Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Struggles of a Shy Child

One of the most touching parts of Countess Anna Sparre's portrayal of her childhood friend, Astrid, Queen of the Belgians, is her description of the young Swedish princess' development from a timid, vulnerable child to a woman of confidence and poise. In Astrid mon amie, Anna speaks of the contrasting characters of herself and her friend. According to Anna, Astrid was fearful of everyone and everything, painfully reserved and extremely sensitive, while Anna was bold, outspoken, and thick-skinned. Anna used to become annoyed with Astrid, while simultaneously pitying her, because of her excessive anxiety. Apparently, Anna was not the only one to become impatient with Astrid's fears. Her father, Prince Carl, in his memoirs, relates a similar incident during Astrid's childhood on a visit to the beach. Her mother, Princess Ingeborg, scolded her for being afraid of the waves, and the little girl replied, sobbing: "Mummy forgets that I am so small and the sea is so big."

Despite their opposite temperaments, or perhaps because of them, Astrid clung to Anna, humbly willing to accept even her sharpest criticisms. In the summer of 1922, after Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg and their children had been visiting Anna's family, and were preparing to leave, sixteen-year-old Astrid begged to remain a little while longer. It was the first time she had stayed away from home without her family. She was visibly pained every time she had to greet someone she had never met before, every time Anna's father spoke to her at table, every time there was a storm, every time something happened unexpectedly. At the same time, however, she deepened the friendship with Anna that would bring her so much joy and comfort throughout her life. The two teenagers often lay awake at night, exchanging confidences. Anna's influence seemed to help Astrid to become braver.

Anna believed that much of Astrid's self-doubt stemmed from her position in her family as a middle child. Despite the warm, loving atmosphere of the household of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, Anna felt that Astrid suffered some emotional neglect during her youth. Apparently, Ingeborg was rather overly given to praising Astrid's charming, outgoing, self-assured older sister, Märtha, the future Crown Princess of Norway, constantly holding her up as the model young lady. Meanwhile, Ingeborg doted on Astrid's younger brother, Carl, the adored baby of the family, a delightfully entertaining child, apt to be spoiled. The naturally more self-effacing, more melancholic Astrid received less attention, understanding and encouragement. She found refuge and comfort with her father, and, above all, with her motherly eldest sister, Margaretha.

At thirteen, however, Astrid was devastated by her separation from Margaretha, upon the latter's marriage to Prince Axel of Denmark. A sad little figure amidst the joyous ceremonies, Astrid wept desperately as she strewed flowers in the path of the bride and groom. Little did she know that her new brother-in-law would become a trusted, supportive friend. Even less did she imagine that her own marriage, seven years later, would enable her to blossom into one of the most charismatic and beloved figures of the twentieth century.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite articles, Matterhorn. It's nice that she overcame her shyness and anxiety. I understand her quite well as I'm shy myself and tend to be anxious about things that others might not even care. But it's something that luckily one can improve with time, patience and effort.


May said...

I am so glad you enjoyed this one, Jorge. I'm quite shy myself.