14 January 2010

Devastating Beauty V: Lady Gladys' Mirror


Gladys* Deacon- wealthy in her own right ,
an American heiress brought up on the continent-
truly an independent woman in her youth. 
Gladys painted by Boldini for Marlborough

She was breaking hearts in London-while Consuelo Vanderbilt , Duchess of Marlborough, was suffering from her own broken heart at the hands of a Duke in a loveless marriage. At 14 Gladys' * diary reveals tears, regrets lamenting that she had not been of eligible age to land Sunny- Consuelo's dismal Duke of Marlborough. That dream never died. For many years-Gladys satisfied both parties in the irreconcilable marriage with her friendship. Consuelo recalled when meeting Gladys that she was beautiful and alluring.”

Famed art critic Bernard Berensen said "she is radiant and sphinxlike... Enchanting, but tiring. A wonderful creature, but too much of a born actress to take quite seriously. But so beautiful, so graceful, so changeful in a hundred moods, so brilliant that it is enough to turn anyone's head,"
"something of a lascivious young god in girl's clothes."

A perfectionist-
Gladys was obsessed with her less than perfect nose-
It kinked.

by Sargent

At the age of 40, after an almost 20 year divorce in the making -Gladys became the 9th Duchess of Marlborough- marrying her sunny Duke.
Alas,the marriage was not a happy one-ultimately-finding Gladys dining with a pistol at her side-once she quipped to a dinner partner that she might just shoot the Duke.

the Eye of Gladys, an incredible blue
Blenheim Palace North Portico ceiling
painted in1928 by Colin Gill for the Duchess
restored in 2008

In her ongoing quest for that perfect nose,Gladys injected wax into the bridge of her nose.Supposedly the injected wax collected in her chin and along the sides of her cheeks-marring her once fine features. At this point, Gladys, an eccentric, must have retreated into her unique world protected by the walls of Blenheim-allowing no mirrors to capture the face that had once been admired by so many.  She gardened, cultivated a garden of snakes and bred her beloved Blenheim spaniels to the point of the destruction of Blenheim carpets.Her likewise unsunny Duke-perhaps bored with his Duchess- vacated his ancestral Blenheim-leaving Gladys without electricity or funds- in residence. The two once in lovebirds parted but never divorced.
Our Duke died in 1934 and left his second Duchess.
She lived long but Not Well. Surviving the Duke by over 40 years.

In a very UNfairy tale- after a twenty year wait, her dream became reality. Lady Gladys married her Duke.
By then, her Youth fading,  her Beauty  lost,
Devastating INDEED.

She wrote of her marriage."like a black heavy cloud leaving such a disgusted pain that for years & even now I cannot bear to even brush by it in thought."

one of the sphinx at Blenheim- the likeness of Gladys
by W.Ward Willis

It must be difficult for beautiful women to accept what they perceive as their flaws. The emphasis the Edwardian era placed upon women to be Beautiful and certainly that emphasis today, moved many women to seek a different vision in the mirror. Gladys may have fared better in today's world of tidy nip and tuck cosmetic surgery- but she would likely never have acquired the perfect nose she sought-especially when it need not be perfected. Gladys had waited for something that did not exist. It haunted her mind the rest of her lonely life.

I recommend the book by Hugo Vickers Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough

* pronounced Glay-dus

One of a series of Episodes about Devastating Beauty previously published



  1. This was a wonderful post...I remember going to Blenheim in the 80's and looking up at the portico...there were the eyes. If I remember, one was Consuelos' and the other Gladys.

    Their friendship seemed to be like the main women characters in the movie THE DUCHESS, with Keira as Georgiana...another Spencer/Marlborough child who was beautiful to only wither at a young age disfigured by leeches, shame and drink...Leeches on the eye of course, perhaps human as well.


  2. PS...Loved the book by Vickers, an old one but truly well written on a woman who went from the largest Palace in England to a tiny cottage stuffed with Cavaliers King Charles and reclusive.

    Very allegorical like a Tiepolo painting how she disappeared - a light that shined so bright on two continents, dimmed out by the beautiful suffering of Consuelo.

  3. I visited Blenheim with my parents and was ungrateful, so only saw the grounds and not the inside of the house. Who's laughing now? Those eyes are incredible.

  4. I love that ceiling. Oh, those of us with kinked noses...we must accept that that is part of the beauty. N'est pas?

  5. Can't top Giovanni, for fans, feathers, and fantastic fabrics (and of course, the reclining nudes.) So gorgeous!

    The beauties this week have been thoroughly devastating la. I’m hopeless pining over here, for all the lovely ladies :)

  6. DMC-do return, well worth the time spent.

  7. Janet, no doubt, preferable, distinguished- my grandMA had THE very Nose that Miss Sitwell profiles in my sidebar of little augury stories-as they say aristocratic.

  8. Jason- so glad you are enjoying this epic! Any Boldini woman is gorgeous. I adore the fine feathers you sent my way-must grace the LA stage this weekend. Bravo!

  9. fascinating! i'm still memorized by the wax, and trying to figure that one out... please expand and tell us more about her life...

  10. Boldini like his contemaparies Sargent,Serov and de Laszlo was spoiled with the beauty they could capture on canvas for posterity..
    Gladys was spoiled by her fame and paid a tragic price 40 years of existance in a twilight world..
    Consuelo too was incredibly beautiful...charming the consumate hostess but spoiled to by her great wealth and when after the births of her sons "the heir and spare" she found herself...free of her husband,domineering mother..she had her subtle revenge....her fate however was much kinder than her 1st husbands or Gladys...she found great love with her french 2nd husband and a gilded life moving from one exqusite home to another in splendid style...even the fall of France was only a hiccup"

  11. Andy , well said- it does seem Love conquers All. No?



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