Saturday, June 7, 2014

"That Lady" and Kate O'Brien

I happened to see a facebook post that featured a picture from a film about St. Teresa of Avila with the Princess of Eboli standing next to her and it reminded me of Kate O'Brien's novel, That Lady. The Princess of Eboli, Ana de Mendoza, is also a major character in Verdi's opera, Don Carlo with the great aria, "O Don Fatale"--"O Fatal Gift" (you may hear the late, great Tatiana Troyanos curse that gift, her beauty--here). As the widow of one of King Philip II's favorites, Eboli first attempted to join St. Teresa of Avila's Carmel, a life to which she was entirely unsuited. After leaving the Carmel, she fell in love with Antonio Perez and Philip II was jealous, because he loved Eboli himself. Philip separated the lovers, of course, and imprisoned them.

This website details her life story and the affair that led to her house arrest, finally immured within the walls of her palace prison:

Due to her high position in the courts she had always maintained a good relationship with Prince Felipe who later went on to become King Felipe II, and there were various voices that claimed that she was in fact the King's mistress. Although what indeed was a fact was that once she was widowed she began an intimate relationship with Antonio Perez who was secretary to the King. Antonio was six years older than she and it is not known exactly whether the relationship was purely a question of love, of politics or whether she was just searching for someone to fill the void that existed since her husband's death. 
The King meanwhile was madly in love with the Princess of Eboli although he was never able to win her love and when he found out about the relationship between her and Antonio Perez he was enraged and invented some reason for her to be imprisoned firstly in the Tower of Pinto in 1579 and later in the Fort Of Santorcaz. Antonio Perez was also imprisoned in another location. She was deprived of seeing her children and of all her wealths and finally in 1581 sent to the Palace of Pastrana. 
It was often said that the melancholic princess would spend many hours staring out from her balcony but in 1590 when Antonio Perez Aragon managed to escape from his prison the King installed bars and shutters on all the doors and windows of the Palace so that Antonio would not be able to either reach her or see her. The wrath and cruelty of the scorned King was supposed to be due to his deep jealousy and even the letters of plea from the Princess herself did nothing to soften him. 
She was attended to by three of her servants and her youngest daughter Ana de Silva who stayed with her mother until her death and later went on to become a nun. 
After her death in 1592 Ana, the Princess of Eboli, was finally buried next to her husband Ruy in the township of Pastrana. 

Although I have read that it is not that good a movie, I would like to see Olivia de Havilland, in the title role of That Lady, with Paul Scofield as King Philip II, and Gilbert Roland as Antonio Perez. Perhaps Turner Classic Movies will designate Olivia de Havilland as Star of the Month and show it some day! The movie was based upon Kate O"Brien's stage adaptation of the novel; Katharine Cornell played the title role on Broadway in 1949.

Kate O'Brien was an Irish journalist, author, and biographer who was born in 1897 and died in 1974. She wrote several novels--and I went through a Kate O'Brien phase and read them all:
  • Without My Cloak (1931)
  • The Ante-Room (1934)
  • Mary Lavelle (1936)
  • Pray for the Wanderer (1938)
  • The Land of Spices (1941)
  • The Last of Summer (1943)
  • That Lady (1946)
  • The Flower of May 91953)
  • As Music and Splendour (1958)
She also wrote a biography of St. Teresa of Avila and travel books about Ireland and Spain. Her books have gone in and out of style. Virago Modern Classics published many of them in 1980's and Mary Lavelle was made in to a movie in 1998, Talk of Angels, starring Polly Walker (Jane Fairfax in the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma). Her books are readily available, although I'm not sure how many are still in publishers' catalogs

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