

Considered as a potential bride for the Prince of Wales, it was announced that Astrid was to marry Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium in September 1929, with the Belgian Queen Elisabeth declaring to news reporters who had gathered outside the Royal Palace of Brussels, ‘It is a marriage of love…tell it to our people. Nothing was arranged. Not a single political consideration prevailed in our son’s decision.’ Continue reading

Forever Upward: Sandy Irvine’s Summit

Known to the Nepalese people for centuries as Sagarmāthā, commonly translated as ‘Goddess of the Sky,’ Peak XV or Mount Everest as it was renamed in 1865, after Colonel Sir George Everest, the Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, has come to symbolise the earth’s stubborn refusal to submit to the will of mankind.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientific and technological advancements shook the notion that scaling Everest was an insurmountable task. Furthermore, as Captain John Noel, who took part in the 1924 British expedition remembered, the bloody four-year conflict that left Britain and much of the globe scarred during the opening years of the latter killed many of the youth of our country,’ and was ‘a terrible loss to our country. The young men under Kitchener’s army had been massacred.’ For a number of Englishmen who had seen active service and survived, conquering Mount Everest became a means by which to restore national pride and reassert the indomitability of the human spirit.

One such Englishman was George Mallory, who, as John Noel believed was absolutely obsessed with the idea of climbing Mount Everest. He set his heart on it. He talked about nothing else at all.’ Following two unsuccessful attempts, in 1921 and 1922, Mallory decided to try one last time, telling his wife Ruth, ‘It is almost unthinkable…that I shan’t get to the top; I can’t see myself coming down defeated.’ Aboard the SS California in February 1924, as he made his way to the Himalayas, Mallory, a 37 year-old teacher from Cheshire, who had mingled with the Bloomsbury Group during his time at Cambridge, became acquainted with Andrew Irvine, known as Sandy, a fellow member of the British expedition. Continue reading

Le Grand Jeu: René Daumal’s Peradams

Like his literary hero the poet Arthur Rimbaud, René Daumal was a native of the Champagne-Ardenne region of north-eastern France. His brilliance and tragically early demise, were also shared by his predecessor. In the seventy years since his death, Daumal has become a cult figure, with his influence evident in the works of other ideologists and truth seekers, notably the legendary Chilean film maker and guru, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Hailed as ‘a hallucinogenic daydream’ by The New York Times, the underlying cinematic inference of Jodorowsky’s psychotropic creation, The Holy Mountain (1973), is in fact far more numinous and esoteric than such a description implies. The film can be viewed as an extension of Daumal’s remarkable vision, for as the French writer and poet believed, and Jodorowsky himself has suggested, the irrefutable reality of human existence is that, ‘Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.’

Above: Trailer for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)

Born on 16th March 1908, in the village of Boulzicourt, Daumal’s childhood was an unsettled one, given his parents’ propensity to routinely uproot the family. The most stable figure for the young boy was his paternal grandfather Antoine, a bee keeper whose interests included freemasonry and spirituality.

Moving to Reims in 1921, Daumal befriended a group of fellow students, and their shared bond would provide each of them with an enduring source of personal and professional inspiration. Originally known as the Phrères Simplistes, Daumal along with Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Vailland and Robert Meyrat would go on to form the collective, Le Grand Jeu. Continue reading

La Plus Belle Femme De France: The Charm Of Agnès Souret

Born in Biarritz on 21st January 1902, with her wavy chestnut hair and large dark eyes, Jeanne Germaine Berthe Agnès Souret, known as Agnès, had a charm that encapsulated prevailing European standards of beauty during the early twentieth century. After her birth, there was some confusion about her father’s identity, and her mother Marguerite was unemployed and unmarried, something that would later be covered up by press reports that she had in fact been a ballet dancer. In early childhood, Agnès and her mother moved to the village of Espelette in the Aquitaine region.

At the age of 17, Agnès, who had reached a height of 1.68 m, won a beauty contest and was crowned Miss Midi-Pyrénées; and as result, her photograph was entered into the first ever Miss France competition, launched by the newspaper Le Journal in an attempt to discover ‘the most beautiful woman in France’ along with a letter written by Agnès, which read ‘I am only 17 years old, tell me if I have to cross France to take a chance.’ Over 2,000 young women were put forward as contestants and the rigorous and widespread voting system saw more than 200,000 votes cast, with Agnès receiving around 115,000. In the New York Times, she was hailed as ‘the fairest in France,’ and the journalist Maurice De Waleffe wrote that Agnès realised ‘the ideal’ of ‘French charm.’ Continue reading