CCM’s witches

Caroline Crane Marsh (CCM) is generally fairly equanimous in her diaries, so I was surprised to see her use the word witch as an epithet for 5 women over the course of the diaries.

The five women are:

  • “Princess” Marie Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse (2x)
  • Countess Clementina Ghirardi (2x)
  • Elizabeth de Zeyk, wife of a US consular official (1x)
  • An Italian tradeswoman (1x)
  • Mrs M__, “a more than millionaire” (1x)

Those uses of witch, are mostly from 1863, with the exception of the last one, which is from 1864. Maybe CCM was just having a bad year.

While it’s not obvious from the descriptions that those women have anything in common, I think they actually do: they all are, in CCM’s view, greedy and/or avaricious.

First on the list is Marie Laetitia Bonaparte-Wyse, (let’s call her MLBW for now) who is quite interesting, and who I’m sure I’ll have more to say about in future posts. However, by all accounts, she had a lavish lifestyle. In addition she ends up being one of CCM’s nemeses, along with the second woman on the list, Countess Clementina Ghirardi. Countess Ghirardi rents a nice place to the Marshes, only to terminate the rental when MLBW offers a significantly higher price for a short term rental. But, what goes around comes around, and MLBW ends up stiffing the Countess. As I said, there will be more to say about MLBW.

Third on the list is Elizabeth de Zeyk. Her flaw, for CCM, is that she (and her husband, Albert, the U.S. Consul in Taranto with his own interesting story for another time) is constantly asking people for money. The de Zeyks constantly have money problems, it seems, and in the Marshes’ opinion the de Zeyks are profligate. George had previously scolded Albert on this point, but covered some of his expenses anyway. When CCM refers to Elizabeth as a witch, Elizabeth had asked George’s secretary, Mr. Artoni for more money. There is an ongoing saga with the de Zeyks, with more epithets, which you can try to follow.

The last two women on the list are more straightforward. The tradeswoman asks a price to “make a carpet” (I’m not sure what that entails exactly) which CCM thinks is too high, so she has her niece Carrie do it instead. In this case CCM’s anti-Semitism may also have been a factor. Finally, the “more than a millionaire” woman is the subject of an anecdote from one of CCM’s friends in which “Mrs M__” eats with CCM’s friend in a nice restaurant and then takes home a doggy bag, as we might put it.

While in the first three cases, there are additional non-monetary grievances involved on CCM’s part, what all five cases have in common is CCM’s perception of their greed and avarice. But why is CCM so vehement? Perhaps because the Marshes were often constrained monetarily, both by George’s relatively low salary (compared to the other diplomats) and previously by a long-delayed reimbursement and other business difficulties.

Who knows? But these little things are part of what makes exploring CCM’s diaries so interesting.