The Great St. Valentine’s Day Mystery

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...

So said Robert Herrick concerning the virgins of his day and it is sound advice. Unfortunately, all too often rosebuds open for suitors distinctly unworthy of the honor.

Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen a beautiful woman is the equal of any sovereign.  It is a mystery abounding the capriciousness of femininity so few actualize this immense power by choosing immortality over the ephemeral.

For every proverbial "one in a million" who bestows her charms wisely there remains the reality of nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine wallowing in anonymity.

Let us review the record for any notable exceptions...

Who was Fanny Brawne?

For most of her life no one else would have known either, though this was admittedly by choice.

Until she was near death Fanny kept as secret she had been engaged to one of the utmost poets of all time, John Keats. Their betrothal lasted approximately three years and her affection inspired Bright Star.

It is one of the tragedies of literature Keats succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of only twenty-five.

Though not well esteemed by his associates, subsequent the death of her fiancé Brawne went into mourning for several years. She wore the engagement ring he had given her until her own dying day.

Only with publication of cherished letters Keats sent to his beloved more than a half century earlier did the world come to know her identity. For his part, the poet requested to be buried with the unopened missives he had received.

An otherwise unremarkable woman who in middle-age (and more than a decade after the passing of her true heart) wed a wealthy merchant would have been entirely forgotten by History but for the fact she was loved by - and chose to love in return - a man among the greatest talents the world has ever known.

Who was Therese Malfatti?

While most are ignorant of the name, millions will identify her tune. Für Elise was written by none other than Ludwig von Beethoven either in her honor or as a gift, the inscription being poorly transcribed from "Für Therese."

Though there a few other candidates for the object of this dedication, Malfatti is by far the most logical suspect. It was she to whom Beethoven proposed marriage in 1810 and who foolishly refused his offer.

Apparently during a party given by her father the composer had more than was prudent to drink and some sort of unpleasant scene ensued which made her determine against him.

As a matter of fact, according to epistolary evidence, Ludwig intended to play her piece at the soirée but was so intoxicated its honoree merely insisted he scrawl these words at the top of the score which was discovered and published nearly four decades following his death.

In the aftermath of the incident Malfatti went on to marry a Hungarian Count no one today recalls while Beethoven went on to become arguably the most famous musician of any era.

Who was Marie-Thérèse Walter?

She was looking through the glass of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris of 1927 as a 17-year-old girl when a dour 45-year-old married man became intoxicated with her on sight.

Fortunately for Mademoiselle Walter her admirer was none other than Pablo Picasso, though at the time she had no notion of his renown.

What followed were paintings, and drawings, and sculptures, and significance. She was his companion for eight years and they shared a daughter together.

Despite the fact Picasso and Walter did not maintain their relationship, many consider her entrance into his life as the rebirth of his passion for painting. Pablo would keep his 1931 charcoal of her sleeping in his own private collection.

In 2020 the work was sold at auction for more than $10 million dollars.

Who was Marilyn Monroe?

Fair enough, certainly every reader recognized this one...or did they? Because, as ubiquitous as Monroe may be even after all these years, she produced a remarkably scant body of durable work.

Amid her more than thirty-five films less than a half dozen are genuinely amusing. A couple have some catchy showtunes. Only one stands the test of time and it was precisely the one written by her husband.

Successful playwright Arthur Miller was requested by his wife to draft a truly great screenplay for her and he came through with The Misfits. Its characters are complex and its plot is enduring. That Marilyn was already very much in the latter stages of being a sex symbol only reinforces this achievement.

Posterity Often Sees the Past Only through the Eye of Adoration

Indeed, one thing most of the noteworthy women above have in common is they were perceived merely by their admirers as beautiful.

Fanny Brawne was thus described, "She is about my height with a fine style of countenance of the lengthened sort - she wants sentiment in every feature - she manages to make her hair look well - her nostrils are fine though a little painful - her mouth is bad and good - her Profile is better than her full-face which indeed is not full but pale and thin."

Therese Malfatti has a mien which in a more genteel time would be referred as "handsome" if not "matronly" in countenance.

Marie-Thérèse Walter comes over in photographs at best as robustly dignified.

None of this commentary is a critique of these physical forms per se, but only to allow how radically reality can diverge from the sublime without a great talent to smooth the transition.

Even the aforementioned Monroe has undergone a complete reassessment over course of decades, to the point many presently view her as beefy or even overweight.

Perhaps not so long from now as some may think posterity will gaze upon Marilyn and be baffled as to what any man ever saw in her...yet vitally, those same eyes will watch The Misfits and recognize in her there lies Art.

Who will Remember the Dead?

Only those with sense for a semblance of Immortality - and as each legend since the beginning of human history has taught - Immortality cannot be purchased at any price.

Every foolish female through the ages who believed some fellow from Banker to Billionaire would provide eternal youth coupled with perpetual comfort has met same fate - obscurity.

For any maidens considering their options ranging the perpetual to the profitable on this St. Valentine's Day...choose wisely.

Guy Somerset writes from somewhere in America

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