A brilliant piece of satire
by Noel Coward
, written as a series of short biographies
of women great and women small, 10 in all. A withered Nosegay
was written from 1921 to 1922, and published almost immediately, when Mr.-not-yet-Sir Coward was only 22. Parts were later published in Vanity Fair
, and that same year it appeared in America
under the ludicrous
title, Terribly Intimate Portraits
. "These tender, intimate memoir
s of the flower
-like women who blossomed and bloomed when the world was young are the result of years of research in the National Archive
s, the Catacomb
s, and the Clapham Common Public Library
." Most were meant to parody both the popular style of literary biography
and the prominent
women of his own day; through many apologies and a little payment, he barely escaped several lawsuit
s. Was he a blatant misogynist
? Probably, but who cares? They're funny.
A short excerpt from the story of Bianca di Pianno-Forti, picking up immediately after her poisoning of 583 (585 according to Poliolioli) dinner guests:
Historians tell us that following close on that event some rather ugly rumours were noised abroad - in fact, some of the relatives of the poisoned guests even went so far as to complain to various people in authority and stir up strife in every way possible. Bianca was naturally furious. Some say that it was her sudden rage on hearing this that caused her to burn her children to death; others say her act was merely due to bad temper owing to a sick headache. Anyhow, as later events go to show, she had chosen the very worst time to murder her children. More ugly rumours were at once noised abroad by those who were jealous of her. Upon her husband's return from Naples he was immediately arrested, and a few days later hung. Too late the hapless Bianca sought to make her escape; she was caught and taken prisoner while swimming across the Grand Canal with her clothes and a few personal effects in a bundle in her mouth. She was carried shrieking to Milan, where she endured a mockery of a trial; on political grounds she was sentenced to being torn to pieces by she-goats at Genoa. Poor, beautiful Bianca! On the fulfilment of her unjust and barbarous sentence it is too horrible to dwell at any length. This glorious creature, this resplendent vision, this divine goddess - she-goats! Dreadful, degrading, unutterable!!
The day for her death1 dawned fair over the Mediterranean. Bianca, garbed in white, walked with dignity into the meadow wherein the she-goats anxiously awaited her. She bravely repressed a shudder, and fell upon her knees. History tells us that every goat turned away, as though ashamed of the part it was destined to play. Then, with a look of ineffable peace stealing over her waxen face, Bianca rose to her full height, and, flinging her arms heavenwards, she delivered that celebrated and heartrending speech which has lived after her for so long:-
"Dio mio, concerto - concerto!"
One by one the she-goats advanced. . .
1October 14th. Poliolioli contests that it was the 17th, but this, I venture to say, is even a "mooter" point that the other.
Each story is prefaced by a portrait woodcut done by a friend of Sir Coward,Lorn Macnaughtan.