I missed last week’s blog because I was reading for … my teacher training course. I was trying to plough through Ovid, which, though marvellous, is an enormous text. I also had a considerable amount of pedagogical texts to read. Anyway, I’m training to be an English teacher which is terrifying and brilliant and the course is, so far, excellent – thorough and thoughtful and the tutors seem mostly kind.
Also, I had big plans for Capote and his Swans – when I was reading Swan Song I wanted to produce a diagram that would show how the Swans connected to everyone else in the world. And, oh! how they were connected: one of Gloria Guinness’ children, Doris, married her step-brother, Patrick Guinness, and on his death, she ‘hoped’ (according to Wikipedia) to marry Patrick’s half-brother, Aga-Khan IV – the details, apparently, are contained in the irresistibly titled Horses & Husbands: The Memoirs of Etti Plesch, a biography by Hugo Vickers (its Amazon reviews make it sound like a fascinating insight into the life of a rather horrible woman and her aristocratic peers). Both Gloria and her husband were married three or four times and, through their various spouses and issues, they had connections that spread across the globe. CZ Guest married a second cousin of Winston Churchill and Pamela Churchill married Winston’s son. Gloria and Guest appear to have been largely happily married. Lee Radziwill, by contrast, is mostly famous because of her sometimes / sometimes not, fractious relationship with her sister – though through Jackie as well as via her own friends and husbands, Lee was fantastically well connected.
Anyway, my Swan Song project is a time-sucking project, so next week I’ll share some prose or poetry (plus notes on what I’ve written), and take a break from Truman and his bevy. This week, however, I will write about CZ Guest, because she seems like an uncomplicated character.
As an aside, I wanted to note that despite what’s written about the women in Capote’s life, it doesn’t mean we’re any closer to knowing them – legend often overwrites what’s ‘real’ – and it is particularly difficult to separate a beautiful woman from her looks; beauty is so distracting. I went to school with someone who is now very famous. At the time, though they were clearly talented and unique, their looks weren’t at all remarkable. As their celebrity increased, so did their beauty, and now they are so removed from the person they once appeared to the rest of us, that that person seems to have been an entirely different being. Though there must be traces of the original personality, a palimpsest of that earlier being, within the new creation. There was another girl who was, at the time, incredibly lovely. She was insecure and quite awful but still worshipped (yes, by me too) because of her appearance, and her charming smile.
I always think of that when I see and read about the Swans – although photos, gossip, articles and reports etc. can tell us so much, we still know so little about the person inside. Perhaps that’s why biography and autobiography are so intriguing – we imagine they will reveal secrets; provide real insight; explain how and why someone rose or fell. But I don’t think we can ever know what someone’s really like, particularly when you add blinding good looks to the equation -a gorgeous countenance, a blistering smile can charm you into believing something that might be wildly inaccurate.
CZ Guest features in Swan Song as a good friend of Capote, an easy-going straight-talking loyal friend who stuck with him even as he descended into hell. She began life as Lucy Douglas Cochrane, born into a wealthy family, a ‘golden goddess of the Massachusetts north shore’ according to her obituary in the Guardian newspaper.
She left home at 17 and travelled here and there, taking in a stint at 20th Century Fox as a potential starlet, though she never made a film. Dali and Riviera painted her – though both portraits differ they seem to have captured a very still, self-contained quality, something almost cherubic, a little angelic.
She was a fashion icon – celebrated for her ‘preppy’ look – which I think is curious because she’s not as beautiful or elegant as the other Swans – in fact, her figure looks a little ordinary – lacking the social x-ray look of Radziwill, Babe, Slim or Guinness. But her look is distinct – pared down (she favours monochrome, straight lines). I wonder if she also embodies the very ordinariness, friendliness, apparent openness and almost blandness that typified mid-20th Century America, that enabled America to colonise the world culturally.
CZ married her husband, Winston Frederick Churchill Guest at 27 and remained married (!), producing two children and, by all accounts, living a happy, horticulturally rich life (according to my research she loved gardening and wrote a gardening column after her husband lost some of his money through investing in an airline). She was a no-nonsense type of woman, who apparently understood the ups and downs of life despite her privileged upbrining. If you want to read more, I’d recommend this blog, but for now, that’s the Swans done (until I can face Gloria or Lee).