Young Elizabeth Hardy Fair of Virginia. Daughter of Elizabeth Hardy, who was sister to Mary ‘Pinky’ Hardy, United States General Douglas MacArthur’s mother.
As a schoolgirl back in the 1960’s before Expo 67 opened in Montreal, the only works of art I would have recognized were the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I would have seen them, you see, on TV caricatured in advertisements for toothpaste or gloves, or on sophisticated Saturday morning cartoons like the Bugs Bunny Show.
Today, when I think of the Venus de Milo, I think of my husband’s Great Aunt Elizabeth.
In 1910 Elizabeth Hardy Fair,a single society girl from Warrenton, Virginia, USA, was visiting the Continent for the first time. She was in her mid twenties.
The aging ingénue kept a written record in diary form and I have it. This European diary reveals that she started her trip in London (hated it, too gloomy) and then went on to Paris, (loved it, so pretty).
Sorry to say, that’s about as deep as she gets.
Still, Elizabeth penned this one rather intriguing phrase from a visit to the Louvre: “Saw Gaylord Clarke coming out of the Venus de Milo Room. Second time we have met since abroad.”
Now, if this were a scene from an E.M. Forster novel, and Miss Elizabeth Fair were a luminous young woman of head-strong character, this ‘chance meeting’ at the Louvre would have been, no doubt, a significant turning point in the trajectory of Miss Elizabeth’s life.
Just think of it. In 1910, women such as Elizabeth covered themselves, neck to toes, in starchy shirtwaists and princess skirts.
Now contemplate the Venus de Milo with her sumptuous drapery dipping below the upper curve of her perfect buttocks, and then figure what it must have felt to be a young man coming out of the Venus de Milo room in that era–before the age of California beach volleyball. And then imagine what an opportune moment it was for the very eligible Miss Elizabeth Hardy Fair of Warrenton, Virginia.
As it is, this Mr. Clarke left for England the next day. End of their story.
Elizabeth soon returned to Warrenton, still very much single. Eight years later she would travel to Montreal (to visit her older sister, Mae) and find a husband in the form of one Frank Tofield, banker.
She would live out her life in the posh Linton apartments on Sherbrooke Street West in ‘uptown’ Montreal, impressing her great nephews and nieces at every Sunday dinner with the button on the floor under the dining room table that she used to summon the staff with her foot.
Now, as someone who likes to write about ancestors, I like to think that everyone who ever lived is worthy of at least one book, or at least a good short story, but my husband’s Great Aunt Elizabeth may be an exception.
Elizabeth and Frank had no children and all she left behind to her nephew is a tattered scrapbook with a few yellowed clippings like this one from a 1904 St. Louis Social Notes page: .
Miss Elizabeth Fair of Warrenton VA is the guest of Dr. and Mrs. John O’Fallon and is a beautiful girl who has been a great deal feted and admired around St. Louis. The 1904 World’s Fair!
The year before, in 1903, she attended her soon-to-be famous first cousin, Douglas MacArthur’s, West Point graduation. She glued the dance card into her scrapbook. Mae had the first dance, a waltz; she had the third, a gavotte.
And then there’s this diary, this pedestrian record of her 1910 European experience visiting all the usual landmarks, Hyde Park, Les Champs Elysees and Le Bon Marche where she bought handkerchiefs and gloves. It is a diary exposing no wicked sense of humour, sharing no penetrating insights, and including not even one memorable phrase like, say, “I shall return.”
Well, she did mention seeing suffragettes on the march in London.
Oh, she does pencil in this candid opinion on Da Vinci’s most famous work.
Went to the Louvre in the morning. Pictures most interesting. Mona Lisa was carefully inspected but it does not appeal to me in the least. After lunch, shopped and then drove through Parc Mont Claire. This park is lovely, abloom with flowers, statuary and strollers galore. Great place for lovers and babies… So, no surprise, in 1910, Elizabeth, had love and babies on the mind.
I wonder what was wrong, then, with this mysterious Mr. Clarke? If things had gone well, it might have been a very good thing for one Frank Tofield. Family legend has it the well-to-do couple argued incessantly over the decades over her spendthrift ways.
(I found Frank’s signed Bible and it was filled with dozens of brittle, faded four leaf clovers.)
So, no book about Great Aunt Elizabeth Hardy Fair, by all definitions a most ordinary Southern Belle and first cousin to a genuine history-book legend. No short story either.
Just this short blog post.
Below: Elizabeth at her wedding: lavish tastes