Many readers have wanted to know more about Alice in Eye of the Moon.
Alice in the novel was inspired by my grandmother, Ava Alice Muriel Astor.
She died when I was four years old. I do recall her nonetheless. She introduced me to artichokes at my family’s New York apartment on 86th Street one lunch and showed me how to eat them.
I have vague impressions of her at our Rhinebeck estate, but whether these are true memories, I am uncertain. It is difficult to recall what was real, and what is not at any time, let alone at a very early age. My recollections when I was tiny, other than a few, are for the most part imperfect brushstrokes, like highlights filled with light and color rather than vivid pictures. She was tall it seemed to me, with jet black hair and a pale complexion. I have an early image of her standing by the dining room table with her attention on someone or something else, and that is all.
Any more information must be from secondary sources, primarily the stories my father shared and my grandfather’s memoir, One Man in His Time. I have a few conclusions of my own.
Alice was strong-willed. Her mother’s name was also Ava, but Alice did not use her first name for reasons that are unknown. Perhaps she didn’t like it. Her mother had married John Jacob Astor and divorced. Ava moved to London with her daughter and remarried, becoming Lady Ribblesdale. From all accounts, she was a powerful and determined woman in her own right.
Lady Ribblesdale abhorred the match between Alice and my grandfather, Serge Obolensky, from the start and did all she could to prevent it. Serge was in his early thirties and Alice was perhaps nineteen when they met as part of a foursome on a golf course. Alice thrashed them all.
Alice was very good at most everything she did other than being punctual. When Alice and Serge were living at Hanover Lodge in Regents Park, Alice had every clock in the residence set forty minutes early to no avail. She still ran late, even to court functions, which drove my grandfather round the bend.
The marriage didn’t last. Whether due to changes in personality we all undergo over time, I don’t know. I can remember myself at twenty-one, and I can recall myself at thirty. There is a profound difference. Perhaps, she discovered that as well. It is also a possibility that her mother was correct in her initial assessment.
Regardless, marriage and my grandmother were uneasy bedfellows. She married four times.
I met only two of her husbands, my grandfather and her second husband, Raimund von Hofmannsthal, later married to Lady Paget. I met them in London at their residence in 1970 with my mother and stepfather. They, too, were larger than life.
I will continue with more about Alice in future posts.