01 February 2015

Jane Austen’s Life of Peggy Lee

On simultaneously reading James Gavin’s Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.


It being agreed among the party, that no other occupation would compare with the pleasure of hearing Miss Lee sing, the carriages were called for, and set out from Hedgerowe House at seven o’clock, amidst great excitement of anticipation. Only Mr. Thompson dissented, for though he could not dispute Miss Lee’s excellence as a singer, “but however, should the present entertainment in any way resemble that of her Broadway show, Peg, then we must prepare ourselves for a considerable discouragement.”

The evening was fine, but the road to 28th Street was long, and the party had occasion to reflect upon Miss Lee’s peculiarities, and to wonder whether, this evening, she would rise from her chaise longue or remain there as she sang. “It is a most excellent quality in a lady,” declared Miss Wallace, “that she should never raise her voice; in that, I think, we may all look to Miss Lee for an example.”

Reports of Miss Lee’s health, having disturbed Mr. Bennett, however, he expressed the intention, to share with her the most excellent physic, which he had got in Palm Beach the previous spring, “for there is nothing, you may mark my words, that cannot be cured with physic and exercise, such as riding, if the mount be as sound as my good roan, that is the admiration of the county; and I have heard, that Miss Lee will never leave her room all day before sundown, if then. An excess of repose is unwise.”

“I am quite sure that Miss Lee must be in want of a husband,” said Lady Randall, “for she has only three thousand a year, and such is her character, that she must have a new gown, whenever she steps out; and though the colours never vary from white to peach to pink, she has by now a great quantity. For my part, I shall tell her that a muslin frock should be most becoming, and not at all dear, with only a turban and a few feathers, or a hat; for the number of gentlemen, possessing twenty thousand a year and inclined to seek her hand, cannot at this moment be plentiful, else she would be married already.” But Louisa declared Miss Lee’s prospects a subject worthy of no regard whatever, and returned to her tambour; and Lord Randall cared only whether Miss Lee would sing “Fever” again.

Mr. Dawson’s Ballroom had never looked so gay as it did this evening, they agreed upon entering it, its narrow grey walls presenting an aspect, that must provoke the admiration of anyone, whose opinions on music, or on the cut of another woman’s frock, are strong. Yet Mrs. Collins did, with a sigh, regret the Empire Room, where the party had met so many times in the past; and “she did not wonder that Miss Lee will not at any cost remove her sunglasses, for she cannot care at all for the view, when she looks out upon the present Ballroom and recalls the former Empire.”

A servant informing them, of there being no madeira, nor even any claret, at the ready, the party generally agreed upon gin and tonics, and for Miss Julia Bennett, a Harvey Wallbanger; and awaited Miss Lee’s arrival.


Anne said...

I don't know much about this book or Peggy Lee...but the very odd subtitle lets one a lot...as in hacket job ...I mean there are others more worthy of being called strange by their biographer ...wouldn't you say?

William V. Madison said...

The book is by no means a hatchet job, and Jim Gavin (who is a friend of mine) treats Peggy Lee with the kind of sensitivity that she often failed to show toward anyone other than herself. (She was the inspiration for the Muppets' Miss Piggy, after all.) As for "strange" -- now that I've read the book, the word strikes me as entirely apt, and I underscore (again?) that I walked away from her biography with genuine sympathy for her.

Anne said...

I'll take your word for it Bill . Of course I did not know you were a friend of the author...considering that, you treated me like the gentleman you are ;)