Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Like Bertie Wooster, Bertrand Russell had a formidable Aunt Agatha

Bertrand Russell was married four times. He wed his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, in 1894, but decided he was no longer in love with her during a bike ride in 1901. Cambridge dons are like that.

The couple first separated in 1911, while Russell conducted an affair with Lady Ottoline Morrell ("As most people did in those days" - Lord Bonkers), and Alys allowed him a divorce in 1921 so he could marry his second wife Dora.

Like Bertie Wooster, Russell had an Aunt Agatha. And she proved to be of similar mettle in 1926 when Russell complained that she still had a picture of Alys on her mantelpiece.

Quirkality quotes the letter she sent in return:

You owe her everything since the separation. But for her, Dora would be Miss Black, and your children illegitimate – the slightest spark of gratitude in you would acknowledge what you owe to her since you left her, in so many ways that I cannot write of. Her conduct has been noble since the separation – I am very far from being the only one who thinks this…

It would have been more manly and chivalrous of you to write me not to withdraw friendship from the woman you brought into the family, the woman you once loved and had forsaken, though her love was unchanged… 

You now in these later times always speak of "pain to me", "giving me pain", etc. – Do you ever think of Alys's suffering – from her love for you… Yet she always speaks beautifully of you, wishing only for your happiness. 

Do not imagine for a moment that I ever forget, and did not feel most acutely, your own unhappiness… but to those who truly loved you, it is heart-breaking that you have not grown nobler, stronger, more loving and tender through suffering, but in every way the reverse.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Quirkality goes on to say:
Russell’s biographer, Ray Monk, notes that while Alys remained helplessly in love with Russell, following his public activities closely, and keeping a scrapbook of cuttings about him, Russell for his part scarcely gave her a thought. 
As for Aunt Agatha, Dora dismissed her as a "malicious old lady", Russell’s brother Frank labelled her an “acid old spinster” and Russell, the great humanist philosopher, hardly noticed her at all.
Bertie Wooster claimed his Aunt Agatha (not to be confused with his more genial Aunt Dahlia) ate broken bottles, wore barbed wire next to the skin and was strongly suspected of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon.

But I think Russell's Aunt Agatha was in the right here.

Russell, however, would probably have agreed with Wooster:
"It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof."

1 comment:

David Grace said...

There were not a few of Russell's relations who were bonkers including his own son by Dora, but at least none of them thought the stars were God's daisy chain.