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Who will give in to despair is a mystery

Before jumping inexplicably to her death, she had expressed only joy with her life


 

Who will give in to despair is a mystery

Princess Luciana Pignatelli died in her seventies last October after taking sleeping tablets washed down with a bottle of gin. She had lost out on two currencies: her money and her looks. She could have managed with only one of them but not without both. “I can’t face being old and poor,” she told her friends after learning all of her investments were worthless. A memorial service was held two weeks ago in Rome for the woman who had once been the object of desire for Italy’s most dashing men about town, including Fiat’s Gianni Agnelli and his brother-in-law (Prince) Carlo Caraccioli, founder of the left-centre newspaper La Repubblica.

Older readers might recall her Camay soap commercials, described by Camille Paglia as “strangely somnambulistic.” There’s a 1974 one she did, when she was married to a cousin of photographer Richard Avedon, on YouTube. Her earlier marriage to Nicoló Pignatelli, a handsome, clever prince from Italy’s black aristocracy, gave her the name she kept. The New York Times Magazine’s beauty editor Mary Tannen profiled her in 2003, quoting from Pignatelli’s The Beautiful People’s Beauty Book: “I underwent hypnosis, had cell implants, diacutaneous fibrolysis, silicone injections, my nose bobbed and my eyelids lifted.” And that was just in 1970.

She was a silly woman, I suppose, but with a generous spirit. In my twenties I saw the Vogue photographs and the Life magazine cover of her. Such beauty. Her obsession resulted in its destruction through a myriad of operations. At one point, she lived down the street from me in London, still managing to exude an aura of brittle gaiety even when, on returning from some trip, she discovered that her entire apartment had been emptied by thieves posing as movers. Her final exit had some dignity—if washing down pills has any. She knew, I imagine, that her future was at best the shabbiness of Lily Bart’s rooming house in Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth.

Humans may be the only species to commit suicide while physically healthy. Kamikaze bees or beached whales don’t really qualify. This ability of ours is the dark side of our gift of rationality. But who will give in to despair defies all analysis. Currently, we focus on lives wasted by the financial meltdown. French businessman René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, 65, reportedly lost more than US$1.4 billion of his family’s and clients’ money in Madoff investments and slashed his wrists. German industrialist Adolf Merckle, 74, and U.K. financier Kirk Stephenson, 47, jumped in front of trains. Nothing new: in 1928 the Belgian entrepreneur Alfred Lowenstein (who made a fortune by joining up with Canadian-born financier Sir James Dunn) resolved a dodgy balance sheet by landing before his private plane while crossing the English Channel.

Neither youth nor beauty is a sufficient defence. In 1920, a 24-year-old Russian Jewess scandalously hanged herself after her rabbi husband had apparently schemed to have the marriage annulled, when on her arrival at Ellis Island she was not as beautiful as remembered. More recently, Ruslana Korshunova, 20, was on her way to becoming a supermodel. She had expressed nothing but joy with her life, when on a June afternoon last year, she inexplicably jumped from her ninth-floor Manhattan apartment.

Methods depend on what’s at hand. Relatives of mine used the domestic gas oven in Britain after the war. I thought this singular until I read that gassing accounted for more than 40 per cent of U.K. suicides in 1963 when coal gas contained carbon monoxide. Natural gas contains no carbon monoxide and by 1975 gas suicides had virtually disappeared. No surprise that entertainment celebrities spark more copycat suicides than political or economic elites. Freddie Prinze was more influential than U.S. Senator William Knowland or Eli Black of United Brands, who in 1975 spectacularly bashed out the window of his 44th-floor office with his briefcase and jumped, after hurricane Fifi had wreaked havoc with his fruit conglomerate and the SEC was about to accuse him of bribing the Honduran president for a lower tax on bananas.

Culture plays some role. Pre-war Budapest had the highest rates of suicide in Europe. Social historian Gabor Gyani speculated that it was the attempt of ordinary people to single themselves out from teeming crowds of metropolitan strangers. Whatever, the city gave birth to the song Gloomy Sunday, dubbed the “Hungarian suicide song,” composed in 1933 by Rezos Seress—who himself committed suicide—and popularized in America by Billie Holiday. Two suicides in 1922 Shanghai society made newspaper stories. One woman hung herself from the bedpost in response to her mother-in-law’s cruelty. The other, Xi Shangzhen, an office worker, had lost money after her boss invested for her in the booming Shanghai stock market. She hanged herself at work using the cord of an electric teakettle. “One is a family matter,” wrote the press, dismissively. The other, that of a “new-style” woman, was described as a problem for society and attracted great controversy as symbolic of changes in Chinese social and political mores.

Hurrying up death, a happening from which there is as yet no avoidance, seems mysterious no matter what the circumstances. “Death comes to the apple / Death comes to the cheese / Learning is amusing / Knowing brings no release,” wrote poet George Jonas in 1967. Sums it up.


 

Who will give in to despair is a mystery

  1. As always, Amiel seems to have an important point to make. If only anyone could figure out what it is!

    And, if those lines are anything to go by, her ex-husband George Jonas really sucks as a poet.

  2. “More recently, Ruslana Korshunova, 20, was on her way to becoming a supermodel. She had expressed nothing but joy with her life, when on a June afternoon last year, she inexplicibly jumped from her ninth-floor Manhattan apartment.”

    Ah, but how do we know she JUMPED? Defenestration is a common practice in Russia and anywhere else in the world that the Mafia’s tentacles reach.

