Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chapter 14 - Mira: Part 2 - A Quick Romance

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Alfred had decided some time before that he would probably remain a bachelor. Not that he was a puritan. As he put it, “all my life in many ways I was spoilt by women.”(6) But many of the women he had previously met, while charming, did not live up to his expectations for a mate. He didn’t want to end up with some version of his mother whom, though educated in a literary sense, he considered both frivolous and manipulative.

Now here beside him sat another charming lady. He had heard about her before while visiting the Duke of Connaght and his daughter Patricia in Ottawa during his time at Petawawa. Mira had stayed with them earlier and painted their portraits. As Mira told him about her work, he realized she was far from frivolous, but indeed rather industrious and dedicated. Despite her “queer” horseback-riding getup, he found her attractive. She also had a directness he liked. She seemed to have a genuine concern for the larger circle of humanity beyond herself. As a child, she had gotten a “little 2-inch gold ruler with the golden rule engraved on it” as a gift “and she took it with her everywhere.”(7) As Alfred put it years later, “her feeling and my feeling went parallel....she’s not a radical, just an honest, intelligent person who knows how to face facts.”(8)

He found out fairly quickly that they also had some very different ways of looking at and talking about things.:

From a linguistic point of view our temperament somehow did not agree, …she was a flowery, verbally very polite [person] in a parlor sort of way and I was a solid, scientific man who was teaching hard stuff all his life. So linguistically we did not fit.”(9) 
They immediately got into an argument. Alfred described it as follows:
She began to talk about nothing and blurt out opinions that were perfectly unjustified, not based on facts. And I had to say something. I couldn’t get up and say go to hell. That’s not done in polite society, so I was sitting and having clever conversation, and finally whatever she said somehow I cornered her that she does not know what she is talking about, of course, very polite, very polite. But I couldn’t help it. I would be either silent or if I said something, I had to say what I meant. And so finally, this is already [a] funny thing, when she could not argue at all, because whatever she said, it was turned around…she began to kick, and being a horseman, when a horse misbehaves, you put your hand on the horse and quiet it down. This was not very parlor-like. I put my hand on her knee this way. You see. Pipe down. I didn’t say pipe down, but I said, If you want to argue, argue, but don’t kick. …She piped down immediately, stopped kicking...I just looked at her, by jove, perhaps that woman could eventually fit me. So far…I was fitting her. (10) 

They left the tea party and went to a restaurant where they talked into the early morning hours. They met the next day and talked some more. “She told me about her life. I told her about my life...We became more and more acquainted.”(11) Mira may have told him at this time about her brief marriage in 1914 to a fellow artist, Frederick Burt.(12) At any rate, Alfred certainly knew he was not getting involved with an inexperienced young girl. Nor did he want to. After a brief courtship, they got married in January, one day after Mira’s birthday. 
Alfred and Mira, Wedding Day
A wedding notice appeared in the Washington Herald:
Announcement is made of the marriage of Mrs. [sic] Mira Edgerly and Col. Count Alfred Skarbek de Korzybski. The wedding took place yesterday morning [Friday, January 17] in the chambers of Associate Justice Ashley M. Gould of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, with a little group of intimate friends of the bride and bridegroom to visit the ceremony. Mrs. Edgerly wore a traveling costume and the bridegroom was in uniform.(13)  

The story of the wedding was picked up in many of the major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. The romance of the well-known portraitist of the rich and famous with a Polish Count had definite news value. Mira Edgerly had now become Countess Mira Edgerly-Korzybska. The noble title would give her a notch up on the social scale and thus perhaps some advantage in appealing to her wealthy clientele. Conversely, Alfred was now married to a U.S. citizen and thus had an added bit of security if he wanted to stay in America. A Washington gossip columnist speculated on what seemed like a marriage of convenience:
Myra Edgerly, who has been about Washington for a year or more painting all the notables she could lure into purchasing her ivories or sitting for them, has swapped the name she has made famous for that of something less pronounceable...Myra has an excellent eye to business for she could have found few better ways of advertising her miniature exhibition now being held in the Perry Belmont house. The count is one of those romantic characters brought to the shores of this country by the war…Myra should certainly get some new commissions from her clever publicity work.(14) 

Despite whatever side benefits either might have gotten from their marriage, the primary reason for it clearly seems to have been love, i.e., mutual attraction and—despite their differences in intellectual style—companionability. Mira, who had not found fulfillment among her artistic and intellectual friends, found in Alfred someone who lived up to her high ideals in a man. As she was entering middle age, she had finally found someone whom she would want to be the father of her child. Mira’s friend, the writer Mildred Aldrich, who introduced her to Gertrude Stein, had described Mira as an “altruistic enthusiast in search of a great mission.”(15) In their early conversations, she sensed Alfred was at the brink of starting such a mission and she could think of nothing better than to help him bring it to fruition. For Alfred’s part, he could clearly feel her encouragement. This, combined with her attitude of independence (so different from his mother and other aristocratic ladies he had known), drew him to her—beyond her physical attractiveness. (Years later, Alfred told Ralph Hamilton privately, “We had a glorious sex life.”) (16) 

Just before meeting Mira, he had been thinking about returning to Poland. The country needed good men for the work of reconstruction. His family’s properties required his attention. Mira and he had discussed going to Poland and simply living together, since as far as he knew the country had no civil marriages at the time and neither of them wanted a church wedding. However, she was in debt. Despite her significant income, money seemed to fly out of her hands. She was in the midst of a painting “campaign” where she could earn a significant amount of money. If they went to Poland immediately, she probably would not have been able to get commissions, given the bleak post-war economic circumstances of the country. So in the meantime, having married here, they could enjoy each other and the Washington social scene, while Mira could paint and have exhibits and Alfred could see about getting some income. They could go to Poland in the fall.(17)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
6. Korzybski 1947, p. 201. 

7. C.S. Read 1955, p. 56. 

8. Korzybski 1947, p. 208. 

9. Ibid., p. 208.  10. Ibid., pp. 200, 202. 

11. Ibid. p. 202. 

12. The fact of Mira’s first marriage is not mentioned in Charlotte Schuchardt Read’s biographical account of Mira or in Korzybski’s 1947 autobiographical statement. I first discovered it by chance while looking through old New York Times archives. See “Sculptor To Wed Artist”. New York Times, Jan. 30, 1914 and “Mira Edgerly Weds. She Becomes Wife of Frederick Burt At Quiet Wedding”. New York Times, Feb. 2, 1914. 

13. Wedding Announcement, Washington Herald, 1/17/1919. AKDA 1.51. 

14. “The Club Fellow and Washingon Mirror”. Jan. 22, 1919. AKDA 1.55. 

15. Qtd. in Simon, p. 339. 

16. Ralph C. Hamilton, Personal Interview. 

17. Korzybski 1947, pp. 199, 208. 

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