Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Jerome Family - 2

The Second Empire was at its height. Napoleon III had renovated Paris. “Never had the Empire seemed more assured, the court more brilliant, the fetes more gorgeous,” Jennie later wrote. Relieved of the burden of Leonard’s philandering, Clara bloomed in her own, softer way. She presented her daughters at court. The Jeromes became intimate friends of the Empress Eugenie and the rest of the Imperial family. Jennie saw Eugenie’s beauty and admired her power to move men, influence events, and change history.

Then came 1870 and the Franco-Prussian War. The Commune took over Paris. The German army surrounded the city. The French declared the Third Republic. Clara, Jennie, and her sisters made a “Gone With the Wind” style escape through the mobs to make the last train out.

Napoleon was a captive of the Germans. Eugenie was a fugitive from both them and the Republic. Everybody remembered what had happened to Marie Antoinette. From the Channel Coast they helped her flee to England.

Leonard came at once and got them into Brown’s Hotel just off Piccadilly. From Jennie’s memoirs: “A winter spent in the gloom and fogs of London did not tend to dispel the melancholy which we felt.”

After the surrender, they returned to Paris. In the immediate aftermath of the Commune’s violence and the Germans’ siege, Paris was a drab, unhappy place.


Ruins everywhere: the sight of the Tuileries and the Hotel de Ville made me cry. St.-Cloud, the scene of many pleasant expeditions, was a thing of the past, the lovely chateau razed to the ground. And if material Paris was damaged, the social fabric was even more so. In vain we tried to pick up the threads. Some of our friends were killed, others ruined or in mourning, and all broken-hearted and miserable, hiding in their houses and refusing to be comforted.
How life had changed for Jennie Jerome! Had she stayed in New York, she would have had a sheltered, rich girl’s life though enlivened no doubt by her debonair father. Now the family was broken. By 1871 she had known the court of Napoleon III and had been introduced to the highest levels of social and political life. During that desperate flight from Paris on that last day, she had experienced danger and had seen death. She had experienced the plight of the refugee. And she had seen the aftermath of defeat.

The Jerome women still had entry to some of the high points of the social season, though their sponsors were increasingly bleak. At the Cowes Regatta, (the same Cowes that her father had crashed a few years earlier), she remembered,
I can see now the Emperor leaning against the mast looking old, ill and sad. His thoughts could not have been other than sorrowful and, even in my young eyes, he seemed to have nothing to live for.
Aristocrats from all over Europe always came to Cowes. The Jeromes made an annual appearance.

The Stock Market Crash of 1873 left Leonard Jerome broke. Jennie was 19 years old. They still attended another season at Cowes.

A Regatta ball at Cowes was an interesting event. This year, for example, a must-see one was the August 12 ball for the heirs to the Russian throne on board the HMS Ariadne. The Jerome women had to jump in their evening dresses from the barge to the ladders hanging on the side of the ship. They then had to climb up. This task accomplished, they could admire the bobbing lanterns, the giant flags of Great Britain and Imperial Russia, or the music of the Royal Marine Band.

They stood there bare-shouldered, dark complexioned, and hesitant. Young men danced with them. Time swept by as it always does on such nights. Jennie was standing alone dreamily admiring a set of Chinese lanterns bobbing in the twilight breeze when her friend Frank Bertie came up and said, “Miss Jerome, may I present an old friend of mine who has just arrived in Cowes, Lord Randolf Churchill.”

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)