on jackie, letters, love, and the english lord

holy moses, it’s been awhile.

mostly because the hubbub over this english lord nonsense was so nonsensical that it was exhausting, so i just did a big eye-roll and lived my life. a sloooooow big eye-roll mind you because the story of these letters has been like a dripping faucet, where you know it’s dripping and there’s nothing you can do about it but people keep coming into the room to say, OMG, IT’S DRIPPING!!! as though this is a revelation.

while the existence of letters is exciting and the existence of actual words is indeed a legit news story, the enthusiasm with which these particular letters and these actual words have been met- in particular, the GUSH of ink- seems a bit out of proportion with the letters and words themselves.

but then mayhaps you are like, OLINE, WHAT IS THIS OF WHICH YOU SPEAK??! let’s take this double-quick…

jfk and jackie were big friends with the ormsby-gores.

(via JFKL)

david ormsby-gore was the british ambassador to the US.

they all lived in washington when the kennedys were in 1600 and everyone had high spirits and fun times (though the photo evidence makes it look a wee bit staid).

(oh, but wait… ponies!)

(via JFKL)

then jfk died. jackie was sad.

and then sylvia ormsby-gore died in 1967. david ormsby-gore (by then, lord harlech) was sad.

at the time, the press went HARDCORE HARD on the story that jackie and the lord were romancing.

which they were. but the HARDCORE HARDNESS of the press coverage was insane.

please note: i am in NO WAY exaggerating this. i actually myself had underestimated it until giving a talk on jackie in london a few years ago to an audience of people aged 60+ and literally all they wanted to talk about was how the press had misled them about jackie’s love for david ormsby-gore.

at the time, in 1967, an editor actually told a media outlet (paraphrasing here, but barely), “when i was writing sylvia’s obituary, i was thinking how jackie and david would be perfect together.”


sylvia died in may. in november, jackie and harlech went to cambodia and everyone was a-tizzy. by december, liz smith (yes, that liz smith, the liz smith) had a multi-part series in syndication about how harlech was going to win jackie. and then, of course, where liz smith leads others followed.

“a deepening friendship” being FOREVER LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE.

ormsby-gore was the “front-runner” in a race in which no one else appeared to be running.

anyway, if you’ve done any reading about jackie, this is a story you know and you know it well.

SURPRISE: they do not marry.

she marries onassis instead. (that last headline, ya’ll, is 24 ct. gold.)

harlech, evidently, was surprised (alongside most everyone else), though this always seems to have been a case of her just not being all that into him. (and, i know, i keep switching between his names- for years, as a young reader, i thought he was two different people.)

so these letters, what do they say?

basically they attest to the fact that harlech did want to marry her and that she did not inform him she was going to marry someone else.

and they claim to be laying down a story of NOW WE KNOW FOR ABSOLUTE SURE WHY SHE MARRIED ONASSIS.

which, well, no.

because people are complicated, human emotions and motivations are complex.

jackie told this one person, whom she knew had romantic feelings for her, that she wanted someone who wasn’t from her world and that onassis was “lonely and wants to protect me from being lonely.”

(via pinterest… ‘A 1968 sketch from the Italian magazine “Grand Hotel”, showing Jackie wanting to marry Lord Harlech, but still emotionally drawn to the tragedies she endured. This was the way the public wanted her to marry – a sophisticated aristocrat who was also a widower.’)

but that isn’t necessarily the end-all be-all to the story and it certainly isn’t the most interesting part, to me anyhoo, of what she reveals here.

“i know it [the marriage] comes as a surprise to so many people,” she writes. “but they see things for me that i never wanted for myself.”

this is the line which most interests me. this and also this one she wrote in june 1968: “one’s private despair is so trivial now – because wherever you look there is nothing to not despair over – i keep thinking of what jack used to say – ‘that every man can make a difference & that every man should try’.”

it’s expected that this is always THE STORY OF NEW FACTS ABOUT JACKIE’S BED (bonhams head of fine books and manuscripts in the UK: “These letters now show without doubt how close they came to marriage and why Jackie decided to marry Onassis instead), when actually the interesting fact here is simpler: WORDS!!!!!!

so few of hers are publicly available.

i’ve seen more than most because i’ve made deliberate efforts to dig through the correspondence of everyone she ever knew, but every letter that goes up at auction still represents a boon.

it is another piece of the puzzle, another affirmation that there was more to her than clothes and style and dignity or that damn jackie film.

there was an individual, complex and contradictory, which women are so seldom permitted to be.

wherever you look there is nothing to not despair over. we could use that now, no?

it was a small delight when, in accepting the democratic nomination for president, HRC quoted jackie, on what would have been jackie’s 87th birthday, no less.

I can’t put it any better than Jackie Kennedy did after the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men – the ones moved by fear and pride.

technically, this was 1 december 1963, so not so much “after the cuban missile crisis” as immediately after her husband’s murder, but still… where does this come from? a letter she wrote to chairman khrushchev.

a letter. would that one day my genius will be recognized and i will be recruited by The Family to edit the ten volume boxed set of JACKIE: THE COLLECTED LETTERS, because so much of what she wrote in the letters i have seen, what she has to say about love and loss and grief and american life and the mess of living and trying, wanting, needing to stay alive, it is so relevant.

in the meantime, mourn with me that more isn’t available. that we’re reliant upon articles with titles like “well, now we know for sure she spurned the besotted englishman” for just a handful of her words.

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