For my partner Johnny's 61st birthday, we took the train from London to the beautiful historic town of Bath. The last time I was there was in 1977 when my husband and I hitch-hiked and camped all over Britain. It seems to me that apart from the modern thermal spa which opened at the beginning of the 21st century, this hospitable Georgian town has changed little throughout the ages.
We had an opportunity to sample the traditional hospitality when we arrived at the town center. Each day, apart from Christmas, the town offers free walking tours conducted by kind and knowledgeable retired volunteers. Our lovely tour guide Maggie took us to see beautiful Georgian buildings around town and told us their stories. But another kind of story stayed with me.
On our way we passed the Royal Victoria Garden, a small beautiful park facing a formidable building by John Wood the Younger.* Maggie told us that for its dedication ceremony the 11-year-old Princess Victoria came to Bath. It is unclear if someone made a comment, or if it was written somewhere, that the princess wore a dodgy dress and had thick ankles. Apparently the young princess was so hurt that in all her years as queen she never once returned to Bath.
It is unclear whether it is a real story, but it made me sad; in my mind I saw this dejected little girl who, for no fault of her own, and because of her position, was the target of cruelty at such a young age. It also made me wonder about insults and their consequences.
We often make thoughtless remarks, without considering their effects. The name “thoughtless” suggests that thinking would have prevented the whole chain of events. Those who commented on the princess’ appearance clearly didn’t regard her as a person, looking at her only as a product, or as we say today “a celeb.” They may have thought it was funny or even brave to pass such judgment.
Perhaps Victoria heard (or imagined) people laughing at her, which would have augmented the whole unfortunate event and made her feel humiliated. Sometimes children are offended more by the reaction of the people close to them than from random comments by strangers, as they feel betrayed by their loved ones.
Very few women have achieved in their lifetime the power and the stature of Queen Victoria, but she was first a child and then a woman. Today it would take a life-time and hundreds of hours of therapy to erase childhood events that have resulted in traumas. Princess Victoria who grew up to be the Queen never forgot or forgave; apparently whenever she was passing through Bath in the train the Queen drew the window shutters.
This seemingly simple story, like any good story, has universal qualities. It brings up many issues on different levels: girlhood, insults, memory, femininity, cruelty, media, celebrity, consequences, forgiveness, and loneliness.
I visited Bath first as a young woman of 22 and returned after a lifetime, hopefully I changed and learned something in those 35 years.
Buildings and architecture in Bath: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buildings_and_architecture_of_Bath
*John Wood the Younger http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wood,_the_Younger