Sunday, April 5, 2009

Who was she?

I assume everyone has a mysterious relative, someone to whom you are genetically linked but whose character and motivation and behavior is mysterious to you.
Mine is my paternal grandmother, Germaine Marie Jeanne Levêque Lehner.

She was born June 2, 1892 at 9:30 PM in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue
I know the time exactly not from any family Bible, but from the horoscope that was drawn up for her in 1942 by Ethel Bret Harte who was very particular about the time of birth as it placed the sun in 12˚ Capricorn and the ruler, Mercury, in 0˚ Capricorn, both of which are brought into the 4th house. (I have no idea what any of that means.)
The discovery of the horoscope is what has prompted this writing.

I have a stack of Grumbacher sketchbooks filled with my grandmother’s watercolors. As in dozens. My siblings and cousins have dozens more. She painted hundreds of these abstract watercolors, so many that it is impossible not to wonder what compelled her. They are all similar in style, and each one is different.
I have a horsehair trunk full of her correspondence. I have a few leather notebooks with her poems. I haven’t read every single thing but I have read enough to be frustrated by the dreamy evasive quality of much of her poetry and by the generalities that fill the letters addressed to her.
Yet I know THINGS happened.
How soon after she married my grandfather did it become clear they were profoundly ill-suited for each other?
She was French, he was German.
She believed in Theosophy, astrology and numerology. She was a dancer, artist, probably a hypochondriac, a devotée of H.G. Wells, Annie Besant, Tagore and Rudolf Steiner.
He was a cotton trader, a brilliant businessman, and a patriarch.
OK – on the basis of those characteristics there is no reason to presume they were ill-suited. Great marriages have been forged from greater dissimilarities.
And yes, they were both Catholic but that only seems to have signified in the fact that they never actually divorced.

Having been frustrated in my attempts to learn more about my grandmother, I looked for information about Ethel Bret Harte (1875-1964). The youngest of Bret Harte’s five children (all equally neglected by their father) she appears exactly 10 scanty times in a recent Bret Harte biography (Bret Harte, Prince & Pauper, by Axel Nissen).
Her astrological bent is not mentioned. The fact that she was ill and destitute in 1905 (she was 30) is only obliquely alluded to, but Google found this:

So notable men did ante up for the poor offspring of the American writer. But of what ailed her I could not learn. And how well did she know Arthur Conan Doyle? He was a spiritualist and believed in the possibility of speaking with those gone over to the other side.
Am I being ignorant in lumping together spiritualism and astrology?
Ethel Bret Harte wrote one book:
What else do I know of Ethel Bret Harte? She knew my grandmother enough to write this last paragraph in her horoscope (7 single spaced typed pages on onionskin):
Now I leave you to draw your own conclusion on the quoted readings of planetary aspects in your natal chart because, though I could elaborate on these (Which coincide exactly with my own findings) I prefer that you should understand that this is not my interpretation which might seem prejudiced by knowing you. Then, too, I feel you have not been very frank or explicit with me as to just what did happen at home, though I have been forced to draw my own conclusions from what I find as tendencies in the chart.”
What do I learn from this? That my grandmother’s story was as elusive to her astrologer as it is to her descendants? Scant consolation.


Rebecca Rice said...

What a fascinating meditation on your grandmother! So I have my own question: Why was she having her horoscope done when she was 50? (This tends to be something younger folks do.) Usually people who are seeking information like this are in transition/crisis, which is what Ethel Bret Harte seems to be implying in her horoscope reading.

I do love the watercolors, however. They remind me a lot of the later Kandinsky.

Thank you for sharing this amazing story!

Diggitt said...

I love your grandmother's artwork. I love her paintings and her needlework. Fascinating to think what her vision might have been ... especially since she never told anyone.