The Realms Of Gould

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The market for European titles in exchange for American heiresses and dollars, which flourished in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, had reached its peak in 1895 when a reluctant Consuelo Vanderbilt, at the insistence of a mother who felt that American males could no longer be deemed eligible for the hand of a Vanderbilt, became the Duchess of Marlborough. To a public unaware of such social nuances, the marriage of Anna Gould to Count Boni de Castellane on March 4 of that same year was an almost equally astounding event. But Anna, unlike Miss Vanderbilt, was an eager and happy victim of her own romantic daydreams. Boni himself may not have been so happy. Penniless though he was, the antenuptual agreements had been a rude shock to his vanity. Not only the principal of the trust fund but the income it produced, thanks to Jay Gould’s testamentary wariness, were beyond his grasp. But Anna loved him, and he was confident that once back in France, free from the scrutiny of Helen (who had distrusted him on sight), he could teach his unsophisticated bride the art of spending her great income as elegantly and as lavishly as if it were his own.

Boni was an expensive luxury even for Anna Gould. Her income of five to seven hundred thousand preincome-tax dollars a year, when she and Boni were cutting a wide swath through the Paris of la belle époque, was not up to his extravagant taste in pink marble palaces filled with old masters and objets d’art and his fondness for entertaining on a grand scale. When he became surfeited with costly possessions and bored by the domestic felicities of a wife and children, gambling and women provided equally extravagant substitutes. Before Anna finally managed to escape to America with their three sons in 1906 and to divorce him for his flagrant affairs with other women, it has been conservatively estimated that he squandered five to six million dollars of her money in a monumental binge of supercilious elegance and frivolity. Injustice to Boni it should be said that, until he slipped on what he blithely described as “the orange peel” of various sentimental adventures, Anna was a willing accomplice who constantly reproached George and Helen for not providing her with more dollars to squander. Oddly enough, she was the first to criticize George for his imprudent and, as it later proved, improper use of estate funds to shore up the Gould railroads, and she was furious with him for permitting a sizable portion of her income to be mortgaged for years to pay off the swarms of French tradesmen who had unctuously overextended credit to Boni and his American heiress. In spite of it all, Anna’s financial difficulties eventually faded into the past as her share of the estate continued to produce a magic flow of American dollars. During the period of sixty-eight years from 1893 until her death in 1961 nearly thirty-five million dollars in income, plus some four millions from principal of the trusts for Helen and Howard when they died without issue of their own, was either paid to her directly by the trustees or was withheld to pay her debts and taxes.

After divorcing Boni, Anna, by now addicted to titles, married his cousin, Elie, Duc de Talleyrand-Périgord. The Duc, while he did not frown on American dollars, was the possessor of vast family estates and was reputed to be a wealthy man in his own right. Although Boni, in his memoirs, has described his cousin as something of a monster of duplicity, the Due, who was ten years older than Anna, had put his youthful indiscretions behind him, and in any event was of a different stripe than Boni, the exquisite wastrel. The Due and Duchesse lived lives of quiet elegance and grandeur. The petulantly romantic little girl of Lyndhurst became a great lady doomed to a life of great sorrows. Her three sons by Boni died young. Her only son by the Due killed himself because his parents refused to sanction his marriage to an older woman. When the Due died in 1937, Anna was left a lonely, aging widow in a foreign land. Her daughter by the Due, Violette, Comtesse de Pourtales, and her grandchildren were thoroughly French. Their only connection to the Goulds was that, when grandmama died, they would inherit the principal of the trust for her benefit under the will of a strange and legendary américain named Jay Gould, who had died many years before they were born. It was indeed a substantial connection, but hardly a consoling one for the Duchesse.

Although her life was rooted by tragedy in France, and Lyndhurst was superfluous from any rational point of view, the Duchesse was still a Gould and could, if she wished, afford sentimental gestures on a grand scale. In 1939; when the market was flooded with great houses that could hardly be given away, it is conceivable that the former Anna Gould was the only person alive who had both the means and the desire to prevent Lyndhurst from remaining empty and unwanted until put to some ignoble utilitarian use, or from being demolished to make way for a housing development. For the Duchesse, Lyndhurst was far more than an old house where she had lived; it was the place where she could recapture the nostalgic glow of cherished childhood memories. Half a century later, even the prissy tyranny of Helen’s guardianship could seem quaint and endearing. And the bitter memories of her marriage with poor silly Boni could be forgotten in the place where they had spent a romantic honeymoon so many long winters ago.