IN JUST SIX WORDS OR LESS
Some of you may remember a few years ago when six-word memoirs became the rage. Supposedly this trend could be traced to an anecdote about Ernest Hemingway. Challenged to write a short story in just six words, he sat down and scribbled: “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” Whether that was true or not, many people were inspired to take a shot at it, and at least one book of their split-second memoirs was published. I thought it might be fun to try it for historical figures. But first let me give you some examples from Six-word Memoirs. They are funny, ironic, wry, poignant, tragic, playful, disillusioned, clever — in other words, they run the gambit of human emotions.
Here are some I found sad: “I still make coffee for two.” “I like girls. Girls like boys.” “I hope to outlive my regrets.” “Everyone who loved me is dead.” “Was father. Boys died. Still sad.” “So devastated. No babies for me.” “Coulda, woulda, shoulda. A regretful life.”
Here are some I thought were clever or amusing or thought-provoking. “Verbal hemophilia; why can’t I clot?’ “Woman seeks men; high pain threshold.” “Perpetual work in progress. Need editor.” “Memory was my drug of choice.” “Came, saw, conquered. Had second thoughts.” “Always working on the next chapter.” “Lapsed Catholic. Failed poet. Unpublished prayers.” “Like an angel. The fallen kind.” “Giraffe born to a farm family.” “Tried not believing everything I thought.” “The militant who became a monk.”
Okay, everyone ready to play? How about this one for Henry II, a bit trite but true: “Happier if I’d had only daughters.” Or Richard, musing on his deathbed at Chalus. “Damn! Should have worn my armor.” Eleanor: “Rebellion? Probably not a good idea.” John: “Why do people not trust me?” Hal: “I was king; no one cared.” Geoffrey: “I was always the forgotten son.” Thomas Becket: “A saint now. I win, Henry.” The Empress Maude: “I was cheated of my destiny.” Eleanor and Henry’s daughter, Leonora: “I couldn’t live without my husband.” Berengaria: “If only I’d had a child.” Joanna: “I found love, but too late.” The French king Philippe: “God rot all those accursed Angevins.” His unhappy queen, Ingeborg: “Why did I ever leave Denmark?” King Stephen: “The crown brought me little happiness.” Here’s another one for Henry, which probably crossed his mind during his last days at Chinon: “Betrayed by all whom I loved.” Rosamund Clifford: “Loved by Henry, forgiven by God.” Henry’s illegitimate son Geoff, the Archbishop of York: “I never wanted to take vows!” Richard again, “The Lionheart legend lives on, Philippe!” Eleanor: “A mother shouldn’t outlive her children.” Geoffrey of Anjou, who died within a month after Bernard of Clairvaux prophesied his death: “Don’t get Bernard gloat about this.” Or Maude again, maybe wistfully this time: “I’d have been a good queen.” Her brother Robert, barred by illegitimacy from the throne: “I’d have been a better king.” And I’m going to cheat now and give John the last word, this one from Here Be Dragons: “I always knew I’d die alone.”
Moving on to Llywelyn Fawr: “Poor Wales, so close to England.” Joanna: “I loved him; he forgave me.” William de Braose, who was hanged by Llywelyn for his infidelity with Joanna: “Hellfire, no woman is worth this.” Llywelyn’s son Gruffydd, about to escape from the Tower: “Now if only the sheet holds.” Llywelyn’s grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd: “God help Wales once I’m dead.” His wife, Ellen de Montfort: “But we had so little time together.” Their daughter Gwenllian: “Tell me, please, where is Wales?” Davydd ap Gruffydd: “Could not live with my regrets.” His wife Elizabeth de Ferrers: “My crime? That I loved Davydd.” Their son Owen, imprisoned from the age of three by Edward: “Why am I being held here?”
Edward I: “For me, more was never enough.” Henry III: “Westminster Abbey was my true legacy.” Simon de Montfort: “I died for a just cause.” Also, “My brother-in-law was such a fool.” His wife, Nell: “I’d do it all over again.” Their son Bran: “Never enough wine to drown memories.” Guy de Montfort, who committed suicide in a Sicilian dungeon after Edward I blocked a ransom: “Please God, let me go mad.”
Edward IV: “Burned my candle at both ends.” Richard III: “Please bury me at York Minster.” Anne Neville: “I wanted Middleham, not Westminster Palace.” Elizabeth Woodville: “I should have known-damn Edward!” Edmund, 17 year old Earl of Rutland: “This cannot be happening to me.” Marguerite d’Anjou: “My life? Much grief, few joys.” Cecily Neville: “My life? It lasted too long.” Elizabeth of York: “My life? I did my duty.” Henry Tudor: “Tudors lay claim to Hollywood next.” George of Clarence: “What’s that? A butt of malmsey?”
Okay, how about everyone else giving it a try? You can choose any historical character, though Henry VIII and his wives might be too easy. You can write your own memoirs instead, if you wish. (You may notice that I cravenly ducked that one.) Have fun.
October 21, 2012