From the Introduction of “Tragic Mansions”
[Tragic Mansions] is a startling book—startling in its own right because it uncovers the pathetic futility of some of the most envied lives of our day— and as startling, coming from Rita Lydig, as if a famous general had broken out in a book against war, or Queen Victoria had left a volume deriding the anointed pretensions of royalty.
Rita de Alba de Acosta Lydig is a descendant of one of the most famous old titles of Spain. As an Alba, she has had the entree to the most strictly guarded circles of aristocracy in Paris and London and Madrid. She was married in her ‘teens to an eccentric American millionaire, William Earl Dodge Stokes, who was a notable horse-breeder and racing man at a period when the horse was the sacred animal of high society and horse-racing was “the sport of kings.”
Through him, she became familiar with the racing set of two continents and the fastest fashionable life of the time—a life that was bell-wethered by King Edward and King Leopold and Cleo de Merode, by the Grand Dukes of Russia and the German princelings and the Rothschilds of France and all the James Gordon Bennetts of America. Revolting against the stupidities of these circles, she joined the intellectuals, and counted among her friends Rodin and Degas and Debussy, Tolstoi and Anatole France, Bernhardt and Duse, Juares and Bebel, Bergson, Metchnikoff and scores of others, painters, musicians, authors, sculptors, scientists and philosophers.
It is from such backgrounds that she has seen what she calls “the tragic futility of fashionable life”—the futility of fashionable marriage without love, of the fashionable home without affection, the fashionable church without religion, and fashionable culture without a perception of beauty or a true sense of art. She makes her case out of her own experience and the lives that she has known intimately—envied lives, rich and flattered and conspicuous lives, lives that are empty and despairing. She makes a case that is constructive in its criticism, because she uses the diagnoses of famous psychologists and psychoanalysts and physicians of the mind whom she has met here and abroad, and she applies the philosophy of these scientists in her attempts to find a solution for the problems of life in the tragic mansions that she has known.
My part in the book has been merely to draw out her point of view in conversation and then to help her put it in writing as simply and directly as she expresses it in her talk.
Introduction written by HARVEY O’HIGGINS.