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  6. The Red Countess?

About thirty minutes from the little health-resort of G. The old duke had a particular aversion to dogs, and any dog that had somehow or other crept into his park was shot. I considered this proceeding most reprehensible and condemned it, as one condemns a wrong which does not directly concern one, coolly and without special anger — until one evening my little fox-terrier Grip did not return from one of his customary explorations of the countryside. My condemnation, purely on principle, now flared into raging indignation.

The old Duke embodied for me all the tyrants of history, all the murderers and criminals. Day after day, on our walks, I would drag my poor governess to the red-coloured castle, collecting on the way all the little stones I could find.

I then threw them amid a torrent of curses into the park. From that moment on I was through with monarchs, princes, and dukes. The first female clerk to run a branch of the Post Office created a sensation.

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I think that some of the old ladies who lived in villas and wore gloves all day long to protect their hands thought it improper that a woman should sit behind a window, and considered the respectable female postal clerk a lost creature. On the smooth, beautiful streets brazen creatures suddenly appeared: bicyclists, women who dared display their limbs half-way up to the knee.

In our home, we did not see the matter in such a tragic light, since grandmother believed women had a right to do anything they were capable of doing well, and even my mother rode a bicycle. Then she sat behind the hedge of her garden and watched for women cyclists. Once during the Dreyfus affair, she allowed her feelings to get the better of her and, in her capacity as head of the Red Cross in G. I, naturally, was an ardent Dreyfus supporter, and had constantly to be reminded by grandmother, who moreover was also one, that a child must be polite even to those adults who hold different views.

Right next to the large garden of our villa there was another garden, which belonged to Pauline Lucca. I can no longer recall her face; I only know that she had beautiful, merry blue eyes and spoke with a frightful Viennese accent. Every year, towards the end of the season, she gave plays in the little theatre installed in her villa, and at one of these performances a young creature made her appearance — the freshest, most attractive, most enchanting being that one can imagine. Even the old ladies were charmed by her and her voice. You could also find Peter Altenberg 19 on the promenade, as well as the painter Angeli, 20 whose celebrity in England was due to his being the best waltzer in London — so, at least, his friends maintained.

The prefect of our district, Baron A. Naturally, I immediately saw the young man with the pale face and dark hair as a hero and martyr.

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Since I did not know him I began to run after his two elderly sisters, on foot and on my bicycle — for grandmother had at last yielded to my pleas and given me a bicycle. The moment I saw the Lebida sisters in the distance they always went out together I would race after them, give them a look full of admiration, and hope that they would condescend at some point to speak to me. But they never did, and it may be that this circumstance increased my respect for their family.

It was a matter of self-respect. A little incident seems to me to illustrate this well. In our little town the river Traun frequently overflowed its banks, threatening to bring down the old wooden bridge that spanned it. One day what we feared happened. With a horrible crack the bridge broke in two. Three working men fell into the river and were drowned.

The prefect of the district not Baron A. Count S. My father was far too wise to harbour any belief in aristocratic superiority; he required of people only that they be intelligent and have their wits about them, and he sought these attributes mostly in vain among the members of his own class. It was not proper to be too elegantly dressed.

That was left to the wives of the wealthy bourgeois. They attended nearly all the services on Sunday. I had little love for them, because, when the pews were full I had to give up my seat to them and stand. I had to do this for the elegant bourgeois women only when they were quite old. I also had to get up for working men and women because they had toiled hard all week. She was sixty years old, and she had three grandchildren at home whom she had to raise. She worked from morning till night, yet she was always friendly and always ready to chat with me.

I was also allowed to give her toys for her grandchildren, and grandmother explained to me that one should never give ugly, broken toys to the poor. That would be an insult. One should give them the finest one had. Outside, all sorts of horrible things were happening, but we saw only confusedly through the windows, which were overgrown with greenery, and did not let these things disturb us.

Still enough, however, to set an intellectually curious child, hungry for justice, thinking. If you were, you would not have two coats, for whoever has two should give one of them to someone who has none.

