Sunday, August 10, 2008

Women of Note

Two biographies of two diametrically opposed women came across my desk today - and yet they could not be more alike.

Ettie Desborough was a lady of means in Edwardian England and Tamara Bunke Bider was a young woman who fought in Bolivia. Yet both women had remarkably strong characters and a sense of self determination that was not the "norm" in either of their times.

Please enjoy the little snippets of the lives of these women - and use the links to read the fuller accounts.

Ettie Desborough
From the Mail Online - Revalations of Ettie Desborough, an Edwardian A-Lister

"Her story is one of a powerful woman who enthralled men and turned the direction of their lives. But it is also a story of pain and desolation. Of her five children, two sons were among the lost generation of the First World War and the third was later to die in a tragic accident. Her whole existence seemed a cry for life, yet she was dogged by death – but she never yielded to self-pity. Her credo: ‘Life is a series of farewells.’

Taplow was soon a favourite gathering point for the politicians, writers and wits comprising the social set known as the Souls. Indeed, Ettie was central to the clique’s formation and its influence on London society – the Souls took it as a matter of course that men and women should compete on equal terms in conversation.

Ettie was also a requisite presence at the house parties of others. The royal family trusted her and she was later lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary. Political intrigues, love affairs, inner hopes and private grief – no one knew more of them in Edwardian England than Ettie. But her discretion was inviolate: ‘padlock’ was one of her favourite words.

Ettie was an intense and intelligent woman. And her lively imagination and high-strung responses felt steadied by marriage to Willie, who, though unimaginative, was a calming influence. His imperturbable view of life made her feel safe. Ettie knew what it meant to depend on someone and for them to disappear. It had left her afraid.

In Edwardian England it was acceptable for an upper-class young man to start his career with an attachment to a married woman. Such affinities were open: there could be nothing secret, for that would have suggested scandal. But if the affair was well managed it was thought beneficial for the boy to be trained by an older woman.

In 1904, Archie Gordon, the then 20-year-old son of Lord Aberdeen, became Ettie’s beloved friend. ‘The truth of my love and trust for you is the truest thing that I have known,’ he declared, and on another occasion, ‘My beloved E, I can’t begin to speak of all the joy of seeing you…’

Ettie found their friendship ideal because Archie was so brimful of life. But his life was to end in tragedy. Five years later, Ettie was with him at his bedside as he lay dying from injuries sustained in a car crash.

To the end of her 84 years, she was deliberate and eloquent. She never forgot her dead; her choices were controlled; she did nothing by accident."

Tamara Bunke Bider
From the Times Online - Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider: the woman who died with Che Guevara

"Her name was Tania and she died in a hail of bullets on the run with Che Guevara. But who was this captivating and mysterious Mata Hari who was buried next to him?

Heidi Tamara Bunke Bider, alias Laura Guttierez Bauer, Maria Aguilera or Laura Martinez, a.k.a. Tania la guerillera, was born in Buenos Aires in 1937. She was the daughter of a Polish jewess and a German who emigrated to Argentina to escape nazi persecution but returned to Germany after the war.

During the 1950s, Tania studied political science at the Humboldt University in East Berlin. After graduating, she began working for the East German Stasi where she took on several espionage missions. Back in East Germany in 1960, Tania met Che Guevara. He was visiting East Germany with a Cuban trade delegation and Bunke Bider worked as an interpreter during the Youth Festival. Two years later , she moved to Cuba.

In 1964, Guevara requested her to infiltrate Bolivia as a mole. In the guise of an earnest pharmaceutical student, she managed to infiltrate the private circle of the presidential palace. Once Che was in Bolivia, she served as liaison officer for the guerillas.

On August 31, 1967, Bolivian soldiers ambushed the group while they were crossing the Rio Grande at Vado del Yeso, and killed Bunke and eight fellow communist guerrillas. Bunke Bider’s body was swept away in the river; Bolivian soldiers found it on September 6, and she was buried the next day."

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