Friday, June 5, 2009

Marie-José's Memoirs

In 1971, Queen Marie-José of Italy, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, published her memoirs. In this work, entitled Albert et Elisabeth de Belgique, mes parents, she discusses her childhood and youth in Belgium prior to her marriage with Prince Umberto of Savoy in 1930. She focuses on her parents, beginning with their engagement in 1900 and ending with Albert's death in 1934. The style is clear, concise, sober, and sensitive. The book is a tribute to Albert and Elisabeth, widely admired for their heroism during World War I, and regarded by their daughter as model sovereigns. Yet it is also a fascinating portrayal of a lost time, and of a wide range of modern political, cultural, and scientific figures. The memoirs have been translated into Italian as Giovinezza di una Regina (Youth of a Queen).

Throughout the book, Marie-José emphasizes that her parents' mutual love and complementary qualities enabled them to support and assist each other in their difficult and challenging roles as King and Queen. Both are portrayed as highly intelligent and sensitive, but with contrasting temperaments: Albert, thoughtful, reflective, reserved, steady, philosophic; Elisabeth, lively, energetic, spontaneous, imaginative, impulsive, artistic. Yet, Marie-José shows, they strove to forge a strong union, enabling their characters to complement one another in an exceptionally harmonious manner. It would be rare, their daughter asserts, to find two people collaborating so felicitously for the good of their country, "and even, if one may say so, for the good of mankind."

This is how Marie-José describes her parents' marriage:
Between Albert of Belgium and Elisabeth in Bavaria, a deep love formed a bond of an exceptional quality, a bond which only grew stronger, equally so in the years that were happy and peaceful as in those which would be tragic and painful. I do not consider that I am committing an indiscretion by publishing extracts from (their) correspondence. I think, on the contrary, that they will contribute to illustrating the depth and purity of their love. 
The letters are, indeed, very touching, and I would like to cite a few here. The day after the engagement of Marie-José's parents in Neuilly, Albert, who had been obliged to leave Elisabeth for Brussels, wrote to her:
...May you be as happy as I wish. You will always be able to count on my infinite love, and my absolute loyalty. After leaving you...everything seemed so empty to me that even the crowded streets of Paris seemed to me to be a desert...
Elisabeth immediately replied:
It is 11:45 in the evening, and I feel so lonely and so sad without you! In the few days I have been with you, I have come to love you with all my heart! Truly, I love you so much! In a way that I never would have believed I could love someone. You are so good and kind to me that it touches me and makes me happy. You know that I cannot express sufficiently what I feel for you, but I think you understand me...
After a visit to Elisabeth's family in Bavaria during their engagement, Albert wrote to his future bride:
During this visit to Possenhofen, so pleasant, but all too brief, I have come to know you even better, and, above all, if I may confess it to you, I have been able to appreciate all the qualities of heart, intelligence, and kindness, with which my dear Lisa is filled, and which had conquered me from the first day I had seen her. You know that I, myself, do not have many qualities, but I can promise you, in all sincerity, to have one: that of trying to please you always, and also of trying to deserve to have a wife such as you...
To which Elisabeth responded:
When will the time come when there will be no more of these terrible separations? I was so happy to have been with you. Every hour we pass together, is, for me, that greatest pleasure that exists...Every time I see you again, I love you even more. How happy I will be the day I no longer have to leave you.
Albert and Elisabeth seem to have taken the motto of Belgium, "union makes for strength," as the motto of their marriage. As Albert wrote to Elisabeth:
Husband and wife must find the greatest happiness in being together. It must be the best company that is sought out, and equally so for the one and for the other...

In life, there are many difficulties, always, everywhere, and for everyone, but if one is firmly united in a family by a strong mutual love, one does not fear them and one is sure to find, at home, the true happiness of this earth...
Many years after Albert's untimely death in a climbing accident, Elisabeth confided to her daughter, Marie-José: "Ever since the cruel separation from your father, I have not been able to live a single day, without his memory being present to me, and everything I have done, I have done out of fidelity to his memory."

An inspiring story. 

(The quotes in the original French may be found here)


Lucy said...

I find that letters bring you so much closer to knowing the person. It gives a glimpse of their life in such a personal way. Great post!

May said...

Thank was an old one I wanted to bring back.

I agree, we are privileged to have these intimate letters...they shed such light on these people's inner thoughts and authentic personalities.