From the Desk of
edited by Isabella Lomonico
From the archives of the Albany Estate, this letter was discovered in a copy of Dicken's Little Dorrit. The authenticity of the letter is not disputed. All artwork provided by the Tate Gallery, London, England; from the collection of the artist, Marie ter Hune, 1826 to 1897
Dearest Louise, my sweet cousin and confidante; albeit silent and absent.
You know me more than I know myself but for one other. Miss Albany, my step-mother and benefactress of sorts has brought me into her care these past many months, even though but a mere three years my senior. As a stripling, I languished in obscurity in my father’s firm; counting his money and then counting it again. She had assumed the task of caring for my education after Father dear passed on and she, Lord love that woman, as the Lady Albany, had assumed the responsibilities heretofore solely in the purview of my late father.
I had assumed that my work would continue at the firm; sadly at that. And lo, to my amazement, Miss Albany has taken me under her oh so downy wing to become learned in the skills known up to now only to the fairer sex, dare I say… Oh, Louise, I feel so naughty using that word… She had me in skirts almost immediately; and none too soon, mind you. I was appalled at the prospect of another dreary winter in the office, baking slowing by the coal fire while my life passed by in a dirgeful procession.
But to wear skirts…and such finery underneath that sent me nearly a swoon. Miss Albany seems pleased with my progress. A natural born damsel to hear her say it. She had me fitted and pushed and pulled and poked until I thought I would die; though a happy death it would be.
You had no right to be born; for you make no use of life. Instead of living for, in, and with yourself, as a reasonable being ought, you seek only to fasten your feebleness on some other person's strength. She let me know in no uncertain terms what she thought of me. Married these past five years less one, her most recent life had been in the shadow of her husband, while I was handed my title and my fortune and, yes, my gender. I did not deserve any of those riches to which I was unjustly rewarded, and she saw fit to take them, as a mother removes a toy from a baby’s crib. But I, unlike the baby, did not cry tears of sadness, but in the quiet of my soul in the dark, cried tears of joy over the deliverance set upon me by the Lady.
Consistency, madam, is the first of Christian duties, she would say, which reminded me of my sole goal in life. I was to be groomed; can I actually say ‘groomed?’ I was to be trained to be the next Lady Albany. As my stepmother had ordained, a boy would not be suited to the life of banking and high finance and even the body politic. So I was to be trained in the finer arts even as she began to train for my position as the future Lord Albany.
Conventionality is not morality, she would say constantly, since what was proposed was most assuredly unheard of. That a woman of her stature could assume my role and I hers? I protested not; being transported blissfully into her world even as she began her strides into mine. No matter what others might believe, even if they had the means of discovery. But discover the plan no one did.
I recall the last time I set eyes on the future-cum-late Lord Albany as the mirror was laid out before my frightened eyes. No longer a man, yet not quite a woman. Rachael, as my name would soon become, was not a Lady by any means other than a title given to her by her erstwhile benefactor, Richard Albany, as my step-mother had become. No mean feat, but she carried her role with aplomb and skill like none even in the theater. I, on the other hand, went to bed each night praying for some miracle that would translate me into that desired form.
I was taught in the skills of writing; penmanship, or as Richard would say, penwomanship; Calligraphy for invitations and thank you notes and announcements.
I'm just going to write because I cannot help it, I had come to say, as he gained my skills, such as they were, in accounting, being much better in the ways of money and finance that I ever was, while I assumed the blessed task of poems and sonnets and even a comedy or two. Writing became my life even as I became her. She schooled me and gleaned what little I knew of my father’s business. And while I may have earned the firm a modest gain in trade, she, or rather, he as now befit the role, garnered profit nearly five fold of what it had accomplished previously in but a fortnight.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it, the newest Lord Albany would say, almost on a daily basis. Where Richard was becoming a man of action, I, conversely became yet another weaver of rhymes and metre, being the writer now.
I was unable to grasp the logic of their decisions, even as I embraced the luxury of their implementation. Why, I asked, was I born to the manor and Richard, for that is who he now was, had been born to the distaff side of the fence. And even then, why did I feel so overwhelmed with glee and joy over my change. What had I ever done to deserve my fate, and what should I say if my father dare raise from the grave and question my timid acceptance.
Better to be without logic than without feeling, Richard would say. We often spent hours tutoring each other in our new roles, but one thing never seemed to alter an iota or whit; Richard remained in charge…make no mistake about that. But in all other affairs, I became the mistress. While everyone waited for Richard to speak…and such respect did he command that our transfer was seamless but for the knowledge of a few of her close associates. We became as one. I being the bride and he being the groom but for the parts of us which demanded no change if they be hidden sufficiently.
Whereas he was now in charge and commanded respect from me as his wife; in manner of purpose, I commanded his love. Yet we fit together like hand and glove, even if the order be reversed; happily preserving those differences that brought us transport to blissful surrender.
Can a man be a woman? Can a woman be a man? Do they even dare dream; like children of old who would wish upon a star? I presumed nothing but to breathe air clean and pure and filled with the scent of flowers and meadow grass. He presumed nothing but to be a captain of industry, but a young lioness gird in the skin of the King of beasts. And we lay together, husband and wife; not so much interchangeable as willing to change; not immutable in will or deed, but indestructible in emotion of passion and possessed souls for another. I delighted in being her and she delighted in being me. What could be better?
I shan’t be writing much more in this missive, as it has been filled to over flowing with the wonder of my journey into wife-hood even as Richard has become my master and I his helpmeet. And that is as it should be, would you not agree. As you have seen for yourself with your own transformation, yet it is so with mine. We women do have the best of both worlds, yes?
And as you already know, a man’s life is a tedious, task-ridden journey from womb to death. Richard may command the attention of the monarchs of fortune, but we both enjoy each other as God has planned all along. And we know that She knows always what she does. Fortune made and amassed and the need for subterfuge erased out of memory? Richard returned to her self much like the butterfly emerges from the cocoon. She being no longer a caterpillar but a Monarch in form and fashion. And I, no longer needing to be woman, but desperately wanting to be one, remain as my husband’s wife, even as she becomes my wife as well.
Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us. That may be so, but with fortune made and secured, the state of who and what I am…what is around and without me? The state is that which expresses the form to which I was destined if not born. And with Rachael? I am entirely cheerful. Entirely cheerful indeed.
I remain your loving cousin, Rachael
All quotes in red are by Charlotte Bronte'
"Le Carnaval des Animaux" (Duboit) - No. 1-7
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