I treasure fantasies of manners when I find them. Science fiction of manners is far more rare these days, but this story by Henry Lien certainly qualifies. It was nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards.
Mrs. Howland-Thorpe vs. Mrs. Fleming, Battle One
In Which Mrs. Howland-Thorpe Loses Her Seating
At Supper Four Seats from Mrs. Vanderbilt and Blames That Italienne Creature, Mrs. Fleming.
Mrs. Fleming Prevails.
Good sense advises that it is not prudent to make war against the garden of a lady of breeding and society with words, moles and voles, or combustibles, for she shall grow cross and vengeful.
Mrs. Honoria Orrington Howland-Thorpe came of family of no particular distinction. The Orringtons had once begun to build some beginning towards a fortune in whaling but that was gone now and long ago, after the carcass of one specimen was left too long unbutchered on the dock and the foetid gases growing in its belly as it decayed caused it to explode all over the street, resulting in a series of lawsuits that were small in value but legion in number and unending in appearance, which eventually reduced the Orrington business and family name to nothing worth noting. They were now far from among the first families in Boston. They saw in Honoria, possessed of an unearthly beauty and famed for her complexion, the last great hope of their line and did all in their power to send her to Farmington for the finishing of her education, though it caused them to have to repair to a house in the Fens to pay for it. Honoria made good return on the investment and married Tiberius Howland-Thorpe, as much for his railway fortune as for his relations, and thought well of the placement, although looking at his features produced in her a state of mild but constant irritation that continued without cease for the next 50 years. Together, they managed to keep themselves on the invitation list to sup at Marble House with Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt and her husband each summer at Newport.
Mrs. Cecilia Contarini Fleming was a great beauty of foreign extraction. She was the last of a noble Italian family that could trace its lineage back to ancient Etruscan lines but whose prospects had grown more modest with each successive generation. She married Patrick Fleming, an industrialist of humble origins who made his fortune importing combustibles from the Orient and selling them to interests who employed them in the laying of railways and the hollowing of mines. Mrs. Fleming had been among the first women to study at Newnham College at Cambridge and had followed her education not with the customary Grand Tour Abroad, for, being an Italienne, she was from abroad, but with several years in Japan studying lacquerie, gardening, and poetry, and then a brief tour traveling with missionaries in Africa. She could dance, sew, sing, play the pianoforte, draw, paint, compose poetry, compose music, ride, fence, perform archery, and read and speak Greek, Latin, Italian, French, English, and Japonais. Continue reading “Saturday Storytime: The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society”