Thursday, December 31, 2009
#002: Elizabeth Everest
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE: ELIZABETH EVEREST
Few remembered to history live a more obscure life than Elizabeth Everest. She was born in around 1832; she died in 1895. She never married, never had any children of her own; she wrote nothing, invented nothing, created nothing. She boasted no scientific achievement or artistic gift. Although a woman of deep faith, she was not a nun or any other kind of Catholic Religious (she was, in fact, vehemently Low Church Anglican). She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.
She was born in Chatham, in the county of Kent; we know nothing of her early life. She was, by profession, a care-giver. She spent her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in a tiny town called Barrow-in-Furness, Cumberland. Having raised the girl to her teens, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, sadly released her from his service; but she took with her his references, which served her well to get a new position.
In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had need for a governess. The younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, a well known rake, had married a wealthy teenaged American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals. She had given birth "prematurely", seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother.
The young lady--only a "mother" by convention--hired a wetnurse, who fed the child; when he was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.
Having dropped the child with her, the child’s mother and her husband devoted themselves to a life of pleasure: balls and parties and soirees and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time. They consigned their child, a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums, to the nanny's care as they lived the 19th Century equivalent of ‘la vita loca’. As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well known politician; she his wife spent her time throwing parties and seducing other men.
As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on those rare occasions he actually paid attention to the child. His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.
The parents called the nanny “Mrs. Everest” – an honorific offered all nannies, as she had never married. The boy addressed her as "Woom", from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman".
“Woom” changed his diapers, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not. She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference--or worse.
When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone –without warning – and spent his Chrismasses alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house. The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.
Through all this, “Woom” was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him, and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.
The father's syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty. In June of that year Mrs. Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home in North London, where she passed away on July 3, 1895.
She was buried in Manor Park Cemetery, London, and the young man, no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day: “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.”
At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, visible if you scrape away the grass.
“...BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL”.