By John Galsworthy

And so it was with me. If there were people who did not have enough to eat, this had to be due to the malevolence of individuals — in effect, of those individuals who held power. But who were these individuals? And as we did not mix with the wealthy bourgeois, manufacturers and financiers existed for me only as a very vague concept. Yet at eleven — I was that age when I read the book — it appeared to me extremely revolutionary: bourgeois heroes fell in the struggle against monarchs and aristocrats and died in order to give the people a parliamentary constitution and freedom of the press.

I discovered three important things: the bourgeoisie, magnanimous, virtuous, and industrious, in contrast to our idle, frivolous, and profligate class; the parliament, which expressed the will of the people I was then eleven years old ; and the press, which is called on to contribute to the victory of truth and justice. I had aspired at one time to be a circus rider or the female leader of a noble robber band, but from now on I recognized only two really superior callings: that of member of the House of Delegates or that of journalist.

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My uncle Anton 22 gave me a statistical map of the House, on which the different parties were represented by different colours. On the reverse side were the number and names of the members. I learned them until I could reel them off by heart. The particular platforms of the various parties did not interest me.

I was moved only by a burning hatred of the clerical party, because most aristocrats were in it. For I was by then already fully convinced of one thing: the aristocrats were to blame for all the misery in the world. To this conviction my uncle Anton had certainly contributed his share.

When he came to visit us, I never left his side, and he often declared that he knew of nothing more exhausting than the hours he spent with me, for no one could answer all the questions I asked. But he did me the greatest kindness one can do to a child: he took me seriously, tried to explain everything to me, and if I often understood his explanations differently than he intended, that was not his fault.

The Red Countess - 1. The End and the Beginning: The Book of My Life - Open Book Publishers

Grandmother also took me seriously, and I recall long debates with her on passive and active voting rights for women. I naturally had a better opinion of the good sense of my sex; today, I have to admit that in many of her views grandmother was right. But now I had come along and would take matters in hand. Down with the aristocrats! I wrote to two cousins in Vienna, to a friend in Lisbon, and to three bourgeois acquaintances in our little town, telling them that I had founded a society for the improvement of the world and had appointed them members.

Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536

I despotically drew up the rules myself. The first proclaimed the abolition of the nobility; the others, as I recall, were of a more practical nature and concerned membership dues: twenty-five kreuzers a month for regular members and one gulden for honorary members. With these funds the misery of the world was to be assuaged. All members were to wear an anchor badge so that later, when the number of members had swollen to millions, they would recognize one another in the wide world beyond and be able to work together.

The badge, which had a hook on the back, always tore our clothes and thus caused us all kinds of unpleasantness — but all that was part of our martyrdom for the Cause. Of course, I was the head of the society, and my youngest cousin in Vienna was treasurer. Since, for some reason or other I had at the time a deep respect for the Freemasons, I would draw a triangle next to the seal on the back of the envelope, hoping that this secret sign would be noticed by the police and that one fine day I should be arrested.


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One of my aunts whose mother had been a commoner felt insulted and wrote to grandmother, who explained to me that one should be considerate of the weaknesses of others; but her gentle, faint smile betrayed to me that she was really on my side, and I defended my conviction with glowing words. My admiration for the bourgeoisie received something of a jolt from this incident, but I assumed that my aunt had been corrupted by her marriage to an aristocrat.

I think I was an extremely unpleasant, domineering brat, who simply terrorized them. They both wanted and did not want to acknowledge that the old aristocracy was the cause of all the evil in the world. If that did not succeed either, I resorted to plain rudeness and cuffs on the ear.


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  • But the bourgeoisie proved itself the stronger; I did not succeed in bringing a single one of the three girls round to my view. It was a fine drama with many corpses and a tirade, in hexameters, against the aristocrats. Quite exceptionally, I showed my masterpiece, out of authorial vanity, to my parents. At that time I read the newspaper regularly.