    The rest of the article is rambling waffle. People kill themselves for all kinds of reasons, which can include serious illnesses and the prospect of only more severe physical suffering and loss of independence and dignity. Others are afflicted by mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. Some, such as poor farmers in Third World countries, find themselves in such dire financial straits, in debt to people who can get very nasty and brutal, and unable to provide for their families, with the result that they see no other way out. Others still ruin their lives with alcohol, drugs, addictive things like gambling and eventually lose their way so thoroughly that death is the only way out that they can see.

    Others, who have no real health- or poverty-related problems, become victims of the value systems to which they subscribe and allow to rule their lives. Some people like that Pignatelli dame – and maybe Amiel herself – have so much, luxury, status, admiration of those they see as “lessers”, but always seem to want more. They imagine they are something really special, which they are not, because everyone is important in a decent society that has not lost its way or is not in the process of doing so.

    Sooner or later, realities like age or the limits of their power and money catch up with those self-imagined “beautiful people”, and when they can no longer appreciate the things that make “little people” happy, they have nothing more to live for and top themselves. Who really misses them other than gossip columnists?

    I suppose one way of tackling and reducing the problem of ordinary, not powerful, people committing suicide would be to come up with good mental health programs, including especially preventive ones, but that would call for considerable sums of public money and maybe higher taxes for the wealthy.

    How would the Pignatellis and Amiels of this world feel about that?

    • Your pitiful commentary, not only show you have no respect for the deceased or their families, but that you are yourself bitter. However unlike you, I will not speculate as to why you chose to portray a woman who in her will stated that she wants a charity I shall not name, to receive a handsome percentage. She lived for a few years in india and had many friends there. She, just like my mother and myself have never and would never treat anyone like our lesser.

      I fight against miscarriages of justice and I defend people who I have actually witnessed degrade someone because they don’t view us all as equals. All hearts beat on the same.

  3. People who decide to depart voluntarily from life often surprise even those who are closest to them. How can we know how the human mind works? But, they are doing their thing, and who are we to blame them. When you feel life is no longer worth living, why not just check out?

    I sure hope Amiel isn’t trying to tell us something. She still has time to find a meaningful purpose in life, like voluntary work with the needy – if she can find any in Palm Beach – or helping out at a mission or care home for the poor and indigent.

    According to the latest report by Peter Worthington, Amiel’s convict husband is getting a lot of good feeling from helping others – such as teaching literacy to some of his less-fortunate fellow prisoners. Way to go! It’s better late than never.

  4. Yawnnnnn —-zzzzzzzzzz

  5. Thank goodness for the rest of you commenters. I was beginning to think the rambling, thought of a point but then forgot about it halfway through style of Ms. Amiel’s writing was just me.

    But really, can anyone explain how this gem made it onto the printed page?

    “Humans may be the only species to commit suicide while physically healthy. Kamikaze bees or beached whales don’t really qualify.”

    They don’t qualify–why? Because up to that point you had an idea for the article, and the bees and the whales ruined it?

  6. Gawd, a George Jonas reference. I feel like I’m in my dentist’s office, circa 1986, whenever I read one of Babs’ columns.

    • Ha-ha! Maybe she’s looking around for an alternative now that Her Lord and Master CB is likely to be “away”, as she puts it, until 2013.

      Today’s London Times has this article, in which the writer perceptively notes that he doesn’t even mention her:

      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article5835071.ece

      Maybe it’s a question of “old salt creating a new thirst”. ROFL

  7. ROFLMAO!

  8. Too rich: Amiel waxing solemn about plight the victims of white-collar con-men criminals.

  9. THE UNTHRUTHS THAT DESTROY THE FONDEST OF MEMORIES

    She had lost out on two currencies: her money and her looks. She could have managed with only one of them but not without both. “I can’t face being old and poor,” she told her friends after learning all of her investments were worthless.

    I feel it is my obligation to defend those unfortunate souls who would have done so had they been given the chance. Therefore I shall correct various assumptions throughout your article. As per the above quote- True, she lost her looks and considering the beauty she was, she couldn’t recognize her own reflection. Her money, however, complete fabrication I am afraid! She left her two children with a handsome trust. For everything I write, I have physical proof.
    “She was a silly woman, I suppose, but with a generous spirit.”
    Incorrect, yet again. Either you wish to portray her as fictional or you in fact did not know this woman on any count. The word “silly” is almost a hideous joke on you considering she not only inspired a following of hopefuls, wrote best sellers, looked the way she did (it just doesn’t happen to everyone) she spoke over five languages and could hold political, historical or religious debate with the most learned of lawyers and in fact emerge triumphant. She was intelligent beyond anything she let on. Do not degrade a woman such as her.
    “Her final exit had some dignity—if washing down pills has any. She knew, I imagine, that her future was at best the shabbiness of Lily Bart’s rooming house in Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth.”
    You have such a reputation for being a wonderful writer but what I see here is the chance to blacken the reputation of someone whom has no way of defending herself. For this you should be ashamed. She knew nothing of her future except that she had a child that was by her side without fail. A child who had her own problems to deal with but put her mothers’ aside. If you feel the arrogance to publicly release such a disgrace of an article then at least now facts. Mental Disorder causes such despair that in the moment it encapsulates you cannot escape. If you have not experienced this then you have no right to comment. The pain is too hard to describe. And as you see those you love, living lives that make them happy in the way you wished you were, that leads to regret, despair, isolation, anxiety. This lasts for years and the guilt only intensifies.
    It has taken me time to respond but it would not be me if I did not. You have degraded a woman who made herself who she was and since the age of 23 suffered various problems many times overlooked by those who “cared.” She realized finally that she had spun a web unable to be undone and she freed herself of something many would not have the courage to do. She rid herself of the parasite life was- clinging to her against her will. Everyone lives in the hopes on becoming a memory. I refuse to let hers be ruined and certainly not by you.

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