New Article: A Princess Dreams of the Future and other historical problems...
The article, entitled "How to Kill Ghosts: Polish Aristocrats During the First World War" is a kind of cooky experiment in history writing that I have been working on for a long time. Years ago I started reading the diary of Princess Maria Lubomirska for a project on World War I in Poland. Her recollections of day to day life are all fantastic and since she was the wife of a very prominent figure, Warsaw's mayor and later a member of the governing council in German-occupied Poland, she crosses paths with some of the most important figures of the time. She is perfectly placed at the side of all the biggest events of the period.
At that time, I couldn't quite figure out what to do with the journal. What did it mean? What did she have to tell us?
During a class in graduate school with John Demos on "narrative histories," I started to work out what it could do for me. I used her rich accounts to imagine the world she lived in, to try to get inside the head of this fascinating person.
One strange (and fantastic) feature of Lubomirska's diary is that she includes rich descriptions of the seances she attended. The occult was very popular among aristocrats of the day. In the Russian court, shaman/charlatan Rasputin made a splash by becoming the occult advisor to absolutist rulers. In Warsaw, there was no shortage of people practicing the same kind of tricks. But rather than judge Lubomirska for getting gaslit, I started to think about why she attended these seances and what she was looking for in them. The answer became clear when she included the questions she asked her spirit guides. She was concerned about the future, about who could be trusted and what her country (Poland) would like at the end of the war.
Unsurprisingly, she was hoping for a return to monarchy and that her husband, Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski, would become king. And indeed he was a candidate to become king of Poland, as a member of the ruling Regency Council in Warsaw.
So this article addresses the future possibles and the worlds that could have been.
Please check out the article and spread the word!